John Byrne catches the final episodes of The Honourable Woman and The Shelbourne, a documentary about Match of the Day, and Peter Capaldi's debut as the 12th Timelord
Reviewed: The Honourable Woman (Thursday, BBC Two); The Shelbourne (Thursday, RTÉ One); MOTD@50 (Friday, BBC Two); Doctor Who (Saturday, BBC One)
It's been common knowledge for some time that TV is going through a golden age while the film industry is in creative decline and increasingly reliant on blockbusters, comic book adaptations and remakes to keep its owners happy.
At one end of the TV spectrum you've got the likes of Game of Thrones and True Detective, cool shows made by the likes of US cable channel HBO. But the so-called mainstream isn't short on coming up with the goods either.
The BBC have a long tradition of producing great drama, particularly those stylish period pieces that seem effortless, but their modern drama output in recent years has been pretty impressive, too. Their latest, An Honourable Woman, ended last Thursday on BBC Two, and is sure to figure in any UK-oriented list of top TV shows at year's end.
Before it was broadcast it was pretty obvious that it had great potential. Directed and written by Hugo Blick, whose CV includes the very impressive The Shadow Line from 2011, The Honourable Woman boasts a magnificent cast, including the likes of Stephen Rea, Eve Best, Janet McTeer, Andrew Buchan and Lindsay Duncan. But the most intriguing name on the list was Maggie Gyllenhaal.
The US actress has starred in a broad range of films, and always impressed, but her move to the small screen has been a stunning success. She's been nothing short of magnificent as Nessa Stein, the main character in this dense and tense thriller about an Anglo-Israeli businesswoman who took over her father's business, turning it from an arms suppliers to more philanthropic purposes in the Middle East.
This was a complex and depressingly topical tale full of grey areas and human frailties, but thankfully it avoided being judgemental, despite the entire cast of characters being tainted to one degree or another. Everyone involved deserves whatever accolades must surely come their way at the BAFTAs, with a British drama at least as good as, if not better than, last year's stunning Southcliffe or the opening season of The Fall. If you haven't seen it, send Santa an early request and you might get lucky.
In complete contrast, The Shelbourne (Thursday, RTÉ One) offered a finale that showed a more positive side of human nature. At a time when the pay and conditions of many workers is under sustained attack and workplaces have become more like battlegrounds, the positive team spirit at one of Ireland's most famous hotels is infectious.
This six-parter wrapped with the staff's 'Associate Week' taking centre stage, when the bosses make a terrible fuss of their workforce. The dedication of the hotel's staff has been the big plus during this fly-on-the-wall series, and it was good to see that management realise that a happy, fulfilled and appreciated staff is very good for business.
There were also some renovations going on in the hotel's eight deluxe rooms, where even the curtains looked more expensive than an average Dublin semi-d. Then there was the afternoon tea, which costs €35 per person, and the customers got to vote for their favourite piece of confectionery, with a prize for the winning creator in the kitchen.
A private dinner was also on the menu, and the attention to detail – they even measured the distance between plates with a ruler – was impressive. I can only imagine how much that spread for 15 cost, given that each empty plate was valued at €50.
Now, if only I could afford to stay or eat at The Shelbourne . . .
One group of people who could easily afford to live it up in a deluxe room at any hotel are footballers plying their trade in England's Premier League. With weekly wages that often reach six figures, things have changed immeasurably in the game since Match of the Day first surfaced in 1964. Back then, a player would do well to earn more than £30 (€37) a week.
MOTD@50 (Friday, BBC Two) looked back over the five decades since the late Kenneth 'There's some people on the pitch' Wolstenholme introduced black and white highlights of a game between Arsenal and Liverpool on the fledging BBC Two channel.
Back then, the fear amongst football's power brokers was that TV coverage could kill the game as a spectator sport. Now, there's an almost unlimited supply of TV football, both live and repackaged, across many dedicated sports channels. The game in England is awash with ridiculous amounts of cash.
The fact that Match of the Day is both still with us and much-loved is indication enough that it's an institution, which is something the BBC are quite good at. It was great to see a few old faces, from Jimmy Hill to Des Lynam, Barry Davies to John Motson, as well as some classic goals, moments and memories. Here's to the next 50.
After what seemed like an eternity of hype that would've had even Sky Sports' chiefs blushing, Peter Capaldi finally began his tenure as the 12th Doctor Who (Saturday, BBC One). And therein lies the problem. If you're going to get people all excited and stuff, you need to deliver. And this was, at best, a slow-burner. As a big Who fan, I'd describe it as a soft landing rather than a rollercoaster ride.
Coming after David Tennant and Matt Smith, there was perhaps a need to tone it down a little, as the show had gradually become more manic in recent years, like a kids' party with too many bottles of fizz knocking about. Throw in a few Weeping Angels and you're just asking for trouble. But even the dinosaur – a great big T Rex throwing its weight around Victorian London – looked a little languorous in this season eight opener.
There's talk of a more mature Doctor Who, but if I was looking for maturity I wouldn't be watching a Saturday teatime sci-fi show for kids about a bloke who travels through time and space in a phone box, gets a new face every few years, and battles angry giant pepper canisters that are covered in light bulbs.
It's going to take time to adapt to this new Doctor, but I have every faith in Peter Capaldi. He's a fan, and goes back to the pre-reboot days when the likes of John Pertwee was Doctoring the TARDIS.
And besides, next week the Daleks are back! Woo-hoo!!!