Monday

The Moonstone

2.15pm, BBC One

Loading article content

Dark Angel

9pm, STV

Which kind of Victoriana fan are you? The kind that relishes the escapism of the lush life, the toppers, bonnets and blushes, gentle manners and gleaming mansions and romance and derring-do? Or are you more into backstreet realities, the squalor and fever, grinding class oppression and cutthroat battles to survive?

Both sides of the Victorian coin are on display this week, with the arrival of two period crime stories set within touching distance chronologically – one begins in 1849, the other 1857 – but which couldn’t be more different. True, one is adapted from a work of fiction and the other is based on real life events. Even so, they could be taking place on different planets, which is probably what the different strata of British society felt like at the time.

Opening in 1857, ITV’s Dark Angel is the true story, although it has a grisly body count that would do any pulp proud, and, at moments in this telling, it does slide inadvertently toward parody. It’s the tale of Mary Ann Cotton, Britain’s first female serial killer. No one has been able to put an exact number on her victims, but 21 is the most popular guess, including women, children, and a handful of her husbands, who she was careful to have take out life insurance first.

Joanne Froggatt stars as Mary. It has become reflex to refer to her as “Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt,” but, without wanting to put down her contribution there, Downton’s colossal success has obscured the brilliant work she did before, right back to 1997, when she first flared up in Coronation Street. The two are very different actors, but she has the kind of stuff that makes Sarah Lancashire such an important figure for our screen.

Froggatt drives Dark Angel. She manages to generate sympathy for Mary – on paper, deeply unlikeable – without ever appealing for sympathy. Increasingly sly and brittle as she hardens to her task, at one level it is the story of a working class woman choosing to strike back by any means necessary (usually, a nice cup of tea laced with arsenic) after a life spent being used up, let down and ground down by men, society, and existence in general. A killer smart enough to use the harsh realities of her life – the constant sickness and early death that surrounds her – as her cover.

But the pacing of the two-part drama is a little off. As it hustles first through her pre-murderous life (a string of scenes in which she seems to be vying for the title of Britain’s Most Pregnantest Lady), then her killing spree, it takes on an air of black comedy. It’s like watching a Catherine Cookson story turning into a grim, demented Monty Python sketch. Yet it keeps you watching.

Tucked away in the daytime, meanwhile, BBC One’s The Moonstone, adapted from Wilkie Collins’s novel, is a sheer, weightless, throwback joy. Collins’s story involves the mysterious theft of the legendary holy diamond of the title: originally stolen from its rightful owners in India, it is stolen again from the fair Rachel Verinder during her 18th birthday party. But whodunit?

There are suspects aplenty around the country house, there is a dashing hero hoping to win back the devastated Rachel’s hand, and there is a wily detective sweetly played by John Thomson, arriving to investigate in episode two. Going out Monday to Friday, it’s a perfect thing to curl up with as days grow dim and cold. It feels like an early Christmas present.

Sunday

Humans

9pm, Channel 4

"Git on yer mule and keep ridin’, pardner: this town ain’t big enough for two sci-fi series about unsettlingly life-like pleasure-bots suddenly developing thoughts and feelings and getting all rebel-like while hitting us with metaphors about the nature of human existence." This, more or less, is what Westworld might spit at Channel 4’s eerily similarly themed sentient robots drama as it returns for a second series. Although, to be fair, Humans got their first, did it cheaper, and hits a little stranger and harder. We pick up some months after the first series: Niska (Emily Berrington) the rogue Synth in possession of the consciousness code, is in Berlin, working to spread awareness, awakening her fellow androids. Soon, there are reports of Synths displaying strange behaviour, and repercussions ripple back to the Hawkins house in the UK. Meanwhile, in the US, a Silicon Valley billionaire (Marshall Allman) approaches a leading Artificial Intelligence scientist (The Matrix’s Carrie-Anne Moss) who is seeking to create a new kind of machine consciousness.

