from being “a white-haired Scottish man”, you cut her some slack. Ducking, diving and flapping her arms, she had the charm of an Artful Dodger: “I’ve got a plan! Well, I will ’ave by the time we get to the top… It’s a work in progress. But so’s life!” Her digs at institutional drabness (“A&E? I won’t go anywhere that’s just letters”) felt like a cause that needs a prime time champion, and only once did she slip into lecture mode (“only idiots carry knives”).
Whittaker smithed a new screwdriver out of scrap metal (“now with added Sheffield steel!”), which seemed so easy that I worry for the future of the series now there’s no scope for a plot in which she is without one. With it, she unmasked what had hatched from the garlic bulb: an old-school alien with a thespy voice, rubber skin studded with warts and the teeth of his victims, and a name that sounded like “Tim Shaw”.
Tim Shaw had a ludicrous weapon: a bomb that could melt DNA, depicted with brazen cheapness as a spot of torchlight on the victim’s collarbone, and representative of the swashbuckling vagueness with which the science side of things was handled. And that’s the problem. As science fiction, Doctor Who doesn’t get more profound the more you think about it, and to delight in the sheer rubberiness of it instead, you have to be holding it at one remove of irony, which is tiring. What matters more is that, in its goodnatured daftness, it is quite unlike anything else on television. I’m very glad it exists.
While Doctor Who left me unclear on how to make my own sonic screwdriver, Imagine… Hockney, the Queen and the Royal Peculiar, about the new window in Westminster Abbey, was a brilliant feast of practical information about stained glass. We saw how David Hockney’s iPad drawing was scaled up to a full, 29ft-high cartoon, with lead lines to mimic his strokes, into which was slotted glass cooked to new recipes to create Hockney’s pop colours.
Hockney has always been good at television, and in his conversations with Alan Yentob, even though he seemed old and stooped, he had it down pat, with unfussy generalisations that made the mind-bending problems of perception seem simple, and left Yentob flailing. He also deftly refused to say anything inflammatory about his new patron, the Queen (whom he once refused to paint), saying to Yentob, with a sharp look, “She has marvellous skin.” Later, “I suppose she now wants mornings in bed.”
In short, he’s an old hand, but his charm is that he always knows he has more to learn. It felt momentous to watch Hockney realise, in the Abbey, that his window would still be here in “a few hundred years, when all my other works might be dust”.
Ben Lawrence is away