Damien Love gives his verdict on TV Sunday, August 17, - Saturday, August 23.
Sunday, August 17
In Their Own Words: Poets
Loading article content
9pm, BBC Four
A whole modern genre of cheap TV, largely aimed at drunk people, has grown up around showing clips of drunk people, usually students, rolling around in A&E rooms on holiday, and rolling around gutters and club toilets at home. It's not too often we get to see public intellectuals tying one on in an interview situation anymore, however, and so it's bracing to see the 1960s footage of the raging American confessional poet John Berryman here, utterly lyrical as a newt in a Dublin pub, while declaiming hairy verse about life's profound boredom. Mind you, he went on to kill himself. The concluding part of this terrific archive trawl covers the BBC's poetic encounters from 1955 through to 1982, meaning Sylvia Plath (sadly only in radio recordings) and Anne Sexton, the beat howling of Allen Ginsberg, Roger McGough's Merseybeat, the dub verse of Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Seamus Heaney's long, tough, rooted campaign. It begins, though, with Philip Larkin removing his bicycle clips in an empty church in pin-sharp black and white.
Monday, August 18
9pm, BBC One
It's one of the strange, as yet inexplicable mysteries of the way time works that New Tricks has now been running for longer than any of its cast members have been alive. Carbon dating now suggests the programme is over 600 years old, and yet, somehow, the great Dennis Waterman was in the first episode, and singing the theme song, already aged around 56. As the show returns for its centillionth series, Waterman remains in place and still singing It's Alright, surrounded by relative newcomers Denis Lawson, Tamzin Outhwaite and Nicholas Lyndhurst. In the first of 10 dependably undemanding new outings, Gerry (Waterman) is trying to get his head round his daughter's impending marriage to a greasy young solicitor, when he receives a visit from an old friend, Ralph Paxton (David Hayman), an ex-con who begs the team to look into the murder of his grandson. It's all been downhill since James Bolam quit, of course, but you know you'll miss it when it's gone. If that ever happens.
Tuesday, August 19
Worst Place To Be A Pilot
9pm, Channel 4
Aviation jobs are hard to come by in the UK, and so, to gain the experience they need to land a job with one of the major internationals, some young British pilots are travelling to Indonesia to work with a small local airline, Susi Air. The catch is, although they have very little flying time under their belts, to clock up hours with Susi means flying some of the most dangerous routes in the world, hopping between isolated communities on densely jungled islands, with makeshift landing strips carved into mountaintops. Following the experiences of a handful of fliers, this three-part documentary is often sensationalist, but undeniably hair-raising, and pretty fascinating. In this opener, young Captain George is greeted by locals as he lands the first ever plane on the runway it has taken 14 years to cut into their mountain.
Meanwhile, Captain Guy learns that passengers from such remote societies are not always quite prepared for the experience of flying, as, mid-way over the sea, one of his passengers has a panic attack.
Wednesday, August 20
Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds: A Tale Of Three Cities
9pm, BBC Four
Dr James Fox (not be confused with James Fox the actor who shared all the freaky-deaky, filthy-druggy, free-for-all black-sex-magic and personality swapping with Mick Jagger in 1970's movie Performance), is one of the shining stars of the BBC's new batch of history presenters. His latest series is built around a simple idea, and concisely told, but it's an engrossing, erudite hour. Sometimes, a single city seems to become the hub of artistic and intellectual life in a way that defines an age; Fox tidily explores how and why that happens by exploring three cities at three shining moments. The next two programmes cover the Paris of 1928 and the New York of 1951, but he begins in Vienna 1908, as Sigmund Freud formulated the Oedipus complex, Gustav Klimt painted The Kiss, and Arnold Schoenberg unveiled his Second String Quartet. But darker seeds were being sown, too, as a struggling young would-be painter called Adolf Hitler tried and failed to get into the city's prestigious art school.
Thursday, August 21
The Honourable Woman
9pm, BBC Four
God, I'm going to miss these Thursday nights with Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle. It's the final episode of Hugo Blick's long, slow, dense, tangled, ridiculous, tragic, intelligent, dumb, grown-up, audience-dividing drama, which has seen Blick not only tap into pressing global concerns, but also somehow get away with remaking the kind of cool, wordy thriller he liked to watch on TV back in the 1980s. Man's a genius. Following the assassinations that ripped apart last week's episode, Hayden-Hoyle (Stephen Rea) and his boss, Julia Walsh (a magnificent Janet McTeer) are sticking together all the scattered, sticky pieces of the tangled geopolitical plot. But there is something they don't know, even if most of the audience have already guessed it, and one last, covert mission into Palestine must be mounted. Blick goes old-school for the desert finale, even pulling out the car-that-just-won't-start routine.
