Damien Love’s TV pick of the week (Dec 29-Jan 4) – HeraldScotland

9pm, BBC One

I dont drinkwine.

With those four words, co-writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat shamelessly send out the signal that sets the tone for their mad and breathless new attack on Dracula, a giggling, drooling whirlwind of a thing that launches televisions new season at a pace other British dramas will surely struggle to match. Seriously, if youre feeling fragile after marking Hogmanay, its maybe best to avoid this until your stomach has settled: not only because it revels in icky, flesh-stripping, head-ripping gore, but also because it just clatters along at such a frantic pace, tossing out surprises that could leave you whiplashed and dizzy trying to keep up.

That famous line about the wine stems not from Bram Stokers 1897 novel, but from the 1931 Hollywood production that introduced Bela Lugosis deathless incarnation of the undead count. It wasnt the first movie based on Stokers book that was Nosferatu, the unofficial, masterly, 1922 German silent adaptation but it was the first to hypnotise the world. Like the Count creating followers by infecting them with his cursed bite, Lugosis film is the Patient Zero responsible for spawning all the countless Draculas that have followed.

And, the point is, theyre all in here. Gatiss and Moffats Dracula isnt simply yet another rendering of Stokers story although, beginning with young English solicitor Joanathan Harkers journey to Transylvania to conclude a real estate deal with the mysterious Count, it is that, too. Beneath the skin, though, their series is really a wild celebration of almost every Dracula there has ever been, a rabid fan festival disguised as a drama: DracCon 2020.

The references fly thicker than the swarms of bats: allusions to the stern theatricality of the Lugosi era, the claustrophobia of the BBCs excellent 1977 TV version with Louis Jourdan, and the stylised frenzy of Francis Ford Coppolas 1992 movie; hints of the sooty expressionism of Nosferatu and, in the pale, ancient walls of Draculas castle (one of several stunning locations), even faint echoes of Werner Herzogs brilliantly raw and rotten 1978 Nosferatu remake.

Elsewhere come nods to more obscure sources (I might even have spotted a canny lift from Dracula 2000, a terrible film that had one really great idea about Draculas traditional nemesis, Van Helsing). Above all, though, this series bows at the vividly bloodstained altars of the Hammer movies, their pulp adventure muscle and lush gothic atmosphere.

Just as in the evolving Hammer cycle, each episode of this series, going out nightly in three feature-length chunks, has a different style. The second, a wickedly drawn-out account of the Counts journey by sea toward Whitby aboard a ship from which people keep vanishing, turns Agatha Christie inside out, while also working in a long, maniacal tribute to Inside No. 9, the twisty show created by Gatisss League Of Gentlemen colleagues Reese Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton.

Miraculously, for all these nods and winks, it also works wonderfully as a rip-roaring Dracula drama. Much of this is due to the two leads. Just as Hammer got it right by pairing Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, the series scores by giving us Claes Bang and Dolly Wells. Bang is terrific as the vampire, spiking Lees genuinely foreboding presence and dark sexuality with a sense of humour and camp thats part Jason King, part Carry On Screaming. Opposite him, Wells is simply fantastic as Sister Agatha, a nun well versed in vampire lore. If she doesnt get her own series after this, theres no justice.

Maybe its just the right season, the right kind of long dark nights. Stuffed with ideas and flaunting its own cleverness, at other times of year this Dracula might just be too rich for the blood. But now is the time for overindulgence, and this is a treat to sink your teeth into. Or vice versa.



The Trial Of Christine Keeler 9pm, BBC One Depending what age you are, you well feel either (A) that the Profumo Scandal has been done to death, or (B) its such ancient history you couldnt care less. But, given that A Very English Scandal was such a deserved hit, the BBC has dug up the most famous political sex and power farrago of the period in the hope of repeating the success. But while this six-part dramatic retelling is solid enough, it doesnt have the hustling wit and mischievous spark of that earlier drama. Ben Miles plays John Profumo, self-assured Secretary Of State For War in the Tory cabinet of 1961, whose brief fling with 19-year-old showgirl Keeler (Sophie Cookson) leads to spiralling disaster for all involved and the government itself. James Norton co-stars as Stephen Ward, the socialite who matches the two up, and also introduces Keeler to other friends.