Tuesday

Arctic Live

8pm, BBC One

For this event, a kind of epic, frozen Springwatch spin-off, presenters Kate Humble, Simon Reeve and Gordon Buchanan are broadcasting live from the icy shores of Hudson Bay in Canada for the next three nights. The live nature means there will be surprises – who knows, the whole thing might have melted by the time they begin – but the plan is to give an overview of how things stand for the wildlife and the landscape across the entire Arctic wilderness, as the threats to its existence continue to multiply. The heart of the series will be the plight of the polar bears gathering around the town of Churchill, waiting for the sea ice to form so they can begin their winter hunt for food – every year, they’re left waiting longer for the ice to come. Buchanan will have his camera trained on their progress. Meanwhile, Reeve travels to an unspoilt corner of Greenland that could become one of the world’s biggest uranium mines – a decision that’s dividing the community – and Humble considers how oil money has shaped Alaska.

Wednesday

Television’s Opening Night: How The Box Was Born 9pm, BBC Four A delight for nerdy TV historians and electronics geeks alike, this documentary doesn’t simply mark the 80th anniversary of the night television arrived, it also attempts to recreate it. On November 2 1936, the BBC began the first regular live television broadcasts from Alexandra Palace, with a signal that reached a few hundred London households. The camera system used first was John Logie Baird’s “Flying Spot,” a monstrous rig built around an enormous steel disc spinning at almost the speed of sound. But Baird’s device was competing against the rival “Emitron” from Marconi-EMI, also being trialled. While sketching in the philosophy and politics behind the venture, and the content of that first night’s line-up, presenters Dallas Campbell, Professor Danielle George and Dr. Hugh Hunt attempt to rebuild the Flash Gordon-like technology of the day. For help, they visit veterans of the period, including Paul Revely, who was Baird’s right-hand guy in the 1930s, and still has the technical know-how at his fingertips today at the age of 104.

Thursday

The Expanse

Netflix

200 years from now, Earth will governed by The United Nations. Strangely, this is one of the most implausible details in this ambitious sci-fi saga, all 10 parts of which arrive today. Based on the hefty series of novels by James SA Corey (aka writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank), in this opener the action unfolds in three main locations: Earth, now home to a privileged, decadent elite, but relying on the galactic colonies for essential materials; out among the stars aboard the Canterbury, a dilapidated space freighter; and on the asteroid belt Ceres, home to a hard-working, increasingly disgruntled mining community. It’s in this faintly Blade Runner-ish setting we meet Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane), a jaded cop in a fedora, assigned to find the missing daughter of a powerful Earth family. Add in rumours of trouble from the independent military colony on Mars, and there’s too much going on in the opening episodes for things to flow, but genre fans will want to stick around to see how it pans out.

Friday 4

The Crown

Netflix

The writer behind Frost/ Nixon and the Blair-Brown drama The Deal, Peter Morgan is Britain’s crown prince of biographical drama and this lavish 10-part series is a kind of prequel to his most famous work, The Queen, laying out the early reign of Elizabeth II from 1947-1956. We begin before the beginning, as, with her father King George VI (a typically good Jared Harris) visibly ailing, the young Princess Elizabeth (Claire Foy), far from thoughts of the throne, prepares to marry Philip (Matt Smith). Comparisons with ITV’s Victoria are hard to avoid, and not simply because there’s another former Dr Who star in the cast. But this operates on another level: in dealing with the current monarchy it takes a bigger gamble; it looks better; the people here are easier to believe as human beings; and, as he so often does, Morgan focuses closely on his characters in order to paint a picture of the wider society around them. Smith brings a Tiggerish aspect to Philip and Foy, with the hardest job, is strong and sympathetic.

Saturday 5

Atlanta

10pm, Fox

Fans of Community will recognise Donald Glover, who played the amiable geek Troy. Previously one of the 30 Rock writers, he’s now fronting his own series, and it’s one of the most winning US sitcoms this year. He stars as Earn, a 30-something who’s either still waiting for life to begin, or wondering when it ended. A college dropout, he drifts his Atlanta hometown close to homelessness: his parents love him, but won’t let him in; he spends nights crashing with his sort-of-ex girlfriend, with whom he has a baby; and by day he struggles cold selling credit cards. He was once involved in the local hip-hop scene, and spies a chance to reconnect when his cousin, a rapper called Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), begins get-ting attention, and Earn proposes himself as manager. It’s a slow flow: deadpan, downbeat, detailed and blunted. Glover brings a baffled soulfulness that feels personal, the gags are sharp and sneaky, and Henry forms a brilliant double act with Keith Stanfield as Paper Boi’s stoned sidekick, Darius.