Sunday, January 12, 2014

His Last Vow: There's Something About Mary

'Sherlock Holmes has made one enormous mistake which will destroy the lives of everyone he loves and everything he holds dear.'
In The Empty Hearse when Sherlock Holmes first meets Mary Morstan, we are given a visually stunning insight into his initial impressions of his best friend's fiancé. In one of Sherlock's regular and breathtaking 'deduction' sequences, amidst the expected (and somewhat banal) conclusions that the detective comes to about this new woman in John Watson's life - size twelve, orphan, cat lover, bakes own bread et cetera - are some more surprising and left-field observations - clever, linguist and, err, Lib Dem. And, also, three words which, one hopes, the twelve million odd punters who watched the episode in question noted, digested and then spent the following twelve days pondering the significance thereof: 'disillusioned', 'secret', 'liar.'
Yes, 'liar.'
Of course, an important thing to recognise up front is that if Mary is 'clever' on a Sherlock Holmes-generated scale then she's, actually, super-cleverFar smarter than the average bear, in fact. Remember Sherlock casually telling John that he's 'an idiot' in A Study In Pink and then, helpfully adding: 'Don't worry, everyone is.' But, it was the 'liar' bit that had many of us viewers asking questions about Mary Morstan from her first appearance (and not just in a 'she's never a size twelve' way, either). As did her ability to decipher a skip code immediately and then seek out Sherlock's help to save her boyfriend's life from a fiery grave, linguist or otherwise. Was there more to the future Mrs Watson than initially met the eye? Well, of course there was, that was inevitable and in The Sign Of Three we got a few further hints about the direction that this story-arc was heading. There was that bit with the, mysteriously pointed, telegram from one 'Cam': 'Wish your family could have seen this.' The new Mrs Watson was visibly shaken up when Sherlock read that particular message at the reception, prompting John to ask her if she was all right. John, in turn, seemed completely unfamiliar with the mysterious Cam. The revelation, at the end of the second episode, that Mary was pregnant sent a feeling of absolute dread through the vast majority of Sherlock's audience - the half-a-dozen very unpleasant arseholes who've been bombarding Twitter with ludicrous hate directed towards the lovely Amanda Abbington aside, that is. Uh-oh. One sees, as it were, a very bad moon rising. Right? Well ...
Mary has, of course, been a properly delightful addition to the series, and you would have to be a brain-damaged moron, or the victim of a cruel medical experiment, not to fall head-over-heels in love with Amanda Abbington's portrayal. Sadly, there are some brain damaged morons and the victim of cruel medical experiments out there in Interwebland. They, and their impotent spluttering fury, are quite a sight, actually. The undeniable chemistry between Amanda and her real-life bloke, Marty, is both touching and funny and the chemistry between the two is electric, leaping off the screen like a big mad leaping thing. From her dramatic readings of John's blog and, quietly putting up with the moustache fiasco to her suggestion for printing a T-shirts which says 'I don't shave for Sherlock Holmes' Mary arrived in Sherlock as a likable and fully developed character, one with charm, sensitivity and a great sense of humour. But, one with a complex back-story which, we expected, would unfold slowly and dramatically. In His Last Vow, we got the answer to that. And, it wasn't, quite, what many people were expecting.
His Last Vow is, like a number of Sherlock episodes, something of a portmanteau, based on bits and pieces of several classic Sherlock Holmes stories - The Man With The Twisted Lip, His Last Bow ('Martha' Hudson, plus the famous 'East Wind' speech), Silver Blaze, The Problem Of Thor Bridge (Billy Wiggins), The Bruce-Partington Plans (Leinster Gardens) and The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons were just a number of those that this blogger spotted. But, most obviously, the core of the episode is taken from Arthur Conan Doyle's 1904 short story The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton. In this, Sherlock Holmes is hired by the débutante, Lady Eva Blackwell, to retrieve a series of compromising letters in the possession of a really naughty blackmailer, the titular Milverton. He is someone whom, Doyle assures us, causes Holmes more revulsion than any of the fifty-odd murderers he has dealt with in his career to date. Milverton is described as 'the king of blackmailers' and makes his living from discovering people's weaknesses and then cruelly exploiting them. It's a rather curious story in which Holmes's normally strong and casual indifference to the morality of crime - and of those who commit it - is completely flipped on its head. In a famous moment, he tells Watson when Milverton is being confronted by one of his victims: 'It was no affair of ours ... justice has overtaken a villain.' That decision has a deadly outcome. In the end, the story revolves around a crime which Holmes and Watson witnessed, could easily solve, but chose not to because, as Holmes tells Inspector Lestrade at the story's conclusion: 'My sympathies are with the criminals, and I will not handle the case.' Although it's not one of Doyle's canon which immediately leaps to mind when the average person is asked to name say five Sherlock Holmes titles, it is quite a famous one and has been adapted for film and television on several occasions: The 1945 Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce movie The Woman In Green is, essentially, a version of this story only with Milverton replaced by James Moriarty as the villain. The tale was pretty faithfully adapted in the 1965 BBC TV series Sherlock Holmes with Douglas Wilmer as Holmes and Barry Jones playing Milverton. The only difference from the original story in that was the identity of Milverton's killer. The story was much expanded when adapted by the writer Jeremy Paul for his adaptation in the long-running Granada series starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes. It became the 1992 feature-length episode The Master Blackmailer and included a superb turn by Robert Hardy as a sinisterly reptilian Milverton. That deviated from the original story in several ways, most notably Holmes holding a very different opinion about the case's conclusion. To such an extent that he request Watson not to chronicle this particular adventure, deeming it to have 'unpleasant circumstances.'
