After the embarrassing farrago which was the BBC’s adaptation of Oliver Twist last year, it is a relief and a delight to see that the Beeb can still do Dickens properly. Though not quite as perfectly crafted as Christine Edzard’s Little Dorrit, the BBC’s current offering is a masterclass in TV adaptation, and has the Dickensian balance between comedy and tragedy just right. Plus some really good performances, not just from reliable stalwarts like Tom Courtenay (who is mesmirising), but also from surprising areas – who knew Russell Tovey could act? That absurd Welsh one off Torchwood is really rather good! As is token ethnic Doctor Who girl Freema Catalogue!
But a gripe (and you knew I’d have one): what is it with TV serials having so little confidence in the actual content of the episode that they have to show you what’s going to happen in the next one to entice you back? The now-obligatory “coming soon” segment, which used to be more the kind of thing you got on Richard and Judy, now sits as a huge great spoiler at the end of every episode of everything.
Okay, I understand that series using the 45-minute single episode format can no longer rely on a juicy cliffhanger to woo viewers back for the next instalment, which is why the likes of Merlin and Doctor Who give you a taster as a matter of course. The downside to this is that they tend to show you the best bits to make the next week’s episode look much better than it really is, so every episode is invariably a big disappointment (invariably a great big mammoth disappointment in the case of Merlin).
But that’s not what I’m complaining about. I’m complaining about being shown the content of the next episode when you have been given a juicy cliffhanger, when you are sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next. It’s a bit rubbish when a little teaser gives it all to you before you’ve had a chance to enjoy the anticipation.
When the revived Doctor Who first gave us a two-parter it fell right into this trap: Aliens of London gave us a suitably thrilling climax in which we saw the Doctor being killed – yes, killed! – then on rolled the caption “coming up” and we saw the Doctor running around chasing aliens in the next episode. So, oh, he wasn’t dead after all.
Since then the production team have got wise to that problem and started showing what’s coming up after the credits – and I believe in the last series they removed that bit altogether from some two-parters, which at least shows some confidence in the strength of their cliffhangers (even if, typically, the resolution was often a great big mammoth disappointment).
So why on earth can’t Little Dorrit do the same? It’s a grand adaptation which sets up huge Dickensian cliffhangers and there have been no disappointments so far – so I wish they’d stop telling me what’s coming up and let me watch the credits. As it is I feel the need to hastily switch off to avoid spoilers, which means that I don’t know what the theme music sounds like. These things bother me.
Coming up in the next blog entry: a rant about something and the word “mansuetude”!