Searching For Sam: Adrian Dunbar On Samuel Beckett 10pm, BBC Four Marking the 30th anniversary of Becketts death, Dunbar puts that Line Of Duty success to good use with this documentary, a personal essay on his love for the great Irish writer. Dunbar, who has directed several of Becketts plays, knows the work well and pushes past the bleak label routinely applied to find the compassion, heart and humour present amid the absurdity and angst. Following Becketts footsteps, from childhood in Dublin and the Wicklow hills, through his school years in Enniskillen to his decisive move to Paris to work with James Joyce, Dunbar traces how these landscapes and experiences shaped Becketts imagination including his war years, working with the Resistance and dodging Nazis in southern France. Contributors include actor Stephen Rhea, who worked with Beckett, and photographer John Minihan, who took some of the most stunning portraits of the man.


Hogmanay TV

BBC One, BBC Two, STV, Channel 4

Susan Calman takes control of the BBCs New Years Eve mission this year. At 9pm, you can catch her Not Quite The End Of The Year Show (BBC Scotland), as she looks back over the lows of 2019. But the main event is Hogmanay (11.30pm, BBC One), as Calman leads us into the buzzsaw of the bells with guests James Cosmo, Mark Bonnar, Jane McCarry and Martin Compston, and music from Travis and Julie Fowlis. Theres more music with Joolss Annual Hootenanny (11.15pm, BBC Two), welcoming in the new by rolling out old stuff like Stereophonics. On STV, Seans Very Scottish Hogmanay (11.30pm) sees Sean Batty at Ayrshires Craufurdland Castle with Dougie MacLean and Mairi Campbell. Meanwhile, on The Last Leg Of The Year (9pm, Channel 4), Alex Hill and guests make another attempt at finding the funny side of the past 12 months.


The Deuce

10pm, Sky Atlantic

The third and final series of this superb series about the sex industry in late-1970s New York. Created by The Wires David Simon and crime writer George Pelecanos, its a tough and seedy subject, but this show has handled it with open eyes and a careful, complex feel for the characters caught in the trade, as well as a masterful evocation of time and place. Weve jumped ahead several years to late 1984 now, and, as the Times Square neighbourhood flickers on the verge of gentrification, porn is also changing, moving toward being a mainstream business with the explosion of the home video market. But Eileen (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her mentor Harvey have very different ideas about the market, and the kind of material they want to create. Meanwhile, a darker change has come, with the Aids crisis at its worst.


Top Of The Pops: The Story Of 1989 - 8.30pm, BBC Four In Search Of Dracula With Mark Gatiss - 10.35pm, BBC Two

1989 already? The ongoing Top Of The Pops reruns continue to be the gift that keeps giving for BBC Four and, to kick off a new year of repeats, tonight comes the traditional documentary overview of the era under the spotlight, the period that saw the rise of Madchester, the dawn of Milli Vanilli, and plenty of peak Madonna. Marc Almond is among the contributors looking back on events look out later for more from the man with a repeat of this years excellent Soft Cell documentary, Say Hello, Wave Goodbye (10.30pm). Elsewhere, Mark Gatiss shows off the research he did for Dracula with an excellent documentary on the origins and many incarnations of Bram Stokers creation, including happy memories from some of the Hammer studios former brides.


Clive James: Postcard From Sydney

8.15pm, BBC Two

The first of three programmes tonight marking the recent passing of the great writer, broadcaster, poet, novelist, thinker, critic, translator and general good Australian. James always cited the Postcards From series as among his most personal work and this 1991 episode, in which he returns to his hometown after living abroad many years, shows why, as he visits formative haunts including the derelict Luna Park, and the hill at Sydney Cricket Ground. The following episode, Postcard From London (9.05pm), while bristling with his customary caustic wit, is even more poignant, as James recalls moving to London as a young man in the early 1960s, and experiencing the town at full swing along the way he chats with Peter Cook, Victoria Wood, Terence Donavan and Michael Caine. The evening ends with another showing of the moving 2018 interview When Mary Beard Met Clive James (9.55pm).

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Damien Love's TV pick of the week (Dec 29-Jan 4) - HeraldScotland

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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero
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