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Thursday, 22nd June 2006

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The Scotsman Mon 19 Jun 2006

Dr Who trespasses on alien comic territory



Dr Who, Saturday, BBC1
Francesco's Italy, Sunday, BBC2
Grown Ups, Sunday, BBC3

NOW here was an episode of Dr Who with a difference - one where the man who drives the tardis was effectively a guest star. But who could complain when the actors edging him out included Peter Kay, Marc Warren and Shirley Henderson. My sources on the ground tell me that this particular episode has been the subject of much consternation among core Dr Who fans. The handbags at dawn have been caused by the fact that Dr Who has deviated into comedy.

There have always been laughs in the series, but for the true believers, this is deadly serious science fiction. In which case, they must have hated this episode. Hustle's Marc Warren took centre stage as Elton, a geeky chap who danced in his bedroom to ELO and dreamt of meeting the Doctor. His internet blogs quickly led to meetings with like-minded folk, including Henderson as equally nerdy Vanessa.

Peter Kay pressed the panto button the moment he appeared as the mysterious Victor Kennedy, a dapper chap who wanted to track down the Doctor even more than the Scooby gang did. "He's an alien," I shouted at the screen, but no-one threw any sweets back at me. When the moment of revelation came, we discovered that Kay wasn't just an alien, he was an alien with a broad Lancashire accent.

All wasn't exactly well that ends well, with the whole gang except Elton having been assimilated by Kay's Abzorbaloff. When poor Ursula was absorbed, he had the cheek to declare "tastes like chicken". This was Phoenix Nights meets Dr Who and by the time the Tardis arrived to half-save the day I could almost hear the dismayed chatter of shellshocked former fans. It's true, this episode came close to being a spoof, but it was actually quite nice to have a rest from the Doctor. Even saving the world gets boring sometimes.

As does admiring beautiful Italian scenery. I've nothing against travelogues: they're educational, easy on the eye and provide the 3D equivalent of a holiday brochure. Francesco's Italy certainly has an ideal host, the affable Francesco Da Mosto, a man with a lust for life and a smile that disarms at fifty paces. Apparently he's an architect, but in this programme Da Mosto casts a playboy's shadow, driving his little red Alfa Romeo through stunning scenery to a soundtrack of Dean Martin.

Da Mosto seems to have rich and famous friends at every turn, so we joined him wine-tasting with a baron in Chianti and admiring art in Florence with his mother-in-law's best friend, Dame Maggie Smith. His pro-Italian narration was refreshingly honest, referring with pity to "you British" at every turn. The highlight this week was Tuscany, where, he explained, "You British have a dream . . A dream that you will become rich and move here . . . then if you're lucky, find a Latin lover like me." As I said, he's an insightful man.

Francesco's Italy is dreamily romantic, but at an hour long, it outstays its welcome. There are only so many shots of glamorous Italian women this girl can watch before she starts to feel inadequate. And the pretty villages, grand villas, ornate churches and stunning works of art all begin to blend into one after a while. A half hour format would do a much better job, letting us fall in love with Italy, and leaving us wanting more.

There's not much to be said about Grown Ups, the BBC sitcom about the "trials and tribulations of being a 20-something". Having been put in a bad mood to start with at the thought of being too old to fit the audience demographic, it was going to take more than a mildly amusing 30-minute study on how to dump your boyfriend to get this viewer laughing. In fact the opening scene was a cracker, with one of the 20-somethings holding up a ravaged arm and stating "I've been bit by a tramp. Again." But that was the highlight. My mind was elsewhere anyway. Just how much would it cost to buy a villa in Tuscany?

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Last updated: 19-Jun-06 01:42 BST

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