'I've dealt with murders, pyschopaths. None of them can turn my stomach like Charles Augustus Magnussen.' The first thing to note about His Last Vow is the performance of Lars Mikkelsen as the episode's protagonist, Charles Magnussen. The product of a famous Danish acting family (his brother is Casino Royale and Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen), Lars has a long and distinguished CV in his home country but became best known to wider international TV audiences following his role in the award-winning cult drama series Forbrydelsen (The Killing) as the sinister Mayoral candidate Troels Hartmann. He subsequently appeared in two other internationally-acclaimed Danish drama series', Those Who Kill and Borgen - in the latter as the economist Søren Ravn. My God, this bloke is good. I mean, we knew that anyway but in Sherlock, as Magnussen, he is astonishing. Mikkelsen had described his character as 'a supreme villain' who 'lives off preying on other people.' He told the BBC: 'I read it as quite a different character to Moriarty. Whereas Moriarty is playful as a villain, this character is more supreme. He doesn't even need to raise his voice to dominate people. He doesn't enjoy being a villain; I don't even think he reckons himself as a villain.' Whereas Andrew Scott's Moriarty had a naughty, playful, child-like side to his psychotic behaviour which made him a particular fan-favourite, Magnussen is, in this context at least, terrifyingly grown-up. He's that very worst of all villains, the school bully who remained a school bully despite being in his forties. One doubts there will be Tumblr pages dedicated to some imagined secret and forbidden love between Sherlock and Magnussen popping up any time soon. This man is a true grotesque; a cruel, sadistic face-licking parasite. A wicked, deceitful, morally bankrupt piece of a sewage floating through the detritus of life, infecting everyone he touches. With his cold, dead eyes (Sherlock describes him as resembling a shark in this regard), Magnussen is a horrifying fraction of human being. Yes, thanks to Mikkelsen's nuanced performance, he's occasionally charming, softly spoken and even quite banal in a way. 'He calls himself a businessman,' notes Lars. 'It's just a way of life for him.' It's probably the sheer casualness of the character that makes him one of the most chilling portrayals of unbridled evil that television has produced in a very long time. He is this decade's Leland Palmer, if you like. That's the level of cold mundanity we're talking about.
He doesn't play whimsical games with his victims but, rather, he exerts his total ownership and control of people with casual intimidation and sly manipulation. He is, in short, a thoroughly nasty piece of work. The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat said of Mikkelsen: 'Lars taped an audition and I remember thinking before I got through the first scene "just book him!" The moment I saw the tape, we knew we had something. He had a tough act to follow with Moriarty but Lars scares the crap out of everyone.'
'If you go against Magnussen, then you'll find yourself going against me.' His Last Vow is as good a series finale as Sherlock has had so far. It's better than The Great Game - by a distance - and it's even better than The Reichenbach Fall. It's smart and witty, it's surprising, it's also stylish and emotional. And just a little bit dangerous. It's Sherlock, in other words - a very clever drama about a very clever man in a world of danger and games. What was Mycroft's line in the first episode? 'When you walk with Sherlock Holmes you see the battlefield.' That description damns the episode with faint praise, however. There's far more to it than, that. His Last Vow is not merely a rattlingly good episode of a popular detective drama - you get those in Silent Witness. This is something different entirely.
