Channel 5 recently revived the much-loved tales based on Alf Wight’s books If Only They Could Talk and It Shouldn’t Happen To a Vet, written under the more famous pseudonym of James Herriot and based on his experiences as a vet in the Yorkshire Dales during the 1930s and 1940s.
The series was both gentle and charming, but not a patch on the original TV adaptation, which began on the BBC in 1978 and ran, one and off, until Christmas 1990. Now all 90 episodes are being made available to stream so, if you watched the revamp, you can contrast and compare the two. Here, Christopher Timothy plays Herriot, memorably supported by Robert Hardy and Peter Davison as eccentric veterinarian Siegfried Farnon and his mischievous brother Tristan.
River (BritBox, from Thu)
Some series go on long after their sell-by date, while others burn brightly for mere seconds before disappearing from view. River falls into the latter category.
The six-part drama was created and written by Abi Morgan, whose other notable works include The Hour, The Iron Lady, Shame and Suffragette, and stars Stellan Skarsgard as DI John River, an unorthodox police officer working for the Met. While suffering from mental health issues, he obsessively hunts for those responsible for the death of his recently murdered colleague Jackie.
Meanwhile, River’s boss, Chief Inspector Chrissie Reid, becomes increasingly concerned about his state of mind. Nicola Walker, who has since starred in The Split, which was also by Morgan, and Lesley Manville play the women in River’s increasingly erratic life.
The Dig (Netflix, from Fri)
Historians, fans of true-life drama and those who love homegrown movies should lap up this period drama. It’s based on John Preston’s novel of the same name, which in turn was inspired by – but reimagines – the events surrounding the discovery of Sutton Hoo, the site of two early medieval cemeteries unearthed in Suffolk in 1939.
Carey Mulligan stars as Edith Pretty, a wealthy widow with a young won who, following the death of her husband, has become interested in spiritualism. She hires Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes), a self-taught local archaeologist to excavate mounds found on the estate bequeathed to her. He eventually unearths incredible long-lost finds; as the Second World War looms, echoes of Britain’s past begin to resonate in its uncertain future. Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ken Stott and Monica Dolan co-star.
Palmer (Apple TV+, from Fri)
Justin Timberlake heads the cast of this compelling drama directed by Fisher Stevens, an Oscar-winning documentary-maker who’s perhaps best known for his acting roles in Short Circuit and Succession. Timberlake plays Eddie Palmer, a former college football star with a bright future ahead of him – until a moment of madness saw him spend 12 years behind bars. On his release, he returns to his roots in Louisiana and moves in with his grandmother; she encourages him to start rebuilding his life – which proves to be far from easy. However, Eddie begins to reconnect with the world about him after becoming the unlikely father figure to a hard-living neighbour’s precocious son. Juno Temple, Alisha Wainwright, Ryder Allen and June Squibb co-star.
Sunday: Incredible Journeys with Simon Reeve (BBC2, 8pm)
During a career spanning more than 15 years, broadcaster and writer Simon Reeve has visited over 100 countries on six different continents, experiencing epic landscapes and uncovering moving and dramatic human stories.
Now he’ll be revealing behind-the-scenes moments and exploring some of the huge changes he’s witnessed while travelling around the world. In this first episode he focuses on some of the incredible characters he’s met – from the Burmese human-rights campaigner who took him on a dangerous undercover mission in 2010, to the homeless woman he met near Hollywood.
Sunday: A Perfect Planet (BBC One, 8pm)
Oceans are the largest ecosystem on earth, covering two thirds of our world’s surface and providing half the oxygen in our atmosphere. They’re home to 80 per cent of all life on Earth, and nearly three billion people rely on them for their primary source of food. In the fourth episode of the series, we see how marine life depends on this movement of water, from vast super-pods of dolphins and the flocks of gannets that follow them as they scour the oceans searching for a meal, to dazzling cuttlefish searching for a mate and blacktip sharks and trevally visiting the rich hunting grounds created by waves.
Sunday: The Great (Channel 4, 9pm)
The ladies of the court spread a rumour that Catherine was once intimate with a horse. Trying to win back their favour, she tries flattery and gift-buying – but nothing works. Their true power becomes clear during a tea dance that turns violent. Then, when the influential Patriarch of the church dies, Peter must choose a new one.
