The War of the Worlds, 1/3, Sunday 17th November, 9pm, BBC One
There are loads of great things about kids, but one of the best of them is that they grow up and stop being kids. Don’t get me wrong, they’re cute and everything, but they wake up too early, won’t eat vegetables, and their taste in TV is absolutely shocking. I will take the surreal horrors of In the Night Garden to my grave.
But my son is now 11, and we are actually getting to the stage where we can watch TV together without one of us wanting to shove a brick through the flat screen. So, for the first time in my ‘career’ as a ‘TV critic’, I watched one of the programmes I was writing about with him. (For the record, my daughter was on a sleepover, and my wife was mainlining prosecco and cackling with friends.)
Before we started, I told him a little bit about The War of the Worlds, and in particular about the 1938 panic. For those of you unfamiliar with the story (of whom I imagine there are very few), in 1938, Orson Welles’ radio dramatization of the HG Wells book featured faux-news flashes interrupting a supposed music broadcast to alert Americans to an alien invasion. Mass panic ensued. My son’s main comment on the whole sorry saga was surprise that there was ever a time when swathes of people listened to the radio.
Anyway, here we go. The BBC drama. It’s the start of the 20th century. George (Rafe Spall) and Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson) are a couple living in sin, to the considerable outrage of the good people of Woking. We have to remember, it’s 1904. Mind you, I think it’s always 1904 in Woking. George and Amy don’t care. They’re in love. Look, they’re having a passionate kiss. Oh God, please don’t let this be a sexy drama. My son and I will never be able to make eye contact again.
Six trawlers have been sunk in the North Sea. Thank goodness. I mean, not for those on board, obviously, but the boy and I can deal with death and destruction. Just not kissing. Anyway, the Russians are immediately suspected. Plus ça change, as they probably don’t say in Moscow.
But what’s this? A meteor appears to have landed in a park near Woking. George and Amy, and a local scientist and astronomer, Ogilvy (Robert Carlyle), wander along to take a gander. Rather bizarrely, nobody else seems to have bothered. Perhaps massive fireballs hurtling through the sky are an everyday occurrence in Surrey.
Finally, a crowd gathers around the mysterious projectile, and the Astronomer Royal arrives. He’s a rather arrogant chap. Anyway, the meteor doesn’t seem to be behaving in an entirely regular manner. Its surface is cracking. It’s starting to move a little. It’s… oh… Well, that’s unfortunate.
All of a sudden, lots of people are running around, quite a few of them on fire. More meteors are landing. There are some very large pieces of hardware doing really quite a lot of damage to Woking. Explosions. Panic. Screaming. My son, who has taken all the plotty bits in his stride with perfect bonhomie, is suddenly sitting bolt upright. You don’t get this on CBBC.
I have to agree with him – this is really good fun. I mean, an alien invasion of the Earth isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of culture. But it’s really, really well done. The effects are great, the tension is ratcheted up, but not so much as to cause mass panic (take note, Orson). Those aliens look pretty lethal, mind you. And they know their stuff. As any great general will tell you, take Woking, and you take the world.
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Gino’s Italian Express, 1/8, Thursday 21st November, 8.30pm, ITV
Right, time for a change of tempo. If watching both Woking and humanity fall at the feet of alien overlords is a little too energetic for you, how about a spot of train travel in Italy? In the perky company of the perennially cheerful Gino D’Acampo, celebrity chef and excitable human/puppy hybrid?
This new eight-part series will see Gino travel all over the northern half of Italy by train, stopping off at places of interest, and cooking some local dishes. Gino announces he’s not been on a train in 15 years. Whaaat? How is that possible? My mother, who is largely immobile and believes that public transport is an affront to her very existence, has travelled on a train more recently than Gino.
Anyway, he seems to take to it quite well – which is hardly surprising. Italian trains look blissfully un-crowded, and the views… oh the views. Travelling into Italy through the Southern Alps on the Nice-Turin railway, it’s just ridiculously beautiful. I’m writing this on a train right now, from East Croydon to Brighton. It’s absolutely rammed, everyone looks grumpy, and it’s too dark to see out of the window. This feels as removed from what Gino’s doing as it is possible to get.
Anyway, first off, he’s going to the medieval town of Cuneo. Never heard of it, but it’s the home of Barolo wine and Nutella, both of which I very definitely have heard of. Apparently, the Barolo is so popular around here, you can even buy it in the churches. It’s even prescribed by local doctors. I might see if I can get a cider prescription from the NHS.
Gino hooks up with Roberto, a local GP who dispenses wisdom on the hoof. Literally. He travels to see his patients on horseback. He says it makes them feel relaxed. I think if my doctor turned up to visit me on a horse, it would make me feel like I was hallucinating. Anyway, he goes to visit an old couple, who seem pleased to see him. He prescribes them wine and salami. I’d be pleased to see my doctor too, under those circumstances, horse or no horse.
Now it’s time for a spot of cooking. Gino makes a chocolate and hazelnut cheesecake that looks genuinely, ridiculously good. And so simple. I find myself monetarily convinced that I might actually try making this, before remembering that the limit of my culinary ability is a bowl of Shreddies. Apparently, the local Nutella factory gives off fumes so that, in the winter, the fog tastes of chocolate. That’s me on a property website for Cuneo right away.
On to Turin, the main city of Piedmont. Gino explains that Piedmont means, of course, Foot of the Mountains. How did I never realise that? Anyway, Turin looks fab (I mean, it’s Italy, of course it’s fab). All the more so with its local chocolate/coffee hybrid drink, its history and culture, and its Fiat factory. And the Fiat factory has something quite extraordinary on its roof, which makes a spectacular setting for one more dish – an exquisite-looking pasta, pork, rosemary and truffle dish that even I could probably cook if I wasn’t hampered by a breath-taking lack of get-up-and-go.
The best… and the rest:
Sunday 17th November
I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, 9pm, ITV: you know the drill. Former footballer Ian Wright, Girls Aloud singer Nadine Coyle, Radio 1 presenter Adele Roberts, comedian Andrew Maxwell, former EastEnders actress Jacqueline Jossa, DJ Roman Kemp, Olympian and TV personality Caitlin Jenner, ex-England rugby player James Haskell, RakSu singer Myles Stephenson, and TV and radio presenter Kate Garraway are the unfortunates chowing down on the unmentionables.
Monday 18th November
Vienna Blood, 9pm, BBC Two: a police drama with a twist: It’s set in Vienna in 1906. Apart from that, it’s standard fare: a traditional copper and a psychoanalytical expert/Freud-disciple solve cases together with the usual odd-couple schtick.
Tuesday 19th November
Johnson v Corbyn: The ITV Debate, 8pm, ITV: Julie Etchingham moderates. Moderates. There’s a lovely word.
Thursday 21st November
What Makes a Murderer, Channel 4, 9pm: convicted murderers submit themselves to biological and psychological investigations to determine whether they truly had control over their actions. First up is 71-year-old John Massey, Britain's longest-serving murderer, who spent 43 years in prison for the fatal shooting of a nightclub bouncer in 1975.
Friday 22nd November
Question Time, 7pm, BBC One: if you haven’t had enough politics to last a lifetime, fill your boots tonight with this two-hour special. Fiona Bruce is in Sheffield, with Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon and Jo Swinson answering the questions in front of a live studio audience.
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