The series had matured and developed over four years and three series. To an extent the last two episodes have split some opinions - in that, most people who expressed an opinion rather enjoyed them, particularly the fact that in the compromised television world of the Twenty First Century they were prepared to take a few risks with format and structure. Of course, a few joyless naysaying tossers with horseshit between their ears and access to a computer didn't agree and spent quite a bit of time telling the world that they were, you know, rubbish. That Sherlock has 'jumped the shark' and various other bollocks clichés used by people without the critical facilities to understand bravery of editorial choices and too jaded of the palette to appreciate genuine innovation. One imagines, in light of the events of His Last Vow, a few people will be rewatching last week's The Sign of Three which they had previously dismissed as a lightweight filler with a rather different view. And, perhaps, without an agenda stuck like a big bag of fish and chips on their collective shoulder. That said, if the warmer, more human Sherlock of The Sign Of Three left you shaking your head in befuddlement, know this - here, at times, particularly in one sequence. he is as close to the cold higher functioning sociopath which he has often described himself as he has ever been. In this episode, the characters are more capable of surprising the audience than ever before. When they find themselves in a perilous situation (and His Last Vow sees a number of them finding themselves thus about once every two minutes on average), then it seems more perilous than at any other time. Far more than in Reichenbach even though we all knew the likely outcome, there in advance. It's probably fair to say that, although they worked well in their own right, both The Empty Hearse and, especially, The Sign Of Three, can now be seen as two parts of a long, twisting country lane leading to His Last Vow. The latter balances the playfulness and humour prevalent earlier in the series with a darkness and a jeopardy that is, properly, gripping. There are plenty of funny bits, of course, this is Sherlock after all and thank God for that. But His Last Vow comes with a necessary bittersweet taste to the meal. Something soft on the outside, but hard at the core.
'It won't be the first time your habit has interfered with their line dancing.' The opening scenes of the episode according to various spoiler-free previews, would contain bullying, blackmail and 'a really shocking change for Sherlock himself.' And, that's a pretty decent description. John is off solving his own little case - of sorts - and this, perhaps inevitably, leads to some bitter words between old friends and some tasty fists as well. And, Sherlock has - seemingly - discovered the joys of domestic bliss. Who'd've thought it?
There is also a fascinating slithering snake of plot during the opening fifteen minutes which is full of unexpected false clues and cul-de-sacs. Sherlock is tasked with helping Lady Elizabeth Smallwood, who is at risk of seeing her family's reputation destroyed by the media tycoon Charles Augustus Magnussen. Who, of course, bears absolutely no resemblance to any particular billionaire tyrant (whom nobody is scared of any more). Obviously.
Deftly played by Mikkelsen, full of subtle shading and sinister glances he is, at times, like a Bond-style baddie who has lots of fingers in lots of pies. But, as noted above, this is no ordinary, obvious 'allow me to tell you my secret plan for world domination before I allow you to escape and foil my wickeness'-type clichéd villain. When Magnussen clashes with Sherlock over Lady Smallwood's secrets - and another crime, far closer to home - this, you know, is not going to end in anything other than a big, bloody mess. There are helicopters and guns - Sherlock on a bigger scale than ever before - but also, plenty of quiet and introspective two-men-in-a-room moments. Something for everyone, in fact. 'Did you noticed the one extraordinary thing he did?' 'It was a moment that kind of stuck in the mind, yeah.'
'Best thing about the English, you're so domesticated.' Crucially, there is love, there are lies and there is death, though probably not the death you were expecting. Reportedly, the BBC Drama Controller Ben Stephenson summed it up at the BAFTA screening when he told journalists there were 'mouth-dropping twists' in the episode before adding, presumably in the hope that he wouldn't be quoted in full: 'It's really fucking good!' The story is case-based from the beginning, thus making it something of a throwback to older Sherlock narratives. In mixing character and relationship development in with the action, there's a specific and measurable quality to the way in which everything heads towards the climax. There's plenty of action, incidentally. There's a break-in, loads of shooting and the mentioned helicopter flight (this one isn't stock footage). The episode is packed with moments that will have the viewer on the edge of their seat. The director, Nick Hurran (best known for his work on Doctor Who) doesn't just visit Sherlock's 'Mind Palace' as Paul McGuigan did in The Hounds Of Baskerville. Rather he gives the viewer the entire grand tour. And, there are many canon references to please the Conan Doyle purists. Steven Moffat's script is, characteristically, clever and witty, weaving in and updating whole story elements from Doyle, not just the odd character name. Moffat balances the episode's emotional thrust with some genuine intrigue and occasional moments of necessary humour in His Last Vow, building on the previous episodes' characterisation whilst keeping the case and the villain for the most part centre stage. Louise Brealey once again gets the several of the best scenes in the episode. Molly's role is smaller in this episode than in the last two, but her moments are, genuinely, wonderful - getting to give Sherlock a good hard slap, or three, for instance. 'How dare you throw away the beautiful gifts you were born with! And, how dare you betray the love of your friends. Say you're sorry!' The amount of character development we've seen this series for Our Mol - a character, remember, who was only created initially for one scene in the first episode - is worthy of considerable praise to all concerned. There's continuity from the previous episodes: We find out what Mycroft's allusion to 'Redbeard' in the last episode actually referred to (Sherlock's pet dog who was, seemingly, 'put down' when Sherlock was a boy); Sherlock takes the vow he made at John and Mary's wedding - to always be there for both of them - very seriously; Phil Anderson and his wife feature in a cameo ('That's him, isn't it? You said he'd be taller'); there's also the return of the lovely Janine ('you have a girlfriend?' 'yes, I have!'); we get to see a - long-awaited - younger version of Sherlock (played, incidentally, by Louis Moffat) and there's a very clever (and, possibly controversial) call-back to a (slightly) dangling plot-thread alluded to in A Scandal In Belgravia. Plus, Moriarty and Sherlock in a padded-cell of the imagination ('you're going to love being dead, Sherlock, no one ever bothers you.') There's a Holmes family Christmas (one of  numerous references to A Study In Pink scattered through the episode) and a number of truly delicious tabloid headlines (including, memorably: He Made Me Wear The Hat!) There are Leveson Inquiry and Savile scandal allusions, pressure points, licking and the great Lindsay Duncan and that's just in the pre-title sequence.
