WEB EXCLUSIVE: Couch Potato on Doctor Who, Poundland and the death of X Factor

Photo credit: Adrian Rogers/BBC/PA Wire
Photo credit: Adrian Rogers/BBC/PA Wire
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Our Sunday web columnist takes a wry look at the week’s TV.

X Factor, the ITV1 reality television talent show, has died. It was nine years old.

The programme had been battling a long illness, chronic fatigue since 2010, and drew its last breath at the end of the series’ auditions last weekend.

Best known for its sob stories and occasional singing, it endured a humiliating drubbing in the ratings by the Strictly Come Dancing premiere, just a week after falling to a five-year audience low.

Friends and colleagues have paid tribute to the show. Louis Walsh said: “It reminds me of a young Fame Academy....”

Okay, so this isn’t a real obituary, as much as it should be.

It’s more of a heartfelt plea, from yours truly to Simon Cowell, to put The X Factor and its viewers out of their misery.

Take it out the back and shoot the thing.

So much is now terminally ill that I can’t see a way back for a series I used to love despite all its faults and manipulation.

There has been enough dead wood on display this year to re-home a dozen displaced Amazon rainforest tribes, and I’m not just talking about all the acoustic guitars, or Geri Halliwell.

The panel is beyond dull and, in Nicole Scherzinger instead of Mel B, they’ve hired the wrong new judge and are clearly regretting it.

Failed contestants from 2011 have been given pride of place which, while nothing new, has exposed the programme’s weaknesses like never before.

Much worse, the producers have been foolishly scouring the nether regions of reality TV and regurgitating fame-hungry goofballs for our apparent entertainment, such as Britney impersonator Lorna Bliss, who’s an alumnus of Dating In The Dark, Snog Marry Avoid, and Britain’s Got Talent; workshy Signed By Katie Price model Rylan Clark; and, last weekend, this next poor soul:

“Hello, I’m Bianca Gascoigne.”

A sob story in itself, I’m sure you’ll agree. But we’ve had them all this series.

Dead granddads, drug-taking siblings, jailed fathers, poorly mothers, homeless former foster kids, infertile IVF wives with broken marriages, single mums whose tower-block lift sometimes gets stuck, on the eighth floor, Tulisa’s incorrect fish-and-chips order...

I’ve mentioned it before, but what sticks in the throat most is that each and every single one of them looks absurd next to any tale of courage from the Paralympic Games.

Heck, they look ridiculous next to the Suffolk Southern Area Cribbage Junior Open Repechage.

Those who can sing haven’t been great, and those who can’t, with the exception of Billy Moore’s brutal version of Don’t Stop Believing at the Newcastle try-outs, have been not in the least bit amusing.

They’ve been instantly forgettable to the point that during the pre-Bootcamp auditions highlights reel at the end of Sunday night’s episode, I could name only two contestants – Eddy String (a poor man’s Frankie Cocozza, which says a lot) and Rylan, the Sky Living bozo – and that was only because their annoyance levels burned into my memory.

But it doesn’t need me to write this show’s obit. If you’re looking for someone to read the last rites, Gary Barlow gave this moving assessment last weekend:

“It’s really not good enough. In general, it’s just a bit mediocre.”

Here lies The X Factor, 2004-2012.

RIP. Please.


This week’s Couch Potato Spudulike awards go to:

The Thick Of It.

The One Show surprising Clare Balding with a Skype call from Bert Le Clos.

Dame Maggie Smith taking a 15-love lead over Shirley MacLaine in Downton Abbey’s transatlantic acting veterans invitational.

A sheep re-enacting the Tamworth Two’s bid for freedom on BBC2’s first live One Man And His Dog by fleeing the flock and vaulting over a gate.

Hilary Devey’s “itchy foot”, on Dragons’ Den.

Two Total Wipeout lifeguards hauling “Bouncy Jill” up the ladder to the finishing platform after a 15-minute qualifier to treasure.

Warwick Davis and wife Sam agreeing in the glittery table tennis bat round on ITV1’s Mr and Mrs that he has the most annoying friends. Which reminds me, Warwick, how is your good friend Ricky Gervais?

And ITV4’s World of Sport: 1980s, featuring the Thomas Hearns v Marvellous Marvin Hagler fight of the century, John Lowe’s first televised nine-dart finish which, according to Jim Rosenthal at the time, “no one could believe here at the Fulcrum Centre in Slough” and earned the player £100,000, Steve Davis’s first televised 147, which earned him a Lada, and the carnage of caravan stock-car racing, from Ipswich, twin stock-car racing, from Ipswich, banger jump racing, from Ipswich, and double-decker bus racing.

From Northampton.


Gok Wan’s new C4 dating game show Baggage?

With any luck by next week, Lost Baggage.


Time now for the traditional four-fifths-of-the-way-through-the-first-five-fourteenths-of-the-current-Doctor-Who-series verdict.

