As Autumn begins to gather pace and everyone’s thoughts turn to being indoors and eating stews, TV-land lines up its biggest hits. Light entertainment shows normally dominate the weekend schedules, bar one notable exception. Downton Abbey owns has a vice-like grip on the 9pm Sunday night slot. It has ratings that even the soaps now struggle to match, and although it may not be the darling of the critical world, it has a loyal fan base to challenge those of Doctor Who and the like.

The new series found the household still mourning the death of Matthew Crawley, the heir to the estate and someone who was supposed to be its saviour. No-one was weighed down by grief more than Lady Mary, his decidedly un-merry widow. Michelle Dockery spent most of the episode wafting about like a restless ghost, the icy heart that had thawed over the previous three series returned to its previous state. We don’t know what season it was outside, but inside the house it was winter.  Then, following a pep talk or two, and a previously unknown letter, she was restored. This series is no doubt going to have Mary’s re-emergence into the world at its core as she seeks to carry on her late husband’s work.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Downton without some side-plots, some interesting, others not, but all very simple. The first two episodes alone have had evil nannies, tea-dance fights, old comedy partners, unemployed valet’s and a new scheming lady’s maid as evil Edna Braithwaite joined forces with the constant low-level menace that is Barrow the footman. What is it with Barrow and his need to have a scheming woman as his companion? Did he learn nothing from getting too close to O’Brian?

If this new alliance is one of the key sub-plots, then the other is Lady Edith’s lover’s quest to become a German citizen. Apparently this is the only option to divorce an wife, which seems a bit drastic. I mean, German for God’s sake! Choosing to become Teutonic in the 1920’s is like going back in time to nick a ticket to get on the Titanic. Still, at least Edith seems to have a better track record of keeping her other halves alive than her older sibling. Lady Mary needs her downstairs exorcising before she chooses her next mate.

Despite all this the show was stolen in the first episode. No, not by the Dowager, although Maggie Smith is still playing her with as sharp a wit as ever. By an electric mixer. Yes, Downton, is the kind of show where an inanimate object provides more entertainment than the whole cast combined. For a lot of programmes this would be the death knell. Yet it is oddly fitting that amongst all the human dramas and overt sociological musings of the characters, it is changes in domestic technology that most show how the world is changing. Next week: Lady Rose gets annoyed by the poor Wi-Fi in the east wing of the house. A girl has to update her Facebook somehow.

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