On TV: March 26, 2016

by Fiona Rae / 24 March, 2016
Devoured Downton Abbey? Creator Julian Fellowes promises even more deliciousness in Doctor Thorne.
Fear the Walking Dead, Saturday.
Fear the Walking Dead, Saturday.


Fear the Walking Dead (SoHo, Sky 010, 5.20pm). April is a huge month in the television calendar, mostly because the biggest show in the history of the world, Game of Thrones, returns, but also because our DVR will runneth over with new seasons of Banshee, The Tunnel, Bates Motel, Orphan Black, Silicon Valley, Veep and this spin-off series that has been providing Kiwi Cliff Curtis with gainful employment, Fear the Walking Dead. In preparation, SoHo is screening season one today; it’s a quick six episodes, surely nothing to a binge-watcher. SoHo is also showing season three of Orphan Black today from 9.50am and Sky launches a Game of Thrones pop-up channel for SoHo subscribers (210) on Thursday that will screen seasons 1-5.

The Dovekeepers (Vibe, Sky 006, 9.35pm). Survivor producer Mark Burnett brought us The Bible, AD The Bible Continues (tagline: “The Crucifixion was Only the Beginning”) and Son of God, but here steps away from Sunday school lessons to have a go at Alice Hoffman’s 2011 book about the Siege of Masada in AD73. For once, the story is told from the female perspective – and in flashback, as Sam Neill, playing the Roman historian Flavius Josephus, interrogates Shirah (NCIS’s Coté de Pablo) and Yael (Rachel Brosnahan) about what happened when 900 Jews held off a Roman legion on the mountain of Masada. Unfortunately, it’s like Days of Our Lives AD73 edition: bad dialogue, cardboard characters and Josephus chastises Shirah and Yael for their illicit love affairs and babies. Some things don’t change. Historians may remember the 1981 mini-series starring Peter O’Toole, Barbara Carrera and David Warner (who won an Emmy).


Si & Gary’s Now That’s Funny! (TV3, 7.00pm). The world needs more lols, and perhaps we were a bit harsh in our estimation of this clip show and its presenters. Simon Barnett and Gary McCormick won last year’s NZ Radio Award for Best Music Breakfast Show and have taken the More FM breakfast nationwide. Thanks to cellphones, our private embarrassments have become public humiliations forever on the internet – here, clips of falls, fails, slips and dancing fools are narrated by Christchurch’s most-popular radio hosts.

Rebel Pope (National Geographic, Sky 072, 8.30pm). History and National Geographic have a ton of Easter programming today, including this biography of Pope Francis, the people’s pontiff, who has been turning the giant ship Vatican back to core Catholic values with his unpretentious approach. As a primer, Inside the Vatican’s Vault on Discovery (Sky 070) at 7.30pm goes behind the scenes as the church prepares to canonise John XXIII and John Paul II in 2013, just after Francis was made Pope.

Doctor Thorne, Thursday.
Doctor Thorne, Thursday.


The Blocktagon (TV3, 4.15pm weekdays). Kudos for the name of this spin-off series, although with all the makeover shows that are on, you’d need high tolerance to sit through another. Five couples are going to have a go at the famously ugly Hotel Saville in South Yarra, an eight-storey octagonal building with no right angles. A tough job you would think best left to the experts. “It’s like a big meat pie,” says host Scott Cam, using the best metaphor ever on a building show. “The lounge, dining and kitchen are the three pieces of pie and the lift well is the sauce in the middle.”

Mega-Yachts (TV3, 9.30pm). Or more correctly, Million Pound Mega Yachts, as this is a Channel 4 doco about rich Brits in Monaco and their floating palaces. The Kiwi boat-building community will enjoy the annual Monaco Yacht Show, where the rich measure their boats against each other. There’s Scottish millionaire Doug Barrowman, who has already spent more than $117million in our money and still wants a bigger one; businessman Howard Raymond, who wants a submarine with his; and Fulham FC owner Shahid Kahn, who has a new crystal chandelier on his one.


Father Brown (UKTV, Sky 007, 9.30pm). If you’ve been enjoying season one of Father Brown on Prime (Saturday, 7.30pm, although by rights it should screen on a Sunday, surely), then you’ll no doubt enjoy season three of the show, although Hugo Speer’s Inspector Valentine is long gone, having been replaced by Tom Chambers’ Inspector Sullivan. In the time-honoured tradition, he is always being outwitted by the good Father.


Kairakau (Maori, 8.00pm). Rotorua is rapidly becoming a go-to destination for television production – a drama series, executive-produced by Cliff Curtis, has been filming there, and this action-drama series comes from Rotorua-based production house Velvet Stone Media. It’s like The Dead Lands as a TV show: stories of Maori warriors of times past are ­reimagined and depicted and the series draws on oral traditions and historic events.

Kairakau, Wednesday.
Kairakau, Wednesday.


Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes may be busy writing a serialised novel for the internet and working on an American series called The Gilded Age, but that hasn’t stopped him from knocking out a quick adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s Doctor Thorne (Prime, 7.30pm).

It’s a match made in heaven, being concerned with ­Fellowes’ triple obsessions of money, class and gigantic stately homes. The story concerns the penniless and pretty Mary Thorne (Stefanie Martini) and her beau Frank Gresham (Harry Richardson), but the real hero is the eponymous doctor, played by Tom Hollander, who can also be seen on TV3 as the rather nasty Corky in The Night Manager.

If you thought Downton was good-looking, get ready for chocolate-box gorgeousness in Doctor Thorne. The production somehow contrived to film in the best weather England has ever seen, and the costumes and houses are the grandest of the grand. Locations include West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire, Osterley Park and House in West London and the Victorian Gothic Revival house of Tyntesfield in North Somerset. The charming village of Greshambury is really Lacock in Wiltshire, a tiny town almost entirely owned by the National Trust.

Doctor Thorne also stars the awesome Rebecca Front, whose credits include satirical series The Thick of It and the BBC adaptation of War & Peace, in which she played hard-up Anna Mikhailovna Drubetskaya. Her Doctor Thorne role is similar – an impoverished member of the landed gentry, she schemes for her son Frank to marry into money. The lovely Mary Thorne just will not do.

“She adores her son,” Front told the Radio Times. “Yet she’s happy to sacrifice his ­happiness. But Julian told me she’s not a monster.”

There is also Ian McShane, whose crumpled face could launch a thousand period dramas, and who is seen in the Hitchcockian opening committing manslaughter. His Sir Roger Scatcherd, a stonemason turned railway baron, is a warning of the dangers of the demon drink, as is his son, Louis (Edward Franklin).

Although McShane, Front and Hollander are familiar faces, the series is full of newcomers who play the younger generation being traded off for money. The bright young things include Martini and Richardson in particular, as well as Welsh actress Gwyneth Keyworth, American actress Alison Brie, and Prince Harry’s former inamorata, Cressida Bonas.

Joanna Lumley’s Trans-Siberian Adventure (Prime, 8.35pm). Lumley’s train adventure, inspired by her visit to Moscow in 1966, comes to a close. As a 19-year-old, she had been sent on a modelling assignment for fake fur that went immediately wrong when it was discovered there was no snow. She was “unbelievably excited”, she told the Radio Times, but what she found was a Cold War Soviet Union of sad people, no food, and constant monitoring, and “I never wanted to go back, I hated it so much.” Of course, Moscow has changed immeasurably: good food, smiling people and “lovely clothes”, although the Metro train station where she recreates the Vanity Fair photo-shoot of 1966 is still the same. “Standing there and ­realising that I had last been here 50 years ago and it seems the blink of an eye. It was quite something.”

Embarrassing Bodies (TV2, 9.35pm). A new series of the one you watch through parted fingers. Tonight: Dr ­Christian helps a 37-year-old with a “rare penis problem”. Of course he does.


Kiwi Living (TV1, 7.30pm). Perhaps appropriately, lifestyle series Kiwi Living has had a mini-makeover for its second season: a “refreshed look”, according to publicity, and joining the team are fashion­ista Kylie Bax; former league player Monty Betham; interior designer Melissa Grenough with builder Dion South; and vet Stacey Tremain. Co-presenters Miriama Kamo and Michael Van de Elzen return, as does gardening guru Tony Murrell.

Horizon Guide to Climate Change, Thursday.
Horizon Guide to Climate Change, Thursday.


Horizon Guide to Climate Change (Choice TV, Thursday, 8.25pm) is a useful history of the past 40 years of investigation and discovery, from a time when global warming wasn’t even a thing to the obvious changes to our world today.

Physicist Helen Czerski (pictured) pulls together an amazing archive of BBC programmes, from the beginnings of the environmental movement with the first Earth Day in 1970, to David Attenborough in the Frozen Planet series looking at glacial retreat in South Georgia from the first time he visited in 1981.

When it began, the environmental movement was fighting such things as pollution, deforestation and acid rain; global warming was just a blip. In fact, there were dire warnings about a new ice age that could happen “at any time” because of sulphur dioxide emissions, which have a cooling effect.

However, it became clear that carbon dioxide was the bigger threat, and one of the early appeals to the global community came from Britain’s new Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who spoke at the UN in 1989 about the need for a worldwide response.

There’s terrific Horizon footage of English eccentrics, the obsessive data-collecting backyard scientists: the chap who measured grass growth on a verge for 32 years; the professor who had been stomping around on a peat bog for 25 years measuring the rate of decay with homemade equipment.

Professor Richard Alley, whose work on ice core samples has been pivotal in understanding the rate of change, is seen in 1999; Princeton’s Jerry Mahlman is seen in 1988 working on a climate-change computer model.

The sceptics are here too, but “Climategate” in 2009 seems a long way away now.

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