Orlo tries to sway Peter and Archie over who the successor should be, explaining secretly to Catherine that she will need the church when she takes power. Bishops come forward as candidates, but Peter tells Archie to procure an answer from God himself.
Sunday: The Trump Show: The Downfall (BBC2, 9pm)
Following on from last October’s acclaimed documentary series, this extra, final instalment examines Donald Trump’s turbulent last months as President of the United States. We follow him as he attempts to win, and subsequently overturn the results of, the 2020 election, culminating in scenes of violent ‘insurrection’ against the US Congress in Washington DC. Friends, advisers and close observers tell the story of Trump’s last days, from packed rallies – held against health advice as Covid besieges America – to riots on Capitol Hill. The film provides a blow-by-blow account of the final weeks of his administration and a psychological study of the diversive and controversial leader’s final days in power.
Monday: Lightning (BBC2, 6.30pm)
On some quiz shows, it feels like the contestants are positively encouraged to talk viewers through their thought processes before offering an answer. However, if you prefer your game shows to just get on with it, then this new series may be for you, as the players don’t just have to be right – they also have to be quick.
Comedian Zoe Lyons is our host as in each episode, six plucky contestants compete across six rounds testing their general knowledge, quick thinking and speedy reactions. A spotlight will also be patrolling the studio, adding to the pressure, as they need to stay out of the light – and the only way to escape it is to correctly answer a question or complete a physical task in time to pass it on to someone else.
Monday: Long Lost Family (ITV, 9pm)
Some episodes in this series have taken people around the world, but this week features two stories where the missing relatives were much closer than the searchers could ever have imagined. Pauline Pedder became pregnant when she was still a schoolgirl and the decision to give her daughter up for adoption was made for her. Now 50 years later, she’s longing to find her child, but what she doesn’t know is that her daughter has been conducting her own investigation into her past. Meanwhile, trainee nurse Donna Cowell’s search for her brother leads her just around the corner.
Monday: Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema (BBC Four, 9pm)
According to the critic, film-makers don’t decide what becomes a cult movie, but the audience does. In the final episode of this all-too-short series, Mark looks at the qualities a film needs in order to acquire cult status. He also outlines the main types of cult movie, from films that are so bad they’re good, to ground-breaking masterpieces of foreign-language cinema. He also explores the strange phenomenon of cult films about actual cults, and looks at the future of cult cinema in an age when even the most obscure and offbeat movie is just a download away.
Monday: Staged (BBC1, regions vary)
The lockdown comedy concludes with a double bill as David (David Tennant) and Michael (Michael Sheen) discover who the studio has cast in their place – and they are not happy, not least because each of them has a history with the person replacing them. Luckily, it seems some of the hurt has died down by the second instalment as they accept that they will no longer be involved in the American project and instead concentrate on finally leaving their homes – which for Michael, could mean a trip to New York.
Tuesday: Winterwatch (BBC2, 8pm)
The second and final week of the seasonal nature show kicks off live in the New Forest, where Chris Packham is keeping an eye out for Dartford warblers, as you do. Meanwhile, Iolo Williams is on the hunt for water shrews which, despite their diminutive size and apparent fragility, are incredibly adept at surviving even the harshest of winters. Plus, Megan McCubbin presents the first of four reports about unpopular species, starting with the much-maligned rat. The series ends on Friday, but there’s plenty of delights in store before then.
Tuesday: Marcella (ITV, 9pm)
It’s good to see Anna Friel back as the offbeat cop, although you can bet she will be up to her eyes in trouble from the moment the third series begins. It picks up immediately after its predecessor, with Marcella still trying to come to terms with the revelation that she killed her own daughter. She’s now based in Belfast as an undercover detective. She’s going by the name of Keira Devlin, a supposedly corrupt police officer who’s settled in Northern Ireland to explore her family’s roots. As she infiltrates the notorious Maguire crime family, questions begin to be raised about just how convincingly she has left her true identity behind, fully embracing Keira’s personality in the process. Amanda Burton joins the cast as Katherine, the strong and uncompromising matriarch of the Maguire clan.
