Years and Years, BBC1, 9pm


I have seen the future and it sucks. On the downside, according to the new drama from Russell T Davies that started last night, the world is a more dangerous, fretful place and man’s inhumanity to man still makes countless thousands mourn.

On the upside, MacBook Airs still work. Phew, right?

Starting in the present day, Years and Years takes the Lyons family from Manchester through the next decade and a half. 

One minute a baby is born, and in the next scene we see him having a first birthday party, and so on. Come the end of the first of six episodes it is 2024 and the extended clan – four siblings, their partners, children, and grandmother – have gathered for a celebration dinner. One way or another, it is set to be a night none of them will forget. 

Running alongside the family saga is the rise of entrepreneur turned populist politician Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson), a sharp-beaked, razor-elbowed operator who wants the bins emptied once a week and doesn’t give a flying fig (I paraphrase) about politics in the Middle East.

Her four letter appearance on Question Time-type is the stuff of Fiona Bruce’s nightmares. 

Not that Bruce makes an appearance. This time, the BBC cameo – I’m beginning to wonder if it is mandatory – goes to newsreader Reeta Chakrabarti playing an, er, newsreader. Very convincing she is too. 

Meanwhile, lurking in the background to all of this is a dispute between Trump’s America and China over an island stuffed with nuclear weapons. Did anyone order another Cuban Missile Crisis?
Davies is more concerned with the future than the past. The creator of Queer as Folk and the regenerator of Doctor Who has a knack for accurately gauging the mood of the times. 

In Years and Years the marker falls somewhere between “exasperated” and “scunnered” (it’s a Scottish gauge), as when council housing officer Daniel Lyons (Russell Tovey) says: “I don’t know if I could have a kid in a world like this … Things were okay a few years ago before 2008. Do you remember, we used to think politics was boring? But now… I worry about everything. I don’t know what to worry about first. Never mind the government, it’s the sodding banks, they terrify me.

“It’s not even them, it’s the companies, the brands, the corporations, they treat us like algorithms while they go around poisoning the air…”

And on he goes on. And on. He likes a speech, does Mr Davies, and the tone of some of them can be a little Grumpy Old Men, “Isn’t everything rubbish these days?” at times.

The characters, with the exception of Rook – will she turn out to be Nigel Farage in a skirt suit? – are so far fairly predictable (the single mum, etc). But just take a look at the cast. Tovey, Thompson, Rory Kinnear, Jessica Hynes, Anne Reid (Last Tango in Halifax), any one of them could headline a series on their own yet they all turn out for Davies.

Depending on whether or not you agree with his politics, Davies is either the switched on voice of modern society or a right on preacher. 

Years and Years is certainly a political piece, but so far the P is small and, the odd lengthy speech apart, fairly soft. There is anger here, but there is also warmth and laughter and characters to care about. 

While Years and Years might be about the way we live now and in the near future, its core concern is the family, and the need to look out for, and be kind to, each other. Be it 5 or 55 years from now, that’s a message worth hearing.