And then, there's the dialogue. It's Moffat, of course, so you know it's going to be a treasure-trove: 'The whole world is wet to my touch.' And: 'Mycroft, don't say another word, just go. He can snap you in two and right now, I'm slightly worried that he might.' And: 'You do not own me.' And: 'Of course it isn't blackmail. This is ... ownership.' And: 'Because there's a load of smackheads in there and one of them might need help with a tyre.' And: 'I'm a doctor, I know how to sprain people.' And: 'You're mental.' 'No, just used to a better class of criminal.' And: 'Seriously? Shezza?' And: 'The siren call of old habits. How very like Uncle Rudy. Though, in many ways, cross-dressing might have been a wiser path for you.' And: 'Don't reply, just look frightened and scuttle.' Then there's: 'Don't appal me when I'm high.' And: 'Room for a little one?!' And: 'Did you just get engaged to break into an office?' And: 'We should call the police.' 'During our own burglary? You're really not a natural at all this, are you?'
Molly's entire 'focus' speech in Sherlock's mind after he's just been shot is the stuff that people create websites to celebrate: 'On our back, gravity's working for us. Fall now.' Then, there's: 'You're a very stupid little boy!' And: 'What do I do?' 'Don't got into shock. Obviously!' And: 'Sherlock Holmes, you are a back-stabbin', heartless, manipulative bastard!' 'And you, as it turns out, are a grasping, opportunistic, publicity-hungry tabloid whore.' 'So, we're good, then?' 'Yeah, of course!' And: 'I have an interview with The ONE Show and I haven't made it up yet.' And: 'Keeps me off the streets, dunnit?' 'Well, no!' And: 'That wasn't a miss, that was surgery.' And: 'Lovely when you bring your friends round.' And: 'You're the sane one, aren't you?' And: 'I don't have any morphine.' 'Then what, exactly, is the point of you?' And: 'Is everyone I've ever met a psychopath?' 'Yes. Good that we've settled that!' And: 'This is where you sit and talk and this is where we sit and listen. Then we decide if we want you or not.' And: 'Mixed messages, I grant you.' And: 'I am very pissed off and it will come out now and then.' And: 'Your loss would break my heart.' 'What the Hell am I supposed to say to that?' 'Merry Christmas?' And: 'Did you just drug my pregnant wife?' And: 'You put me in a fire for leverage?' And: 'It's all about knowledge, everything is. Knowing, is owning.' And: 'You will be exonerated and restored to your smelly little apartment to solve crimes with Mr and Mrs Psychopath.' And: 'Don't worry, I'll keep him in trouble.' 'That's my girl!'
'Facts are for history books. I work in news.' Despite this being series three's most plot-dense episode, His Last Vow is also a proper character goldmine, delving deeply into the psychology of both Sherlock and, especially, John Watson. The episode is an emotional rip-roaring rollercoaster and proves, if any actual proof were needed, that yer actual Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman his very self are two of the best actors working in Britain today. They are both extraordinary in this episode and I really do mean extraordinary. Benny and Marty end series three exactly where they started with the characters three years ago – at the top of the tree. 'Do you want you wife to be safe?' 'Of course.' 'Good because this is going to be incredibly dangerous. One false move and we will have betrayed the security of the United Kingdom and be imprisoned for high treason. Magnussen is quite simply the most dangerous man we've ever encountered and the odds are comprehensively stacked against us.' 'But, it's Christmas!' 'I feel the same. Oh, you mean it's actually Christmas?' And: 'I've only been gone four minutes!' 'Well, I hope you've learned your lesson!'
The rest of the performances, too, are as reliably strong as you'd expect. After three episodes, Amanda Abbington has proved herself to be a tremendous addition to the cast and this blogger is delighted that she will, seemingly, be sticking around. And Mark Gatiss puts in another scene-stealing performance (which is becoming something of a regular occurrence). There have been, of course, some whinging voices telling everyone that would listen - and, indeed, anyone that wouldn't - this past fortnight that the Sherlock they knew (and, seemingly, believed that they were entitled to) had gone. His Last Vow proved them wrong. Coming back stronger than ever is what Sherlock Holmes has always done. Even death couldn't claim him. And, it still can't. 'His first word when he woke up? "Mary."' You know his methods, dear blog reader, he's known to be indestructible.