Friday, August 22
The Kate Bush Story: Running Up That Hill
9.10pm, BBC Four
As the world waits nervously for her first live shows in 35 years to begin in London next week, this is a fine, if too-short portrait of Kate Bush's career, from the ethereal teen of The Man With The Child In His Eyes, to the ethereal woman of 2011's 50 Words For Snow album. What makes it is the lack of a narrator; instead of being led, we follow Bush's path through a patchwork of archive clips of interviews and performances, and the words of contributors who all seem genuine about how much her music has touched them, whether venerable collaborators like Peter Gabriel, Elton John and David Gilmour, or spiritual descendants like Natasha Khan (Bat For Lashes) and Annie Clark (St Vincent). Elsewhere come Tricky, Suede's Brett Anderson, Neil Gaiman and, of course, long-term fan Steve Coogan, whose legendary Alan Partridge Bush medley is given due respect. (Kate herself was a fan.) An hour of wowing wonder, it's followed by more of the same, without the talking heads, in the archive performance compilation Kate Bush At The BBC (10.10pm).
Saturday, August 23
Saturday, 7.50pm, BBC One
In a nutshell, he is fantastic. At more length, I could try to count the ways in which he is fantastic. But it's easier to list the things I didn't like about him. Not a single one.
This is Peter Capaldi I'm talking about, the new Doctor Who. I say "Doctor Who" and not "The Doctor" advisedly, because, across the 80-ish minutes of his ridiculous, strange and fine debut, I was already catching a faint, heady scent of the days when the character was still billed that way in the credits. Regeneration episodes are a sticky affair, a special case, but here is most entertaining since Tom Baker couldn't decide between the Viking helmet or the Pierrot outfit, and went with the scarf instead.
Not that we're talking about a complete throwback. This remains Nu-Who, with the good and bad that entails: the confidence, sophistication and sass; the emotion that can gush into goo; the dismaying reflex to get self-reflexive that can result in the programme conducting a self-adoring conversation with a certain segment of its fanbase, while throwing storytelling out the window.
But there seems a shift in the balance of these things under way and, in that self-reflexive mode, writer Steven Moffat is blatant about it. For all its gusto - and some of it is hilarious, even the daft, winky-winky bits where Capaldi is luxuriating in his new Scottish accent, or reeling from his new eyebrows ("Don't look in that mirror, it's furious!") - I don't think a "new Doctor" episode has ever been so anxious about leading its audience through the change, holding their hand, and asking them, please, go with it.
In particular, there is self-flagellation about the squealing-fangirl baiting of recent years, summed up by this blunt exchange in the newly redecorated, newly dark Tardis console room: "Clara," he says, a voice like velvet ash. "I'm not your boyfriend."
"I never thought you were."
"I haven't said it was your mistake."
The episode cannily mixes old, new, borrowed and blue. We begin with a dinosaur stalking London as Big Ben chimes, a sight that, surely as the flash of red lining the Doctor's tailored black jacket, cannot fail to stir thoughts of Jon Pertwee's great, cavalier epoch. (At one point, The Doctor even looks like having himself a whisky, his first sniff of booze since the Pertwee-Baker era. I was punching the air.)
But then, the story reveals itself as actually a sequel to one of David Tennant's best-remembered adventures. The plot is rushed, but has nicely creeping moments. After Moffat's famous "don't blink" episodes, this is his "hold your breath". I look forward to his "how-long-can-you-stand-on-one-leg" monster.
That roaring dinosaur is possibly also a mischievous allusion to the thing the episode is most nervous about: Capaldi, at 56, is older than Matt Smith. When I was a kid, watching Tom Baker, I had no idea what age he was, beyond he seemed old in that mysterious way all grown-ups were old, and I couldn't have cared less. I suspect there is a generation ready not to care again.
The story is no classic, but Capaldi absolutely burns through it. Just as all great Doctors have bent the show to their image, he could have a way of melding the old and new of Who in a whole new way. Next week brings Daleks. I have not been this excited about seeing a Doctor tangling with Daleks for far too long. Did I mention that he is fantastic?