Tuesday: Celebrity Best Home Cook (BBC1, 9pm)
In 2018, Best Home Cook debuted on BBC One. Hosted by Claudia Winkleman, it featured Mary Berry, Chris Bavin and Dan Doherty’s search for the nation’s – you guessed it – best home cook. A second series saw Angela Hartnett replace Doherty; the Michelin-starred chef will be back alongside Dame Mary and Bavin for the first-ever celebrity version of the format. Taking part are TV star Ferne McCann, ex-politician Ed Balls, actors Ruth Madeley and Shobna Gulati, Celebs Go Dating’s Tom Read Wilson, presenter Karim Zeroual, journalist Rachel Johnson, comedians Ed Byrne and Desiree Burch, and rugby star Gareth Thomas. Their first challenge involves rustling up their ultimate home cooked dinner, followed by using a surprise ingredient to create new dish.
Tuesday: China and the Pandemic (BBC2, 9pm)
A year ago, we were hearing reports of a virus outbreak in Wuhan, a Chinese city many of us probably had little or no knowledge of up until that point. Now it’s one of the most famous places on the planet – but for an unpleasant reason. It is, of course, where the first cases of what’s now known as Covid-19 were discovered. This two-part documentary returns to the city to investigate what the authorities knew at the time, and how much of it was made public. It reveals that, over the course of 54 crucial days, local officials announced the virus was under control – a claim that was soon disproved.
Tuesday: Dead Pixels (E4, 10pm & 10.35pm)
The hit US comedy about a group of friends who are obsessed with a role-playing fantasy computer game, returns with a double bill. Series two sees the arrival of a new instalment of Kingdom Scrolls for our gaming fanatics. But their excitement is quickly quashed when they discover that the game they love so much has been commercialised and overrun by a younger generation of players.
Wednesday: The Bay (ITV, 9pm)
Lancashire is famous for its high precipitation level, and certainly in Lisa Armstrong’s life, it never rains but it pours. When we caught up with her last week, she was happy about being able to return to work, but downbeat because she was once again at the bottom of the pile, carrying out menial tasks and doing the work of a dogsbody, just as she would have done when she joined the force.
To add insult to injury, her ex, Andy, turned up out of the blue claiming to be a new man. Lisa spends this episode trying to ignore his presence, but when that proves futile, begins questioning the motive for his return. She also has the time to unearth a significant lead in her latest case, while the difficult suspect gives the investigating team a hard time.
Wednesday: DeLorean: Back from the Future (BBC2, regions vary)
In the Back to the Future trilogy, a DeLorean sports car is turned into a time travelling machine by Doc Brown. The films immortalised the marque, but what about the man behind the design, John Z DeLorean? Many of those who’ve seen the movies probably know little if anything about him, but that should change after watching this eye-opening documentary. It uses previously unseen footage shot by Oscar-winning film-makers DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus for their own profile of DeLorean, coupled with archive news reports, to paint an extraordinary portrait of a buccaneering American entrepreneur who lived life to the full – and came crashing back down to earth when his business collapsed and he was caught up in an FBI cocaine-trafficking sting.
Wednesday: The Secret Life of the Thames with Tony Robinson (C5, 9pm)
Although London’s Docklands are no longer part of the world’s largest port, handling millions of tonnes of cargo every day, the Thames continues to bustle with river traffic – in fact, as Robinson is about to discover, it’s actually busier than ever. He begins his exploration at night, rolling up his sleeves to lend a hand at New Covent Garden Market before watching an enormous tunnelling machine travel up the river into the very heart of the city. Other highlights include a trip to the last remaining boatyards on the Thames and a meeting with various Olympic rowing stars.
Wednesday: Rose (Sky Arts, 10pm)
Shown to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, Hope Mill Theatre’s award-winning revival of Martin Sherman’s one-woman play stars Maureen Lipman as a Jewish octogenarian looking back at her eventful life. Recorded in summer 2020 and directed by Scott Le Crass, the thought-provoking play follows a feisty woman who grows up in a Russian village in the early 20th-century. Travelling around the world, Rose finds herself in different communities, from Nazi-ruled Europe to the US, with people embracing and tolerating Judaistic influences at varying levels.
