CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night‘s TV: Time-jumping Paul deserves to win an Oscar for his Oscar
The last time we saw Paul McGann travelling through time, he had borrowed the Tardis for a one-off Doctor Who special in the mid-Nineties.
But here he was, strapping on brass goggles and setting the dials for the 19th century, with electrical currents crackling around his head.
His time machine consisted of a typewriter, a metal chair and the cut-glass stopper from a crystal decanter. The props department budget was being stretched to the full.
Victorian Sensations (4) saw the actor investigating paranoia and cultural panics at the fringes of society during the 1890s, in the second of this documentary series about ‘the decade when the future landed‘.
Unlike Dr Hannah Fry, who hosted the first programme, he is not a professional presenter. On the contrary, he‘s a thesp, a creator of characters. When playing himself for the cameras, he was uncertain even of how he should speak — slipping between his natural Scouse accent and a drama-school elocution that emphasised every consonant precisely.
Give him a role, though, and he sinks his teeth into it. Stalking the streets of Whitechapel as Dracula, swathed in a cloak and dank fog, he looked as though he could turn into a bat at the first glimmer of moonlight.
Playing Oscar Wilde, with a green carnation in his buttonhole, he held his cigarette in such an affected way that his complete lack of any physical resemblance to the tubby playwright made no odds… he deserved an Oscar for his Oscar.
It‘s usual for history presenters to dive into the dressing-up box. Dr Lucy Worsley can‘t get through a show without at least eight costume changes. Giving the job to an actor makes perfect sense.
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When he wasn‘t donning a frockcoat and cravat, Paul was quizzing experts about the hysteria over morality that swept the nation in the ‘Nineties‘.
Like Queen Victoria herself, who confided to friends that she loved making babies, but was less than fond of the children that resulted, 19th-century Brits were a randy lot.
The most startling Victorian stat of the week wasn‘t aired on this documentary but by journalist Nichi Hodgson during the chaotic 2 Sunday night talk show, The Ranganation. Talking about the popularity of modern dating apps, she pointed out that sex before marriage was hardly new — and claimed that at the start of the 20th century, 40 per cent of brides were already pregnant when they walked up the aisle.
That statement was met with blank stares and open mouths by host Romesh Ranganathan and his guests. Here‘s a tip: if you want to share a historical discovery, or indeed have anything worthwhile at all to say, don‘t do it on one of Romesh‘s numerous TV vehicles.
Rainbow of the week:
The surreal spy drama Summer Of Rockets (2) evokes the Fifties in explosions of colour, such as Keeley Hawes’s pastel pink overcoat. It puts paid to any idea that the rock ’n’ roll era was drab and monochrome.
From travelogues to sitcoms to panel games, this 41-year-old ex-teacher is everywhere on telly, usually with his mother in the audience. Perhaps it‘s a reflection of the millennial audience‘s obsession with the generation gap, but for many comedians a parent on the front row seems to be an essential part of their act.
Judge Romesh (Dave channel) is squarely aimed at the under-30s, which explains his arrival in the studio on a hoverboard to a rap soundtrack — just like a teacher who kids himself that his pupils think he‘s cool.
The format is a straightforward rip-off of ITV‘s Judge Rinder. Romesh hears petty grudges and complaints from real people, and dismisses the cases with flip judgments. There‘s an endless stream of cheap toilet jokes. No doubt Romesh imagines this is what the Young People want.