Damien Love’s pick of the week, plus seven-day listings
There has been a special edition of Doctor Who on Christmas Day every year since the show was revived back in 2005. This time around, though, perhaps to underline that we’ve moved into a different era now there’s a female Doc, they decided to ditch that tradition to go with a New Year’s Day special instead. But the big question for long term fans is this: have they also dispensed with the tradition that dictates the festive Doctor Who
episode must be, on balance, a bit rubbish?
Well, I can’t tell you, because the Beeb weren’t up for letting me see it in time. There are two possible explanations for this: (1) The episode is so amazingly brilliant and special that they didn’t want anyone giving anything away about it beforehand and spoiling the fun; or (2) it’s a bit rubbish, and they’d rather keep hopes alive until the last possible moment. It’ll be interesting to find out which it is.
What I can tell you for definite, though, is that, as it returns for the first time in three years, Idris Elba’s codwalloping Luther remains as amazingly rubbish as ever.
In this fun new four-part story, showing nightly until Friday, Elba gets his grand maverick refusing to play by the rulebook entrance in early, introduced stepping out from his character car in a thrilling close-up while chasing a wrong’un through a slick and edgy brooding industrial zone.
Before you can say “Brooding! Edgy!” Luther is kidnapped by some bad bastards with baseball bats who beat him up, tie him to a chair and taser him three times – only succeeding in making him slightly irritated, as, with nary a bruise, he frees himself to turn the tables on them, while shouting manfully one second, and whispering gravelly the next.
From here, it’s into the requisite by the numbers second hand torture porn serial killer plot (“the killer took his eyes and cut his tongue out…”), featuring a villain with a cool creepy mask, and added nonsense from Ruth Wilson, returning as Luther’s old nemesissqueeze, Alice.
Amid all this, there’s nice work from Wunmi Mosaku as Luther’s more bythe-book new partner, Halliday.
If, however, you’d prefer to watch a drama that gives the impression of having been put together by people who have actually encountered a human being, look out for Sky’s new American import, Escape At Dannemora.
Directed (unexpectedly) by comedian Ben Stiller, the series is based on events around a real-life prison break and the following manhunt that took place in upstate New York in 2015. At the centre of the scheme is Tilly Mitchell (Patricia Arquette), a civilian employee who works in the facility, overseeing the tailor shop.
Among the convicts in her orbit are David Sweat (Paul Dano) and Richard Matt (Benicio De Toro). She has a sexual relationship with both, and, soon, has agreed to help them get out, first by smuggling in the tools Matt needs for his escape plan.
Set against a beat-up, dead of winter landscape, the series unfolds at a nearfrozen pace.
At its best, Stiller’s observant, low-key style feels rooted in the 1970s, but, at seven episodes, the series feels roughly twice as long as it needed to be.
However, it’s worth making the effort for Arquette’s incredible performance. The drama is ostensibly about the two convicts trying to get free, but it’s her portrait of a strange, ordinary woman kicking resentfully against the confines of her own drab life that becomes the most mesmerising story.
Escape At Dannemora on Sky Atlantic
New Year’s Day Doctor Who (7pm, BBC One) Luther (9pm, BBC One) Escape At Dannemora (9pm, Sky Atlantic)
Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who