TV COLUMN: Doctor Who, Kon-Tiki, Barry Norman

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television..

The latest incarnation, if not quite yet regeneration, of Doctor Who (BBC1) has finally put Who fans out of their misery.

There will be one last twee, Christmasified special with Peter Capaldi at the end of the year, but it’s unlikely to salvage what has been the worst Doctor Who epoch since Sylvester McCoy gurned and clowned the franchised into its 1989 demise.

All good things come to an end, usually because they end up being no good. This latest re-booting which began back in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston has been hugely successful – arguably the best the time-roving Time Lord has been – but it’s time for time to be called on Doctor.

To be fair to Capaldi, his Doctor has not been helped by some pretty weak writing and the BBC’s ridiculous approach to scheduling, which in the last series shuffled the programme throughout the Saturday evening to the extent that it ended up too late for family viewing and missing its prime audience.

The ratings hit continued into this series to the point where, in the current competitive climate of Saturday evening television, Doctor Who no longer pulled in the numbers to justify its exisitance up against the huge reality TV juggernauts.

In its 1970s heydays, Doctor Who peaked at 16 million viewers. The 2005 re-boot, even in the era of multi-channel TV, managed 10 million. Fewer than 4 million watched Capaldi’s series finale. In primetime scheduling ratings matter and the numbers speak for themselves.

Kon-Tiki (BBC4) would have been equally nostalgic for viewers of a certain age, who followed Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, and his intrepid sailing adventures through the 1960s and 1970s.

This film version followed the first Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, with Heyerdahl and an international crew attempting to prove that early man could navigate the oceans on a balsawood and reed raft without the use of modern technology. In 1947 modern technology meant a sextant, let alone today’s satellite positioning and GPS devices.

The Norwegian-made film –the country’s first to be nominated for either an Oscar or a Golden Globe – was beautifully shot and successfully captured the innocence, ingenuity and awe of the original television series.

The 5,000 miles journey across the Pacific from South America to Polynesia remains incredible today. Back then it was as challenging as putting a man on the moon.

Kon-Tiki was the first of four sailing adventures covering the world’s oceans. The last, Tigris, 1979 fell foul of conflict surrounding the Red Sea.

Heyerdahl was forced to burn his ship and wrote to the United Nations Secretary General: “Now we are forced to stop at the entrance to the Red Sea. Surrounded by military airplanes and warships from the world’s most civilized and developed nations, we have been denied permission by friendly governments, for reasons of security, to land anywhere.”

History, Heyerdahl’s passion, has not learned its lessons. The same part of the world still burns today.

Another voice from the past died this week with the passing of Barry Norman. Norman presented the BBC’s Film programme for over 25 years. He was knowledgeable, serious about film, open-minded about blockbuster cinema – everything that film-buffs wanted.

When he finally succumbed to frustrations with the BBC in 1998, he went to Sky TV. It was the end of the BBC treating film with the critical seriousness the medium deserves. It was also the beginning of the BBC giving up on critics and opting instead for presenters.

Ironically, the only place where film – a visual medium – is now treated with critical seriousness on the BBC is on the radio with 5 Live’s Mayo and Kermode show.