CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV: Unleashing the biggest shows of the year... it's box-set Sunday

The War Of The Worlds

Rating:

The Crown

Rating:

At this time of year, every day has its own headline. There is Black Friday at the end of November, when the festive sales launch, and the Super Saturday bargain frenzy on the last weekend before Christmas.

Now there is box-set Sunday, the day the biggest shows of the year are unleashed.

Expectations were so high for the third series of Netflix's £100 million regal epic The Crown that fans might as well have pitched tents beside their TVs and stayed up all night, drinking soup from a Thermos, as if they were hoping for a glimpse of the real Queen.

For costume drama spectacle, The War Of The Worlds (BBC1) nearly matched it by burning down an Edwardian village and levelling London to red dust — even if the budget looked a little threadbare in places.

Peter Harness's dramatisation of The War Of The Worlds succeeds because it only moves the timeframe slightly

Peter Harness's dramatisation of The War Of The Worlds succeeds because it only moves the timeframe slightly

Then there was the third episode of His Dark Materials (BBC1), with its computer imagery so lifelike that you forget the daemons or soul animals do not really exist. On top of that, Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1) was in Blackpool and I'm A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here! (ITV) marooned a brand-new batch of castaways in the jungle.

How we will ever again be able to settle for watching repeats of Pointless (BBC1), after the adrenaline rush of all those premieres? I really don't know.

H.G. Wells's sci-fi classic The War Of The Worlds has been reimagined in numerous ways, from Steven Spielberg's modern-day setting in New York, to Jeff Wayne's West End musical.

This Peter Harness dramatisation succeeds because it only moves the timeframe slightly — from the Victorian to the Edwardian era.

Eleanor Tomlinson and Rafe Spall, as lady scientist Amy and her journalist boyfriend George, bicycled around their Surrey town at dawn in tweeds, happily oblivious to the alien invasion that was already under way.

Typewriters rattled under a haze of cigarette smoke in George's office, and astronomers fussed with camera plates or tapped their boots with riding crops in time to the gramophone.

We know with hindsight, of course, that this amiable idyll was about to be blown to smithereens by World War I. Nowadays, Wells's nightmare vision of the future has the air of a ghastly prophecy.

Amy is not in the book, but she was real — Wells left his wife four years before writing the novel, to live with one of his students, Amy Robbins. Before getting married, they rented a house in Woking for 18 months, where they caused something of scandal.

'We're pariahs, George and I,' Amy announced at the outset. She seemed to be revelling in her notoriety — joining scientists to examine an alien egg that had scorched a crater into the Surrey woods, she boasted about her lover: 'Rather afraid we're not married.'

TOUGH BIRDS OF THE WEEKEND:

Wild budgies in Australia can fly up to 300 miles a day across deserts in search of water, revealed Sir David Attenborough on Seven Worlds, One Planet (BBC1). They can even outsmart hawks. Who's a clever boy then?

With a hiss of noxious gases, the egg cracked open. Even the Martians were outraged by such moral lapses in Edwardian times.

Moral lapses are the preserve of Princess Margaret in The Crown (Netflix). It is plain that Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen's naughty sister intends to be the show's leading lady, determined to make Her Majesty look not only dutiful but dowdy.

The second episode, all riotous rows and dirty limericks at the White House, is a tour de force.

I am not yet convinced by Olivia Colman's Queen nor by Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip. She lacks the brittleness and he the swashbuckling raffishness of Claire Foy and Matt Smith in the previous two series.

But The Crown is unstoppable now, a thundering cannonball of a drama fired from a £100 million supergun. All you can do is let it blow you away.

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV: Unleashing the biggest shows of the year...

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