James Delingpole James Delingpole

CBBC’s The Famous Five shows you can update a classic without trashing it

Plus: like all the best propaganda, the new Doctor Who is often gripping

Faithful but modern: Anne (Flora Jacoby Richardson), Julian (Elliott Rose), George (Diaana Babnicova), Dick (Kit Rakusen) and the dog Timmy (Kip) in CBBC’s new adaptation of the Famous Five. Credit: BBC/Moonage Pictures/James Pardon/NWR 2023

The new Doctor in Doctor Who has blond hair, blue eyes and a firm handshake, dresses in a splendid red coat and has an exciting catchphrase: ‘Hounds are running! Tally ho!’

No, not really. The new Doctor is so very much what you’d expect the new Doctor to be like that you can guess without my telling you. And it’s not that I think that Ncuti Gatwa is going to be bad as the Doctor. On the contrary, from what little I’ve glimpsed of him so far, he seems charismatic, energetic, and fun. But I do wish the BBC commissars responsible for the series would try to make their social programming agenda a bit less insultingly obvious.

Like all the best propaganda, Doctor Who is often gripping and visually enticing

‘It’s not aimed at you. It’s aimed at kids,’ you sometimes hear from (invariably adult) Whovians when you dare criticise their sacred cow. But that is exactly my objection. If it were for grown-ups it wouldn’t matter a jot. Unfortunately it is aimed at a much more vulnerable, impressionable audience whom not all parents may be keen to have indoctrinated.

Like all the best propaganda, Doctor Who is often gripping and visually enticing. Its 60th anniversary episode, ‘The Giggle’, was a spectacular reminder of how much its special effects have come on since the early days of wobbly sets, Blue Peter-style cardboard and sticky-back plastic monsters. The recreation of 1920s Soho, for example, and its visualisation of UNIT’s skyscraper HQ, with laser-gun platform, would not have disgraced a Hollywood blockbuster.

It also had a particularly fine, loveably hateful villain played by Neil Patrick Harris (Count Olaf from Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events). The Toymaker – a baddie revived from the William Hartnell era – did the kind of horrible, creepy things involving ventriloquist dummies, live humans transformed into helpless marionettes, malevolent doll babies, etc that will haunt its young viewers’ nightmares for years.

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