Tuesday 27 September 2016

Corrie lives to breathe again and Doctor Who 'contained the bones of a classic' but 'Peter Capaldi simply doesn't work'

* Coronation Street Live, UTV Ireland
* Doctor Who, BBC One

Published 25/09/2015 | 02:30

The killing time: Callum threatens Sarah-Louise in the 'Coronation Street' live episode
The killing time: Callum threatens Sarah-Louise in the 'Coronation Street' live episode

Why does a soap opera ever decide to do a live show? Why do producers insist on putting those poor unfortunate actors through the immense physical and psychological strain of performing under a needless pressure?

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After all, the days of live drama on television have largely disappeared now that technology has negated the need for such broadcasts. It wasn't always thus, of course. Perhaps the most famous live broadcast of a drama was the BBC's 1954 production of 1984.

Featuring a young Peter Cushing in his first main role as Winston Smith, it caused such a controversy that, famously, a woman named Beryl Merfin was so shocked by what she was watching she promptly expired. Which certainly brings an added sense of realism to the phrase 'TV to die for.'

Incredibly, no record exists of that live broadcast, but such was the clamour surrounding the drama and its contents, they decided to do it all over again a few nights later. That, you have to admit, is impressive.

That recorded, second version then became something of a white whale for Orwell fans - the Beeb buried it in their archives like an unloved step child until it was grudgingly re-aired in 1977, too early for a young O'Doherty to appreciate it. Incredibly, that version is now available, in its entirety, on YouTube and I strongly suggest that once you've finished reading this and writing me the usual letter of tearful gratitude, you go and check it out. It really is an astonishing piece of work that still chills the soul.

I doubt any of the actors on Thursday night's heavily touted episode of Coronation Street will be in a hurry to emulate Peter Cushing and put themselves through the process all over again.

But first things first. The only reason people tune in to live broadcasts of a soap is in the hope that a prop will fall on someone's head or some unfortunate actor will crack under the pressure and start to freak out.

That's not very big or clever, but then neither are soaps, so it's fair game although most viewers felt sorry for Eastenders actress Joe Joyner when she fluffed her line and called another actor by their real name.

The last few weeks have been full of rumours of actors who developed sudden illnesses in an effort to escape the potential indignity of doing a Joyner, but a few inevitable glitches apart, this was actually a slick and tight production which managed to be so seamless that some gormless Americans actually thought it was a reality show.

The main problem with the central storyline had nothing to do with the live formatting, rather it was down to the fact that the baddie just wasn't really that bad.

Drug-dealing Callum looks like someone who used to be in one of Louis Walsh's boybands and, for a supposed bad boy, the actor in question, Sean Ward, just seems like a nice young chap who got a gig as a stage school bad guy.

Having said that, his death sequence was expertly done, under the circumstances, and I imagine his burgeoning female fan base will be sad to see him go.

He also provided the train spotters with a new conspiracy theory when his supposedly dead body was seen breathing. A cruel soul might say that this was the most life he had ever put into any of his performances, but I'm better than that.

Well, nearly.

Doctor Who returned on Saturday and the reaction was more one of dutiful expectation than rampant excitement.

I'm sorry to say this, I really am, but Peter Capaldi simply doesn't work as the Doctor. Maybe, more accurately, he would work as a different Doctor, one who revels in the dark majesty of being a Time Lord.

But his angst outweighs his befuddlement and while they have tried to make Capaldi's age a strength, his Doctor just comes across as cranky and quite possibly insane.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, of course. But when he turned up at a medieval banquet complete with a tank and electric guitar and started doing tedious guitar solos I started to search the screen for any signs of a shark he could jump over while he was it.

And yet, and yet.

This episode, for all its irritating frippery, certainly contained the bones of a classic.

We see the Doctor encounter a child in a war zone and immediately, for some reason, Doctor Who fans will have known that he has landed on Skaro and the child is a young Davros.

That will mean the combined sum of sod all to people who don't watch the show, but for those of us immersed in Time Lord lore, it was a big deal.

This was the old 'killing Hitler' conundrum, with knobs on.

Aware of who Davros would grow up to be - like, the baddest ass in the universe and creator of the Daleks - the Doctor leaves the endangered child to his fate, with catastrophic results.

I wonder if the writers of this episode have ever read Eric Norden's Primal Solution, which saw a Jewish time traveller return to kill a young Hitler. He fails, and the young man develops a such a fear and loathing of Jews ('What have I ever done to them?', he screams) that the Holocaust is thus born.

So, more of the temporal paradox conundrums, and less of the playing guitar on top of a tank, please.

Irish Independent

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