His Last Vow isn't The Reichenbach Fall. It may well break your heart, although the ending is, actually, very upbeat in a curious sort of way. It will certainly leave you feeling exhausted and bombarded with images you'll have stuck in your very own Mind Palace for days. But, it's a very different end to 2014's Sherlock as the previous series two years ago. 'There's an East Wind coming,' John tells Mary as Sherlock's plane touches down on the runway just moments after they thought they'd never see him again. As with all of the Sherlock finales so far, this one ends on a massive cliffhanger. And, the denouement pulls out one last trick which will, doubtless, leave everyone saying 'but ... but ... but' at the screen and at the same time stupidly excited by the prospect of what lies ahead whenever they all get the time to make the next series. 'Solve me a crime, Sherlock Holmes.' Where do they go from here? That's a jolly good question. Got an answer for us, Jim? Take your time. (And, yes, we have missed you!)
Sherlock's third series has already broken DVD pre-order records. The popular BBC drama broke the record for the most customer pre-orders for a programme yet to finish broadcasting. In addition, the box-set of Sherlock series one and two took a place in the top ten best-sellers of 2013 in the TV titles chart, according to data from BBC Worldwide. The news follows The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat's comment that he and co-creator Mark Gatiss have already begun preparations for series four and five of the show. The data reveals that the UK's best-selling TV title on DVD in 2013 was Top Gear: The Perfect Road Trip, which features presenters Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond driving across Europe. That's sure to put a massive scowl on the face of a bunch of hippie Communist scum at the Gruinad Morning Star. So, jolly well done DVD buyers everywhere, we can never have too much of that. Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary episode, The Day Of The Doctor, also performed well, achieving the biggest ever week one sales for a Doctor Who title.
Sherlock will return for its fourth series 'as quickly as possible', Steven Moffat (Thou Shalt Worship No Other Gods Before He) has suggested. A fourth and fifth series of the hit detective show have been planned, Moffat revealed on Wednesday evening at a BAFTA screening of His Last Vow. 'Benedict and Martin are, apparently, in movies,' the writer noted. 'So we've got to schedule around them, but we'll get them made as quickly as we can.' Producer Sue Vertue added: 'We're working on it - it's dates. We couldn't get together before then,' said Vertue about the two year gap between series two and three. 'We did worry that [in] two years, you might forget about us, but clearly not.' Yer man Moffat also suggested that the hiatus may have contributed to Sherlock's astonishing recent ratings success. 'Sherlock started very well, the second series did better than the first and now the third is doing better than the second,' he said. 'It shows the benefits of starvation - put things on less often.'

Silent Witness was Friday night's highest-rated overnight show outside of soaps. An average of 5.5 million viewers tuned in to see the fourth episode of the BBC1 drama's latest series at 9pm. The show, which stars Emilia Fox, David Caves and Richard Lintern, peaked with 5.6 million viewers. On Channel Five, Celebrity Big Brother's first eviction was watched by an average 2.06 million people at 9pm, down by more than one million punters on last week's average figures. The show, which saw former boxer Evander Holyfield evicted by Lee Ryan and Casey Batchelor, hit a peak of 2.47 million. Back on BBC1, a Miranda repeat was viewed by 3.45 million people at 8.30pm, while 3.74 million tuned in to watch Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro on The Graham Norton Show at 10.35pm. On ITV, The Martin Lewis Money Show was the channel's highest-rated programme outside of soaps, drawing 3.28 million viewers between two episodes of Coronation Street. Odious Oily Twat Piers Morgan's Horrible Life Stories with Great British Bake Off judge Mary Berry was watched by a risible 2.38 million at 9pm. BBC2 peaked with Mastermind at 8pm. The quiz show, which brought in 2.21 million viewers, was followed by Kangaroo Dundee and Italy Unpacked, attracting 1.52 million and 1.58 million viewers respectively. They were followed by Qi with 1.92 million. With 1.85 million viewers, Channel Five's highest-rated show of the evening was Eight Out Of Ten Cats Does Countdown at 9pm. Either side of the comedy panel show, an average of 1.54 million watched Jamie and Jimmy's Friday Night Feast at 8pm, while 1.05 million tuned in to watch David Blaine: Real Or Magic at 10pm.

