The Looming Tower

9pm, BBC Two

The first thing to know about Chambers is that, despite the title, it is not a late-1990s BBC legal drama about bright young barristers in a busy London lawyer’s office. Rather, we are in the realms of American teen horror. The chambers in question are the chambers of the human heart – and the specific heart in question has recently been removed from its mysteriously deceased original owner, and transplanted into our troubled 17-year-old protagonist, Sasha Yazzie (Sivan Alyra Rose), allowing her to survive an otherwise fatal heart attack.

Connoisseurs of the genre will know what to expect from here, and so it goes. Sasha experiences twinges of guilt and uncertainty about this strange organ beating away beneath the new scar on her chest, but soon she is gripped by stronger feelings yet. First, curiosity over just whose heart it was, and just how that person came to die. And then, as she begins to learn some of the answers, confusion and terror that the donor’s spirit still somehow lingers on, and is gradually, malevolently, taking her over.

Created by writer Leah Rachel, Chambers is in the best modern horror tradition, staying true to long-established recipes, while adding twists to spice things up, so it feels familiar but fresh. The whole haunted-transplant plot was already old back in 1924, when Conrad Veidt began to worry about the provenance of his new mitts in The Hands Of Orlac. Meanwhile, Rachel anchors the story firmly in the equally well-worn territory of the cliquey high-school horror, where no matter how much things change, they remain the same.

Around this sturdy old framework, however, Chambers winds its own details. Set against the towering desert dust storms of Arizona, where ancient spiritual beliefs rub against flaky New Age mysticism, the series stirs a clash of class and ethnicity. Sasha, who lives with her uncle Frank (Marcus LaVoi), has Native American heritage, and the pair are just barely scraping by. The heart she inherited was that of another teenage girl, Becky Lefevre (Lilliya Reid), a white high school queen from an unfeasibly wealthy family, and soon Becky’s groomed, grieving parents, Nancy and Ben (Uma Thurman and Tony Goldwyn), are reaching out with slightly creepy offers to help Sasha get along, drawing her into their rarefied world, which seems to include membership of some vague, sinister cult.

The cast is excellent. It’s terrific to see Uma Thurman in great form, but the series depends on newcomer Sivan Alyra Rose, who plays Sasha with an incredibly natural, minimal touch. Her scenes with Sasha’s pal Yvonne (Kyanna Simone Simpson) are a particular delight. You could watch the pair bantering even without all the occult stuff going on.

On that front, the series gets trippier, darker, madder and weirder as it goes, but maybe goes on a little too long. To satisfy binge demands, the story is stretched over ten episodes, and there’s a repetitive sag in the middle, when Chambers feels slightly clogged. Really it’s a short, sharp 90-minute movie at heart.

Arriving on BBC Two after debuting in the UK on Amazon’s streaming service, The Looming Tower is a dramatic retelling of events leading to 9/11. Based on Lawrence Wright’s non-fiction book, it’s a solid, compelling series, and convincingly sells its central argument: that a corrosive rivalry between the CIA and the FBI ultimately helped those attacks succeed. Essentially, though, this is the fat, exciting, airport-novel version of 9/11, and as it whips around the globe, I was increasingly reminded of 1980s mini-series like The Winds Of War. Mind you, Robert Mitchum never got his kit off for as many middle-aged sex scenes in that as Jeff Daniels does here as New York FBI chief John O’Neill.



Line Of Duty

9pm, BBC One

In this week’s instalment of Who The Hell Is Hargreaves, writer Jed Mercurio piles up so many big screaming clues that point incontrovertibly to Super Ted Hastings being the big bad guy that it must not be him after all. But this pressure forces Adrian Dunbar into making some, eh, interesting acting choices: in the future, entire PhDs will be written about the way he delivers the immortal line “She’s in a terrible state,” after finding out what happened to his wife following last week’s cliffhanger. Meanwhile, for all of us playing the drinking game that involves downing a glass every time Stephen Graham says “Bent Copper,” it’s not quite as ruinous an episode as last week. But it does deliver one of the most genuinely tense scenes of this series. For Line Of Duty diehards, it’s unmissable stuff tonight.


