Abba-mania continues

by Fiona Rae / 27 December, 2008

The Quartermass Experiment (Prime, 8.35pm). In 1953, this UK sci-fi series was event television; legend has it that the streets and pubs were empty on the night it screened. It was the first sci-fi series for adults and began a tradition of British sci-fi that continues today with Doctor Who. It tapped into fears about Britain's postwar security and the horrors of war, so perhaps 2005 - post-Iraq - was the right time for an new version: remove references to the Cold War and update the science a bit. As a homage to the original series, this two-hour drama was filmed live, so there are a few bumps, but when do you ever see that? The cast includes Jason Flemyng as Quatermass, pre-Doctor Who David Tennant, Mark Gatiss and Indira Varma.


Artsville: Disabled People Can't Dance (TV1, 10.25pm) . To paraphrase comedian Philip Patston, who narrates this documentary, Touch Compass dance company doesn't so much look beyond disability as find the unique experience. The company, which turned 10 last year, mixes the able-bodied with the differently abled, but keeps it firmly about the dance and the extra quality brought by disabled dancers. Indeed, founder Catherine Chappell told the Listener last year that it was the non-disabled dancers who had to step up: "Able-bodied dancers have to find a truth about how they are moving." Here, cameras follow the company as it rehearses for a national tour.


The Black Donnellys (C4, 8.30pm) . Saying it's the Irish-American Sopranos is somewhat flattering; The Black Donnellys lasted only 13 episodes, despite being created and written by Oscar winners Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco (Crash). Perhaps it was designed to be Sopranos for the kids: it features four brothers, the Donnellys of the title, involved in organised crime in their tough New York neighbourhood. As the creators of The Shield know, it's fiendishly difficult to make a good series about bad guys, and it seems the Donnellys have few redeeming features and even less remorse than Vic Mackey. An interesting experiment, perhaps; watch for Olivia Wilde, "Thirteen" in House.


Cricket (Sky Sport 1, 11.30am). The West Indies cricket team are a long way from home for New Year, but they'll have the spectacular surrounds of Queenstown for consolation. The first one-day international of the tour is today; the second innings starts at 4.00pm.

Mansfield Park (TV1, 1.00pm) . Proof that the TV1 programmers are total girls: the week is full of period dramas, mostly of the Jane Austen kind. The only one that seems to be missing is Sense and Sensibility. This ITV version of Mansfield Park screened here last year as part of a Jane Austen season. It stars Billie Piper, who turns the priggish heroine into a vivacious tomboy. On New Year's Day, Andrew Davies' version of Northanger Abbey screens at 1.05pm: he sauced this up, too, with a bath scene, a seduction scene and a dashing carriage ride. The best is last: Persuasion is on Friday at 1.00pm. It stars Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth and Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot. Anthony Stewart Head steals the show as Anne's vain father, Sir Walter.

ABBA: The Mamma Mia! Story (TV1, 7.30pm). You can run, but you cannot hide from the Mamma Mia! phenomenon. Odin knows, we've tried. Kicking off a musical New Year's Eve on TV1, this doco examines the hit stage production, written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, which has been seen by more than 30 million people worldwide. It segues into clips and interviews with the stars of the movie version, because if there's anything that film needs, it's more publicity.

The music continues with a repeat of To Sir With Love, the Howard Morrison tribute, at 8.30pm (this differs from the schedule) and An Audience with Neil Diamond at 11.30pm.

Over on TV2 and TV3, it's movies all the way for New Year; on Prime, however, they're going Top Gear crazy. The Top Gear Marathon starts at 2.00pm and doesn't finish until 11.55pm, when it's time to welcome in ... the cricket highlights. If you want to get down with the kids, C4 has a top 100 countdown from 2.00pm, hosted by Dai Henwood, then a top 40 party-floor-fillers countdown, as voted by the kids, from 10.00pm.

If you have Freeview, TVNZ6 is screening the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize Concert from 8.30pm. It's hosted by Sir Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson, and features performances by Il Divo, Diana Ross, Fiest, and Julieta Venegas. The concert celebrates the work of this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martti Ahtisaari.


Crisis at the Castle (Prime, 8.30pm). If Lost in Austen (see page 16) is the romantic view of life in the 17th century, here's the modern reality of owning an estate: no peasants to keep the place going, servants who want decent wages, and rates bills up to your eyeballs. It's tough being posh. However, an air of privilege still surrounds the owners of the stately homes featured in this three-part BBC series, especially the couple who have wrecked all their mother's good work at Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe. Lady Ashcombe spent 30 years turning the castle and its gardens into a popular tourist attraction, then daughter Mollie and her husband, Duncan (described as "almost extravagantly repellent" by the Guardian), moved in and closed everything. Enter David, who is charged with saving Sudeley for Mollie, Duncan and their progeny. Tough call, as there's something of a familial split. Lady Ashcombe lives in the west wing of the house, known as Germany; Mollie and Duncan's east wing is referred to as England. "The hall, snooker room, swimming pool, tennis court and courtyard are Switzerland," says Lady Ashcombe.


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