The Voice's return to BBC1 on Saturday evening brought in a bumper audience of 8.37 million overnight punters for the first episode of the third series of the singing competition. Most of whom, let's be honest, were there for Kylie. This blogger certainly was. One knock on consequence of this was the collapse of the audience of ITV's by-word for risible crap, Pro-Celebrity Drowning which was down by over a million viewers from the previous episode's overnight audience at 3.45 million. This blogger laughed and he laughed and he laughed until he stopped. And then, he laughed some more. Pr-Celebrity Drowning's co-host Gaby Logan shrugged off concerns that ratings have slipped compared to the first series, saying it 'was only down ever so slightly.' Actually, it was down one million two hundred thousand viewers - or, a quarter of its overnight audience. Make of that, dear blog reader, what you will. The Voice saw the start of blind auditions, in which singers perform to the four coaches who have their backs to the stage. Sir Tom Jones and have returned to the programme, while Kylie, Kylie sweet and smiley and Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson have replaced Jessie J and the other one. Critics have largely warmed to the addition of Minogue in her first TV talent show role, with the Daily Torygraph's Ed Power calling her 'a natural on the coach's recliner.' BBC1 dominated the rest of the night as well, with The National Lottery: Who Dares Wins (5.97m), Casualty (5.15m), BBC News (4.60m) and Match Of The Day (4.13m) all comfortably winning their respective slots. Earlier, Dynamo: Magician Impossible was watched by 3.73 million at 5:30pm. The best ITV could manage all night was risible, odious Take Me Out (4.14m at 8:30 ... which is still about 4.14m too many, frankly). BBC2 had a steady, if unspectacular, night across the board with their line-up of Nature's Weirdest Events (1.99m), Dad's Army (1.98m), Morecambe & Wise In Pieces (1.98m) and Qi XL (1.43m). Channel Four's new imported drama, Hostages opened with a decent 1.17m at nine o'clock. BBC1's all day audience share was just over twenty three per cent compared to ITV's very poor ten per cent. Sky Sports 1 led the multichannels, attracting 2.26m from 5pm with Saturday Football Night Live, while BBC3 pulled in 1.1m viewers with a showing of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides at 8:30pm. BBC4's Scandiwegian thriller The Bridge continued its - excellent - second season with a double-bill, pulling in nine hundred and forty six thousand punters at 9pm and eight hundred and twenty five thousand for its second episode of the night at 10pm. ITV2 attracted nine hundred and seventy three thousand at 8:30pm with the James Bond Tomorrow Never Dies.

Meanwhile, here's the final and consolidated ratings for the Top Twenty programmes during the Christmas and New Year Fortnight (Saturday 21 December to Friday 3 January 2014):-
1 New Year's Eve Fireworks - BBC1 - 13.52m
2 Strictly Come Dancing - BBC1 - 12.79m
3 Sherlock - BBC1 - 12.72m
4 Still Open All Hours - BBC1 - 12.23m
5 Mrs Brown's Boys - BBC1 - 11.52m
6 Doctor Who - BBC1 - 11.14m
7 Coronation Street - ITV - 9.77m
8 EastEnders - BBC1 - 9.36m
9 Birds Of A Feather - ITV - 9.20m
10 Call the Midwife - BBC1 - 9.16m
11 Downton Abbey - ITV - 8.95m
12 Gary Barlow's Big Ben Bollocks - BBC1 - 8.80m
13 Silent Witness - BBC1 - 7.92m
14 Emmerdale - ITV - 7.83m
15 Death Comes To Pemberley - BBC1 - 7.81m
16 Last Tango in Halifax - BBC1 - 7.39m
17 Gangsta Granny - BBC1 - 7.36m
18 Film: Toy Story 3 - BBC1 - 7.33m
19 Benidorm - ITV - 7.17m
20 BBC News - BBC1 - 6.64m
So, a big hands-down win for the Beeb there.

And, for the complete stats-heads out there, here's a list of the Most Watched Programmes of 2013
1 – 13.52m New Year's Eve Fireworks - 31 Dec - BBC1
2 – 13.05m I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want) - 17 Nov – ITV
3 – 12.80m Doctor Who - 23 Nov – BBC1
4 – 12.79m Strictly Come Dancing - 21 Dec – BBC1
5 – 12.28m Wimbledon 2013 Final - 7 Jul – BBC1
6 – 12.23m Britain's Got Toilets - 8 Jun – ITV
7 – 12.23m Still Open All Hours - 26 Dec – BBC1
8 – 11.70m Downton Abbey - 10 Nov – ITV
9 – 11.52m Mrs Brown's Boys - 25 Dec – BBC1
10 – 11.03m Coronation Street - 21 Jan – ITV
11 – 10.85m Call The Midwife - 3 Feb – BBC1
12 – 10.61m The X Factor - 22 Sept – ITV
13 – 10.47m Miranda - 1 Jan – BBC1
14 – 10.28m Comic Relief - 15 Mar – BBC1
15 – 10.03m EastEnders - 1 Jan – BBC1
16 – 9.99m Children In Need - 15 Nov – BBC1
17 – 9.89m Broadchurch - 22 Apr – ITV
18 – 9.50m The Voice - 20 Apr– BBC1
19 – 9.45m The Great British Bake Off - 22 Oct – BBC2
20 – 9.31m UEFA Champions League - 5 Mar – ITV
So, a big hands-down win for the Beeb there as well.

