What’s On TV – The Tractate Middoth / The Signalman

On Christmas Eve 2017 the good people at BBC Four decided to show a whole bunch of episodes of A Ghost Story for Christmas. I previously watched A Warning to the Curious as part of the 1001 TV list and now, thanks to this marathon, I have been able to watch the remaining two from the list.

I’m going to miss these easy crossings off.

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 204/501
Title: The Tractate Middoth
Episodes Aired: 1
Year(s): 2013
Country: UK

The first one that I saw was the final episode of the revival series for A Ghost Story for Christmas. As with most of these, The Tractate Middoth is based off of a short story by M.R. James. By this point I think they’ve used all of the best stories as, in terms of pure storytelling, The Tractate Middoth is pretty useless as a ghost story.

I don’t want this to come off as a criticism of Mark Gatiss as a director or of Sacha Dhawan in his leading role. It’s just that the actual story of The Tractate Middoth is pretty lame. It feels as if there a beginning, a middle and that’s about it. You feel as if there is meant to be this big climax to make up for the cheer about of serendipity, but it just ends. We were literally sad in front of the TV looking each other at the end asking, ‘wait, that’s it?’

So yes, if the reason for the inclusion of The Tractate Middoth is because it is an example of a revival of the A Ghost Story for Christmas then they probably should have gone for Whistle and I’ll Come to You.

Progress: 205/501
Title: The Signalman
Episodes Aired: 1
Year(s): 1976
Country: UK

The second that we watched was an oddity in the A Ghost Story for Christmas series in that it is not based on an M.R. James story. I know I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but this is the best of the three Christmas ghost stories on the 1001 TV list. Maybe because this is a story written by Charles Dickens and he knew how to construct a good narrative.

Now, I know that I am overly critical when it comes to depictions of horror on television. It’s not that it is impossible for me to be creeped out by a television show (unlike video games where a surprise encounter in Fallout 3 can make be scream), but it’s far from a guarantee. The Signalman, regrettably, didn’t get me there.

However, I did enjoy this short. The story was interesting and it really worked to have a limited cast and few locations in order to ratchet up the tension. However, the tension wasn’t great enough to make me feel unsettled. It was still a fun ride while it lasted.

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