Did we like it?
An enjoyable romp in the imaginative Discworld of Terry Pratchett slightly marred by being overlong.
What was good about it?
• Going against the grain of the tortuous nature of much of the opening episode, the characters were all quickly established and made utterly distinctive through a combination of striking appearances and taut dialogue.
• As soon as we were introduced to the heroine of the piece Susan (Michelle Dockery) with her shock of black hair in an otherwise milk-white thatch, it was obvious that being a governess to two young children wasn’t satisfying her yearning for adventure and her wish was soon granted when she helped her adoptive grandfather, Death, search for the absent Hogfather..
• Marc Warren’s sinister Mr Teatime had something of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang about him, and was merciless in his role as the assassin assigned to kill the Hogfather (the Discworld Father Christmas) by the Auditors in an effort to reduce humanity’s creativity.
• Despite quite not quite matching the Harry Potter films for gloriously realising a fantastical world, an admirable effort was made (on a “meagre” £5m budget). Granted everything was dark to mask any deficiencies, but this simply added to the despondency creeping through Discworld.
• We especially liked the egg timers that measure each person’s life that Death keeps in his abode, which slowly run down until he has to go and collect them. And the way that the Tooth Fairy’s castle defended itself by casting Mr Teatime and his underlings into their own worst nightmares that proved largely fatal.
• Even though the first episode was a crawl, it was at least divided up into three separate areas. Susan’s quest to rescue the Hogfather was the central plot strand and certainly had the most momentum; Death’s effort to replace the Hogfather by taking presents to all the children was a little fluffy but offered light relief, especially in his banter with his aide Albert (David Jason); while Mr Teatime’s mission to the Tooth Fairy’s castle was quite boring in comparison. The problem was that Mr Teatime was such an irredeemably vile villain that watching him kill the Tooth Fairy’s minions and manipulate his own helpers was quite dull.
• A fantastic cast that also included Ian Richardson as the voice of Death (even reprising his Francis Urquhart catchphrase), Joss Ackland, Nigel Pearson, Tony Robinson and Nigel Planer.
What was bad about it?
• The length. It seemed as though the scheduling of The Hogfather was arranged, two episodes of two hours, before anything else. What else could explain the ponderous scenes that lumbered throughout much of the opening hour? And it might also go some way towards explaining why it had the longest ‘next episode’ and ‘episode recap’ synopses in the history of television.
• We very much doubt there was much left on the cutting room floor. One particular scene sticks in our mind of two guards ordered to evict Death from the Hogfather’s toy grotto in a department store. The two guards themselves were superfluous and their encounter with Death didn’t add anything at all to the narrative flow, in fact it disrupted it.
• David Jason was billed as the star, yet was really only a supporting character who did little more than offer a humorous interlude as Death tries to mimic the Hogfather.
• Some of the special effects were a little bit ropey, mostly the type when someone is virtually painted on to another landscape behind them.