Yer actual David Morrissey is to star in new BBC1 drama The Driver. The actor - most recently seen in The 7.39 - will play taxi driver, Vince McKee - an ordinary chap who 'makes a terrible decision' - in the three-part serial. The Driver - from Accused writer Danny Brocklehurst - will follow Vince as he takes a job driving for a criminal gang and later seeks redemption for his hellish crimes. Former Coronation Street actress Sacha Parkinson will play Vince's daughter, Katie, with Claudie Blakeley cast as his wife, Ros. Ian Hart, Colm Meaney, Shaun Dingwall and Lee Ross will also appear in The Driver, which will film in and around Manchester from this week and will be shown on BBC1 later in 2014. 'I am very excited to be staring in The Driver and to be working with such a great cast,' said Morrissey. Brocklehurst added: 'The Driver is a passion project for me and I'm proud of the way it is both a character drama and a thriller. As with all my work there is a strong emotional core and it explores ordinary lives pushed into extraordinary situations. I'm thrilled to be making such a powerful drama for BBC1. The majority of my work has been here and as writer you are given incredible authorship, which is a fantastic thing. I have always wanted to work with Dave Morrissey, one of the UK's finest actors, and I'm delighted to be finally getting the chance. The entire cast is amazing and it is a privilege to have them on board.'

Twelve Years a Slave director Steve McQueen (no, the other one) is developing a BBC drama billed as 'epic in scope', taking in the experiences of the black community in West London from the late 1960s to the present day. McQueen, who was born in the area, told Friday's Daily Scum Mail that the drama will chronicle the lives of a group of friends and their families living in the area from 1968. 'I don't think there has been a serious drama series in Britain with black people from all walks of life as the main protagonists,' he told the paper. He said the drama will be 'epic in scope' and planned to hold a series of workshops with actors to develop the concept. It could be filmed in 2015. Talk of an ambitious drama following a group of friends from the 1960s to the present day inevitably brings to mind Peter Flannery's Our Friends In The North. McQueen admitted to the Daily Scum Mail it was an 'interesting comparison', but added: 'This isn't a black Our Friends In The North." BBC drama controller Ben Stephenson confirmed that the corporation was working with McQueen and independent producer Rainmark Films on the 'major drama' project. 'It is too early to announce the details, but it is incredibly exciting to be working with the hugely talented British director who has rapidly become one of the finest directors in the world,' Stephenson said. McQueen was born in Hammersmith to Grenadian parents and grew up in Ealing. He later attended Chelsea College of Arts and Goldsmiths and won the Turner Prize in 1999 for his video art.

Danielle Lloyd has spoken of her 'fear' at competing in Z-List Celebrity Drowning. It's a bit frigging stupid going in for it in the first place in that case, love. Then again, some z-listers are so utterly desperate to get their faces on TV that they'll suffer any indignity imaginable. Lloyd's previous 'everybody look at me, me, me, me, me, me' have included a - short - stint on Celebrity MasterChef and, most famously, joining the late Jade Goody's cackling cabal of odious Celebrity Big Brother housemates in racially abusing Shilpa Shetty.

Following his departure from The Daily Show, John Oliver has given further details of his as yet unnamed weekly topical project for HBO, which is due to begin in the US in April. At a Television Critics Association panel in Los Angeles, the Birmingham-born comedian discussed what it is likely to become, though at this stage, he admitted, a clear plan is not in place. 'The format does not exist at the moment, we're working on that,' he explained, noting that he and his team were only three days into the production process. 'The show will be making fun of things.' Positive start. Oliver, a regular guest on The Daily Show, covered Jon Stewart's sabbatical for two months last summer with a hosting stint which won him widespread critical acclaim. His own take on this period was less effusive. 'I set myself the achievable goal of not destroying that particular franchise. I guess it went well? Comedy is subjective,' he offered. He discussed his teary departure from the show, in which Stewart surprised him with a montage that made him cry: 'I'm British, so we're emotional volcanoes. I'm probably next due to erupt in forty five years.' He also revealed that his friend and former boss had been broadly supportive of his new venture, which was announced last November. 'I took his advice on anything. I talked to him about this decision. As a comedian I'm almost allergic to sincerity, but he's been amazing.' Oliver will take Tim Carvell, The Daily Show's head writer, with him to the new project. 'I leaned on him a lot over the summer so he's coming with me.' When asked if his new show was likely to resemble his former gig, Oliver said, 'It'll be similar, cos it is me, talking about stuff,' before returning to his imminent deadline. 'I can't wait. And I don't have to wait. I should be doing it now.'