Thursday: Pooch Perfect (BBC1, 8pm)
The last four dog groomers battling it out for a place in the quarter-finals are challenged to achieve the perfect pom-pom ball shape on a Pomeranian, the toy dog breed descended from larger Spitz-type animals. And to make the task even harder, they are only allowed to use their scissors. The contestants then work their magic on a family of poodles and a Yorkshire terrier before they are paraded in front of their owners and judges Verity Hardcastle and Colin Taylor. Sheridan Smith hosts, alongside her canine pal Stanley.
Thursday: Death in Paradise (BBC1, 9pm)
Much like his predecessors on this light-hearted drama series, Neville is finding it hard embracing Saint Marie island life. And tonight, thanks to a rogue sandfly bite during a game of beach volleyball, the detective ends up in hospital.
His time on the ward takes a shocking turn when nurse Dena Johnson takes her own life during a night shift. Despite being advised to rest, Neville’s policing instincts take over as he starts to build a case around her death. Do fellow patients Freddie (Steve Edge) and Lulu (Flo Wilson) know more than they are letting on, and why exactly are Dena’s brother Taylor (Idris Debrand) and her boss Dr Joshua Dreyfuss (Clarence Smith) so secretive?
Thursday: Back (C4, 10pm)
The revelation that Laurie might not be Stephen’s dad contributed hugely to Stephen’s mental breakdown. Without that blood connection, Stephen was on an equal footing with prodigal foster son Andrew. So the return of charismatic Mike (Anthony Head), one of Ellen’s ex-lovers, leads Stephen to wonder if this whirlwind of a man might be his biological father. Maybe Stephen isn’t destined to be a poor copy of Laurie after all. While Andrew helps to collect Mike’s DNA, Geoff considers renting a JCB to exhume his late brother.
Friday: Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast (C4, 8pm)
Since this series began in 2014, Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty have brought us a mix of homegrown celebrities and international stars. So, our hosts should be too fazed in this episode when they find themselves cooking for Hollywood legend, Susan Sarandon. They’re bringing her a taste of New Orleans, a location that’s particularly close to the actress’s heart – she’s spent a lot of time filming there, most notably for the movie Dead Man Walking, which won her the Best Actress Oscar. The lads are going to remind her of why she loves the place so much by making ultimate seafood gumbo. That’s not the only dish on the menu, as they also nod to Susan’s Italian roots by making Sicilian-inspired chicken thighs wrapped in smoky pancetta.
Friday: It’s a Sin (C4, 9pm)
Russell T Davies’ drama continues as it’s now 1983, and Ritchie (Olly Alexander) and Jill (Lydia West) are planning to become professional actors. Colin (Callum Scott Howells) is also spreading his wings as he’s excited to be offered a trip to New York, but Roscoe (Omari Douglas) is more preoccupied with events closer to home as he discovers he’s been excluded from his sister’s wedding. However, everyone’s lives may be about to get more complicated when Jill is asked for a favour that leads her into a mysterious world. It seems the headlines are true and Aids is about to impact on the friends’ lives, no matter how much Ritchie tries to deny it. And as the situation gets worse, Jill feels unable to tell the truth.
Friday: Would I Lie to You? (BBC1, 9pm)
There have been some great guests on Would I Lie to You? over the years, but many regular viewers would argue that one man in particular has stood out, and that’s Bob Mortimer. Whether it’s telling unlikely stories that turn out to be true or making ridiculous lies sound surprisingly plausible, he’s a master of the format – and he’s back again tonight.
Host Rob Brydon and regular captains David Mitchell and Lee Mack are also joined by actresses Samantha Morton and Sarah Hadland and comedian Miles Jupp.
Friday: Not Going Out (BBC1, 9.30pm)
To be fair, Lee doesn’t exactly seem like someone with his finger on the pulse, but some viewers may still be surprised that this episode finds him somewhat belatedly joining Facebook. Clearly, social media has completely passed him by. However, we shouldn’t expect Lucy (Sally Bretton) to be happy that he’s finally entering the digital age, as it isn’t long before he’s made contact with an ex-girlfriend from 20 years ago. Is he potentially looking to rekindle an old flame or is Lucy worrying over nothing?