Something incredible happened on British television on Sunday tonight. We all thought we were going to witness the unveiling of the next actor to star in Doctor Who, but instead we were party to the rebirth of something altogether more momentous. Welcome back, Light Entertainment: it’s been such a long time.
I mean really. Let’s say you’re in charge of whatever BBC department gets the responsibility for this sort of thing. Quite a big job in fact – Doctor Who arguably being the corporation’s most important show. Sold around the world, wins awards, goes to Comic-Con. Big. So what do you do?
Well, on the evidence of “Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor,” you nip off down to the canteen and see who happens to be in to record a spot on “Book at Bedtime” for Radio 4 and ask them if they are perchance free on Sunday night.
This is the only plausible explanation I can think of for ten minutes of remarkably inane banter between Zoe Ball, Liza Tarbuck and Rufus Hound. Hostess Ball at least had the decency to look a bit embarrassed throughout (I swear she mouthed “I’m sorry” to camera at one point), but this ghastly trinity basically just sat there shrugging, aside from that hilarious moment when Rufus got his names mixed up and almost let the cat out of the bag twenty minutes early.
When the silence got too uncomfortable they simply switched to a video clip of d-list celebrities wittering on about something they clearly couldn’t give a crap about. Now, I like a talking head as much as the next person but you have to worry about the executive whose thought process segues directly from “I’ve got the the biggest TV exclusive of the year!” to “I must get Bruno Tonioli’s opinion!” It literally makes NO sense.
The whole thing was mortifying, from the cheap set to the “specially invited” audience (whoever was in Forbidden Planet when the Beeb’s runner dropped in). It reeked of a cheapness not seen since light entertainment’s seventies heyday (though obviously “Tonight’s the Night with John Barrowman” had a jolly good try – but part of me is still convinced that was a hallucination and not an actual programme). The only thing missing was a half-time musical appearance from Elkie Brooks.
I really felt for Peter Capaldi. Is this a man who often wears the grimace of someone who would rather be anywhere else on the planet than where he is right now – but to be fair to him he managed to rise above the wretchedness of it all and be touching and funny and sweet and humble. He will, I think, make for a great Doctor. But for the sake of the show’s integrity he must absolutely put his foot down and refuse to do any more tat like this – and someone at the BBC must learn that just because Jo Whiley is available it doesn’t mean she should be booked.