A live broadcast featuring a complete orbit of the International Space Station is to be broadcast later this year, Channel Four has announced. The show, which will be hosted by Dermot O'Dreary (excellent choice - can you leave him up there, please?) will link live to the astronauts from mission control in Houston as they make a ninety-minute circuit of the Earth. The ISS, which orbits two hundred and fifty miles above the Earth, will send back High Definition live images of the planet. Lap Of The Planet screens in March as part of a space season. It will also feature contributions from Professor Stephen Hawking and British astronaut Tim Peake, who is due to join the crew of the ISS next year. The set of three shows will also give an insight into life on the Space Station from astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata, from the effects of gravity on daily tasks and how it affects the body. Another episode will look at the work done by mission control to support astronauts on the space station, including a treacherous spacewalk to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Producers suggest this will 'give a realistic view' of how trouble in space is tackled, compared to Hollywood movie Gravity, which chronicles disaster high above the Earth. O'Dreary said: 'Like most of my Star Wars/Trekkie generation, space has always held a fascination. It's already been an education to research this project and so I can't wait to join the viewers in finding out both the spectacular workings of the ISS. I simply can't wait.' David Glover, Channel Four's head of Specialist Factual, said: 'To have been granted this access by NASA to the ISS and Mission Control is a true British TV first. We hope to show what life on board is really like, what happens when things go wrong and then finally giving viewers a live lap of planet Earth.'

The BBC is lining up nearly twelve hundred hours of live and catch-up video action from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi in February, with its most comprehensive digital coverage of the four-yearly event yet, encompassing TV, HD streams, computer, tablet and mobile. From the opening ceremony on 7 February, the BBC staff of ninety five in the Russian city on the Black Sea coast will deliver two hundred hours of network TV coverage. The BBC is planning a further six hundred and sixty hours of live action and three hundred and thirty hours of replays and catch-up via various digital services. These will include two red button video streams via traditional TV sets and six HD video streams available to viewers on PC, tablet, mobile and Internet connected TVs. BBC2, BBC Radio 5Live and the corporation's website will also have extensive Sochi Winter Games coverage. Clare Balding, Hazel Irvine, and Jonathan Edwards will lead the BBC's TV coverage. Balding will present the opening and closing ceremonies, with Irvine leading the commentary team. Chris Mitchell, Eleanor Oldroyd, and Will Perry will present all the main Sochi 2014 events and races broadcast live during Radio 5Live's daytime schedule. Online coverage will be focused on a fully responsive Winter Olympics live page on the BBC Sport website, which combines live video streams, Radio 5Live coverage, stats and digital journalism in one place for the first time and optimises content, including video based on the size and type of the device – PC, tablet or mobile – used to view it. The page will also share comments and opinions via e-mail, SMS and social media, alongside those from the BBC's expert reporters. Audiences will be able to access a range of on-demand video clips through the live page, allowing them to catch-up on highlights. BBC2's daily highlights programme will also be available on BBC iPlayer. The BBC Sport app for mobile and tablet devices is available for free on iPhone, iPad, Android and Kindle Fire, with no need to update the app. On TV, two red button streams will offer live content and highlights from Sochi. All six live streams and on-demand video will be available through the BBC's Connected Red Button service on Virgin Media TiVo, Sony Freeview Smart TVs and via the BBC Sport app for connected TVs. The BBC is aiming to build on its successful coverage of the London 2012 Olympics to provide multimedia digital coverage of major sporting events, music festivals, elections and popular live TV shows. BBC Sport achieved record online traffic over Christmas, with mobile and tablet devices accounting for a record seventy two per cent of its total UK traffic on Boxing Day and seventy per cent on New Year's Day. The fact that there were full Premiership programmes on both days probably helped. Mobiles contributed to BBC Sport attracting more than three million unique browsers on Boxing Day, breaking the three million milestone for the first time. This helped drive BBC Sport's highest number of UK daily unique browsers outside of the London 2012 Olympic Games, across PCs, tablets, mobiles and connected TVs. The BBC's audience online viewing figures for the London 2012 exceeded expectations with over one hundred and six million requests for BBC Olympic video content across all online platforms and 9.2 million UK browsers to the mobile site and Olympics app over the course of the games.

The broadcaster Tony Livesey on Sunday night's Celebrity Mastermind answering questions on The Jam got five questions right in his ninety seconds. Yer actual KTT his very self managed eleven dear blog reader. With no passes, either. He only got one wrong ('The Modern World's b-sides were recorded the 100 Club not the Roxy, Keith, you bloody plank). Then, comedienne Ava Vidal was next up answering question on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and managed to get eight. Ahem. Keith Telly Topping his very self got the lot, dear blog reader. Mind, he would have been really disappointed had he not having spent about five years of his life writing almost daily about the series for a living. And, I was sitting in my own living room not on a TV set. I know bragging is ... really good fun, actually. Many apologies. Once Monty Halls arrived to answer questions on Jacques Cousteau arrived, yer actual realised his time to make a swift exit had come and switched over to BBC2. This blogger knows his limitations! The episode, incidentally, was won by the excellent Reverend Richard Coles answering questions on EF Benson's novels.

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