Better than last year’s woeful run, obviously, but the blatant old Russell T Davies tendency to nick movie plotlines is creeping back in under Steven Moffat’s stewardship.

Two weeks ago, in the cryptically named Dinosaurs on a Spaceship episode, a rifle-toting, fedora- wearing, English big-game hunter was outmanoeuvred by a pack of velociraptors, the difference with Jurassic Park being that he survived. And it was on a spaceship.

Then last Saturday, a murderous robot cowboy (Westworld, anybody?) was going around “terminating” people, and I began playing spot the difference.

“The Terminator is part man, part machine, grown for the cyborgs.”

“The Gunslinger is a cyborg, half man, half machine.”

Exhibit A is Kyle Reese in James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator.

Exhibit B is The Doctor in Doctor Who. Or, possibly, the other way round.

Too much more crude copying like this and I’m afraid, unlike Arnie, I won’t be back.


C4’s Dispatches: Secrets of Poundland accused the budget store of deceiving customers by selling items actually more expensive than in supermarkets.

That does it. I’m shopping only at 99p shops from now on.


Now you see it, now you don’t. Yes, nice of Strictly Come Dancing to pop in briefly to say hello, wasn’t it?

And I for one am keeping the kettle boiled for its second coming in a couple of weeks, as the proper start to series 10 looks like it’s going to be worth the wait.

First, though, we had the annual “Who Will Anton Du Beke Be Lumbered With?” ceremony, where Robin Windsor began training for the World’s Strongest Man truck pull by skidding into HGV Lisa “doing it for the chubbers” Riley, poor, poor Johnny Ball found out he’ll spend the autumn with Aliona Vilani draped half naked around him, the poor, poor man, and Jerry Hall, who wanted someone “tall, handsome and with lots of stamina”, was lumbered with Anton Du Beke.

It’s a promising line-up that demonstrates, after all this time, that Strictly still feels as fresh as The X Factor does stale.

So much so that Len Goodman claimed he’d heard of every one of the 14 celebs for the first time.

Really, Len? The actress who played Tracy Beaker? I’d have struggled with that particular starter for 10.

And he was definitely inaccurate to say Johnny Ball is the first contestant older than him, to which I have two words for the old codger.

Paul Daniels.

My bigger concern is that, after Harry Judd won last year and fellow McFly bandmate Dougie Poynter’s I’m A Celebrity triumph, Nicky Byrne’s Westlife fan base could render the competition dead before it starts.

We’ve also already seen the first skirmishes this series in Bruce Forsyth’s continuing battle with the autocue and the studio audience, who he called zombies at the start and ended by accusing of giving him the slow handclap.

But look beyond these gripes and there are two Olympic heroes, the right member of Girls Aloud, a Bond actor, a cricket legend, and two soap actors, both of whom, unlike previous years, are household names and provided this introduction that’s still making my chuckle.

“Pop star Sid Owen.”

That’s Saturday night entertainment, folks.


This week’s Couch Potato Spuduhate awards go to:

Strictly Come Dancing disappearing again for three weeks the moment it returns.

Hip-hop-happening Aled Jones telling Professor Green on Wednesday’s Daybreak: “Well done on the new single. It’s really catchy,” like he’s got Public Enemy’s entire back catalogue. Word.

TV’s least original panel show, Comedy World Cup on Channel 4, having nine writers but producing only one funny joke over the hour, and that was a rip-off of Canadian stand-up Stewart Francis’s Top Gear/Last of the Summer Wine gag. In fact, if the final episode doesn’t include the presentation of a cup, the programme title has just three major errors.

Channel 5’s new series Being Liverpool, which goes behind the scenes at Anfield. Because I thought they’d have chosen to make a documentary about a big club.

And C5 spending 60 minutes indulging brown-nose speculation on Wills and Kate: Baby Fever, with insights from royal experts that: “There will be a huge flurry of interest at the announcement of a pregnancy,” the child is “more likely to be named Elizabeth or James than Carol”, and, courtesy of Channel 5 News’s royal correspondent Simon Vigar, before the couple hire a nanny: “There will be a full security check.”

You reckon?


Demonstrating her unrivalled knowledge of British television comedy, it’s Shappi Khorsandi in the specialist subject spotlight round on Channel 4’s Comedy World Cup.

Quizmaster David Tennant: “Complete Dick Emery’s catchphrase. ‘Ooh, you are awful...’”

Khorsandi: “Love?”

Tennant: “On what show would you have heard the phrase, ‘They don’t like it up them’?”

“I’ve no idea.”

“Which comedian’s catchphrase was, ‘It’s a cracker’?”

“Ahh, Jimmy Cricket.”

And, for a clean sweep: “What show included the catchphrase, ‘What’s on the end of the stick, Vic?’?”

The clue, as they say, is in the question. Over to you, Shappi. That’s right, it can only be...

“It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.”