Freddie Mercury: The Final Act
Every series of Doctor Who (BBC1) features a moment where the Time Lord wrestles with the controls of an unresponsive Tardis.
Levers are thrown, buttons are battered, lights flash and sirens shrill, but nothing can make the elderly machine work again.
For Jodie Whittaker, current Keeper of the Sonic Screwdriver, that sums up her whole dilemma. She and writer Chris Chibnall are trying everything they can — resurrecting classic villains and blowing a fortune on special effects.
The cast is starrier, the stakes are higher, the plots are more frenzied than ever . . . and yet it all stubbornly refuses to work.
Partly, that’s because Chibnall still seems unsure how to write a female action hero. As the latest incarnation of the Doctor, Whittaker is little different from her predecessors.
She has many of the mannerisms of David Tennant and Matt Smith, except with longer hair and a higher voice. She’s less irritable, it’s true, but that actually detracts from a well-loved persona.
Levers are thrown, buttons are battered, lights flash and sirens shrill, but nothing can make the elderly machine work again. For Jodie Whittaker, current Keeper of the Sonic Screwdriver, that sums up her whole dilemma
We know she is braver and smarter than the male characters — chiefly because they’re halfwits.
Comedian John Bishop, as do-gooder Dan, bumbles around with his jaw hanging open like a broken ventriloquist’s puppet. Neither funny nor lovable, he’s a big name wasted.
In every scene, it’s hard to see the point of him. Cold Feet’s Robert Bathurst, playing the posh Army officer in charge of Earth’s anti-alien defences, was so dim he’d struggle to get a walk-on part in a P.G. Wodehouse story.
Kevin McNally, who brings thoughtful touches to any role, is doing his best, but his Professor Jericho has all the depth of a Cluedo character. All talk to themselves, trying to make sense of the ludicrously convoluted events.
Even the consummately villainous Craig Parkinson, as an extraterrestrial with a killer snake for a spine, fails to chill us because his character is thinner than cardboard.
Comedian John Bishop, as do-gooder Dan, bumbles around with his jaw hanging open like a broken ventriloquist’s puppet. Neither funny nor lovable, he’s a big name wasted
Chibnall gives himself no time to develop them. One moment we’re in Constantinople in 1904, the next at an English country house in the 1950s, then in a spaceship between two universes, then back to modern-day London or Nepal a century ago.
The story veered into Agatha Christie’s world with an assassination attempt on a luxury liner. Moments later, the Doctor was reunited with her foster mother (Barbara Flynn), who just had time to explain a slab of plot before being turned to a cloud of red sand by a walking virus called Swarm. The Doctor looked quite unbothered by this bereavement. If she doesn’t care, why should we?
The real problem here is that, though a Time Lord has two hearts, this show no longer has any heart at all. It’s hollow. The depiction of Queen’s flamboyant front-man, in Freddie Mercury: The Final Act (BBC2), was all heart. The best measure of the star is the ferocious loyalty he stirs among friends and family.
Brian May and Roger Taylor, who as lead guitarist and drummer have carried on the band, both appear ready to punch anyone on the nose who dares speak a bad word about their chum.
This moving, engrossing documentary by James Rogan, the film-maker behind last year’s three-part portrait of Vladimir Putin, was as much a history of the Aids epidemic as a homage to Freddie.
It gave us a rare glimpse of the singer in conversation, thanks to interviews taped by the Daily Mail’s matchless showbiz commentator, David Wigg.
One surprise to emerge was that Freddie’s bandmates seemed hardly aware that he was gay for many years.
He didn’t talk about his private life. Imagine any celeb doing that now?
Atomic thief of the weekend: Simon Reeve posed as a nuclear terrorist, breaking into Sellafield to steal plutonium, on his Cumbrian travelogue, The Lakes (BBC2). He was armed with nothing but a selfie camera. Guards with machine guns easily foiled his dastardly plot.
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