OH, those Russians. Of all the many assessments of Russia offered down the years, I like to think that the pop combo cum informal historians Boney M most accurately caught the nature of the bear in their song, Rasputin. Sex, intrigue, murder, an indomitable will to survive: it’s all there, and it rhymes too. Beat that, scholars.

Catherine the Great (Sky Atlantic, Thursday, 9pm) takes a Boney M approach to Russian history in as much as it seeks to make the Empress of Russia’s story as accessible as possible. At the vanguard of this effort is the casting of Dame Helen Mirren as the eighteenth century monarch who seized power from her husband, Emperor Peter III. Peter, the introduction tells us, “died soon after in mysterious circumstances”. Oh, those Russians. See?

Catherine is portrayed as at once all powerful yet vulnerable. She owes her position to the men who ousted her husband and made her ruler, but she is rather enjoying this queening lark and means to carry with it on her terms. Mirren, who by law must be offered first refusal on the part of any queen in any production (Dame Judi has second dibs), is perfect in the part. Alternately imperious and mischievous, she appears more than a match for the plotters who surround her.

With Mirren listed as an executive producer, this is a feminist telling of the tale, particularly when it comes to the queen’s liberal attitude to sex. She and her companion, the Countess Praskovya Bruce (played by Gina McKee), are seen going on the prowl like Samantha and Carrie from Sex and the City, with the Countess trying the “goods” before the Queen buys.

It’s a lavish production with a fine cast stretching from Rory Kinnear as the Queen’s adviser to Jason Clarke as Grigory Potemkin, her lover in waiting. The dialogue is a strange mix of the creaky and modern - “She’s ******* with you” one schemer says of the Queen - that doesn’t quite work yet, but there is plenty going on by way of distractions, and Dame Helen is thoroughly enjoying herself, which is always nice to see.

Not to be outdone on the title front, Lord Sugar and Baroness Brady were back in The Apprentice (BBC1, Wednesday, 9pm). For heaven’s sake, someone give Brady’s fellow judge Claude Littner a title pronto, or he will feel left out. Lord Sugar, or Amstrad Al as I believe he likes to be called (for the benefit of future Apprentice hopefuls: that was a joke), is now on his 15th series. An impressive reign by any telly standards.

The Apprentice lasts because the format is solid, the producers don’t monkey with it, and there seems to be a never ending supply of cocky youngsters who reckon they are the next Gordon Gekko or Wolf of Wall Street. Some years the mix of contestants works better than others, and you do wonder if you can be faffed sitting through yet another episode featuring contestants trying to flog costume jewellery on a shopping channel.

Sending the contestants off to Cape Town for the first task hopefully shows a willingness to shake things up a little this season. Even more promisingly, there are some strong characters in the mix, chief among them Lottie the librarian. Aged just 19, she is terrifyingly confident. By the end of episode one she was already feuding with another contestant. Her full name, by the by, is Lottie Lion. Watch out for that paw swipe, people.

World on Fire (BBC1, Sunday, 9pm) is the corporation’s latest big budget grab for Sunday night audiences. Written by Peter Bowker (The A Word, Eric and Ernie), it is ambitious with a capital A through to S. Taking in the Second World War from the invasion of Poland to the Battle of Britain, the story is told through a large cast of characters spread across Europe.

The first instalment was a spaghetti of story strands. Between the snooty British mother (Lesley Manville), the young German soldier, the American doctor in Paris, Sean Bean’s peace pledger and Helen Hunt’s war correspondent - and they were just for starters - it was difficult to settle into the story, so often did it whizz from one set of characters to another. But it looks terrific, the cast are bankable, and the good guys win in the end. I shall stick with it.

The Capture (BBC1, Tuesday, 9pm) reaches its conclusion next week. How have you been coping? The story of a British soldier who appears to be a victim of fake surveillance footage showing him abducting a woman, has been unfolding at a cracking pace. At first it looked like foundering due to Holliday Grainger looking far too young to be a DI, but she has grown into the role. Also impressive is Callum Turner as the squaddie who cannot catch a break. Just when you think you have a clear picture of the story there is another turn of the kaleidoscope. One to catch up on before it is the talk of the steamie. And remember, Big Brother may very well be watching you watching it.