Mark Kermode's Secrets Of Cinema: Disaster Movies 9pm, BBC Four Just when you think he’s done them all, the BBC film guy thinks up another genre to make a new documentary about, and you get the feeling he’s not finished yet. Whether they involve ships going down, aircraft blowing up, earthquakes, asteroids or burning skyscrapers, the disaster movie has the most rigidly defined and oft-recycled rules of all, as Airplane! ably demonstrated. Kermode devotes deserved attention to the definitive 1970s wave of shoddy all-star popcorn cataclysm – represented by the twin peaks of The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno – and charts how the form has continued to be a staple through infinitely less entertaining recent movies like Titanic and Armageddon. It’s followed by 2016’s Chris Pine rescue-at-sea movie The Finest Hours (10pm), but, as is usually the case in any situation, I’d rather be watching Gene Hackman.


Don't Forget The Driver

10pm, BBC Two

This quietly terrific series about a Bognor bus driver is a different beast to the last sitcom Toby Jones starred in, the peerless Detectorists. But the shows have elements in common – notably the enormous attention paid to the British landscape, although, where Detectorists had a folksy, rural glow, this offers instead detailed suburban drabness. Peter (Jones) is waking up to the trouble he’s got himself into by taking in the young stowaway he inadvertently smuggled into the country, and counts on his disaffected daughter Kayla (Erin Kellyman) for help. She wants no part of it, but, aided by pal Brad (Jo Eton-Kent), reluctantly begins to learn more about the woman whose name turns out to be Rita (Luwam Teklizgi), where she’s come from, and why. Meanwhile, Peter learns there are still people out looking for Rita – and they’re coming for him.


Morocco to Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure 9pm, BBC Four A repeat for this brisk, fabulously detailed two-part documentary, which follows writer Alice Morrison on a 200-mile journey across North Africa from her beloved Morocco toward Mali’s fabled “city of Gold.” An expert who has spent many years in the region, Morrison is following the path of the old salt roads that once made up the richest trading networks in the world. Along the way, she charts the history and traditions of the old routes, while exploring how much things have changed – and, in many cases, stayed the same. Fluent in Arabic, and apparently on nodding terms with almost everybody she meets, she throws herself fully into the trip, whether it involves eating debatable camel meat, strolling over the Atlas mountains, or wading around in a vat full of bird droppings at a tannery in Marrakech.


Happy Birthday OU: 50 Years of the Open University 9pm, BBC Four A tribute to the national institution that was launched in 1969. When the OU began, haw-hawing politicians and snooty academics poo-pooed the idea that televised lectures and home learning could ever work. Meanwhile, the rest of us just sat entranced yet slightly disturbed by the shirts, ties, sideburns and glasses of all the quiet but intense men and women (okay, not all the women had sideburns) who showed up in the depths of night on BBC Two to scrawl incomprehensible equations on blackboards, in slacks. Lenny Henry, whose own life was changed by the touch of the OU, narrates its story in this cheerfully nostalgic piece of social history. Contributors include Anna Ford and David Attenborough, whose epic Blue Planet was itself an OU production, reminding us how things have changed since the claustrophobic studio lessons of the original broadcasts.


2001: A Space Odyssey/

Paths Of Glory

8.30pm/10.50pm, BBC Two

It’s Saturday, so there are no TV programmes worth watching. But BBC Two has had an unexpected rush of taste, and is sticking on two Stanley Kubrick movies – it’s like someone from the past has taken over. First, from 1968, “The Ultimate Trip.” Kubrick’s glacially paced metaphysical sci-fi pushed cinematography and effects beyond previous limits, but it’s hardly an “effects movie.” A vision with little regard for narrative or dialogue, it’s beautiful, cold, mad and awesome – and gets funnier every time you see it. 1957’s Paths Of Glory is a stark critique of war and hypocrisy, centred around the court-martial of three French privates during World War One. The film is equally memorable for Kirk Douglas’s despairing humanity as he tries to defend them, and the relentless tracking shots through the muddy trenches.