Jiang Zemin

Channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 December, 2011, 12:00am


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In the world of reality television, Australia is fast being recognised for its 'niceness'. The Aussie branch of the Next Top Model franchise, hosted by a sunny Sarah Murdoch, has rounded the edges of the fiercely contentious atmosphere that Tyra Banks thrives on in the American original. And MasterChef Australia encourages its contestants, whereas the American version headlines Gordon Ramsay: 'nuff said.

Continuing the trend, Junior MasterChef Australia features eight- to 12-year-old kitchen whizzes - and we are eating it up. After a highly successful first season last year, Junior MasterChef Australia returns this week (above right; Star World, tonight at 8pm) with heats to find 20 finalists (eight more than in the previous season).

Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris return, alongside Anna Gare and Matt Moran, to pass judgment under a great dome of positivity. The giant studio, with gleaming equipment and a 'pantry' brimming with ingredients, features a live audience made up entirely, it seems, of the nervous parents and grandparents of the tiny competitors; and the cameras make the most of it - panning straight for the teary mum's face as her little tyke wins top marks in the baking round.

The only problem with all that niceness is dishes cannot go disastrously wrong - even the chocolate cake that lands on the floor. The judges use 'brilliant' and 'amazing' in describing half of what they taste - so when a child gets a mere 'good job' or 'well done', they have real cause for concern.

A word about the contestants: they are of the age group for whom reality shows are a staple. It's no wonder, therefore, that their testimonials sound ready made for the screen. They talk of things like their 'journey' and how 'it's been a dream to win MasterChef' and 'it really doesn't get better than this'. It's a bit creepy, but that doesn't take away from the fact that these youngsters are whipping up drool-worthy renditions of sophisticated dishes such as salmon en papillote and handmade duck ravioli.

In the early 1980s, Deng Xiaoping said 'to get rich is glorious', and to look at China now, it would seem his nation was destined to be a superpower. But just 35 years ago, when Mao Zedong died, the country Deng inherited was one of the world's poorest. The BBC's China's Capitalist Revolution (History; tonight at 8pm) chronicles the turnaround and Deng's pivotal role in transforming the country.

In looking at a decade of stop-start reform - with the creation of special economic zones fraught with political resistance and lack of funding - the programme offers a different interpretation of the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising; the demonstrators did not begin by demanding democracy. Corruption, inflation and the hardship caused by economic reforms drove students and workers to confront the government and the army. Deng gave the order to fire, creating the blackest mark on his leadership, but his ideas prevailed. In 1992, at the age of 87, he came out of retirement in a last push to galvanise reformers against the reinstated Maoist leadership; two years later, Jiang Zemin opened China's doors once more. Devoid of sentimentality, the programme presents a clear picture of Deng's role in the China we know today.

Finally, Doctor Who gives an otherworldly twist to the Charles Dickens' classic in A Christmas Carol (BBC Entertainment; Saturday at 8pm). Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series) does his best impression of Ebenezer Scrooge, in space. As Kazran Sardick, he is the miser who controls the weather in his gloomy world - until The Doctor drops in through the chimney, that is. Four thousand people, including The Doctor's companions Amy and Rory, are trapped on a spaceship hurtling towards Sardick's planet, and they need to be rescued. It is up to The Doctor to convince Sardick to help him rescue them.

Matt Smith continues swimmingly as the eleventh Doctor, and crooner Katherine Jenkins guest stars in this rip-roaringly fun Christmas special.