Just for Play-Play: the best of catch-up TV

In Search of Science iPlayer (first episode available until 27 August)

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This Brian Cox fronted series was first shown but unfortunately missed back in 2013. Yes it’s all about scientific wonders, but as it deals with the history of British science pioneers there are fewer gorgeous desert sunsets and less opportunity for attractive lens flare than in most of his TV shows. The fascinating stories highlighted here show how science and public perception have often been at odds with each other. It was just Darwin and his monkeys offending public sensibility. The lesson here for all is the importance of proper public engagement – sharing knowledge and showing the benefits of new scientific breakthroughs to assuage any misgivings about strange and startling discoveries. Science needs good PR, and that’s just as true now with the outcry over GM crops as it was with Professor Giovanni Aldini whose research on corpses inspired Frankenstein.

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Just for Play-Play: the Best of Catch-Up TV

Join me for a catch up on the best of catch-up…

Can Science Make Me Perfect? iPlayer until 16 July

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Alice and James Cameron’s Avatar Alice

The annual talk of an ideal summer beach body never really takes the argument to a logical conclusion:

Thankfully Alice Roberts, Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, is here to build the perfect female form – part science, part sci-fi and all nightmares. With doctors, sculptors and SFX experts she rebuilds her own body from scratch, and fixes the flaws that natural selection has embedded in our collective DNA. Her intentions are the best; making giving birth safer, solving the problems of our bad backs and giving us excellent sight and hearing. She unveils the life-size model in London’s Science Museum to gasps of amazement, but certainly not delight. Part elf, part bird and part kangaroo I think I’ll stick to human 1.0. Thanks all the same Alice.

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‘The City and the City’

“Nowhere else works like the cities”. This is the first line of BBC1’s new drama based on the 2009 ‘weird fiction’ novel by British author China Miéville, an exotically named man actually born in Norwich. His book has been adapted for TV by screen writer Tony Grisoni.

The cities in the title are Besźel, which looks like the Eastern Bloc of 30 plus years ago mixed with cafes and people from 1970s Istanbul and Ul Qoma which is glimpsed only briefly in the first episode. These streets look brighter, cleaner, and more advanced. The colour pallets are quite different in each city; dingy yellows for Besźel and clean blues for Ul Qoma. Like the inhabitants, the viewer always knows where they’re looking.

The two cities actually occupy much of the same geographical space, but the inhabitants wilfully ‘unsee’ the areas they’re not allowed to view. Early on Commissar Gadlem (Ron Cook) gets out his overhead projector, and lays two acetate maps on top of each other. That’s a good way to get your head around it.

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‘Ordeal by Innocence’ – BBC1

Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries are an international literary language; translated, loved and understood the world over. You know there’s going to be a big stately home, a cast of shifty upper-class characters, a few red herrings and a satisfyingly complicated conclusion. It’ll all hinge on the silver sugar tongs, a classified advert in the Times or the colour of the front door which you knew from the start but discounted as an inconsequential detail. It’s clever, gratifying and reassuring all in one shot. For a real-life example, please see me and Mr H on holiday in Turkey in 2014. We were, I’m ashamed to admit, battered out of our skulls on local raki and dealing with a day-long hangover in a hotel room easily as hot as the surface of the sun. What could be more soothing to the addled brain than finding Poirot dubbed into Turkish with English subtitles? In no small part thanks to Hercule we consoled the little grey cells that hadn’t been murdered by alcohol.

Ordeal by Innocence, the Easter Sunday BBC1 drama, is not your Turkish holiday Agatha Christie adaptation. There’s nothing soothing about this production. From the off it’s clear we’re in a nightmarish gothic horror. Producer and writer Sarah Phelps brings us a sharper, nastier, distilled version of And Then There Were None, her tremendous Christie adaptation from 2016. “Nine elaborate murders based on an extremely dodgy nursery rhyme that drive a young woman to suicide in a mansion on a deserted island is not really terrifying enough. Let’s kick it up a notch guys!”

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‘Requiem’ – BBC1

Warning! Spoilers for Episode 1 lie beneath!

Even before the first shadow crosses the screen Requiem is creeping me out. It’s so obviously a Sunday night drama and should have been on over Christmas for full wintery effect. But for some unknown reason it’s on BBC1 on Friday nights in February. Never mind all that though, that’s an old-fashioned way of thinking about scheduling. Who cares what day it broadcasts when it’s all up on iPlayer to watch straight away.

I’d clocked the adverts but decided it wasn’t for me. Ghosts just don’t frighten me at all. I’d much rather Scooby don’t than Scooby Doo. The genre is so well-trodden and cliche-riddled that the only gasp you’ll get from me is a sigh as I find the remote and click the button. That whole haunted house brand has termites and it’s falling to pieces. But such a high quality cast turned my head and I watched it with a ‘may as well’ shrug as a chaser after yet another disappointing Euro drama (oh Modus, what’s happened to you?).

Requiem looks gorgeous and sounds fantastic. The opening credits are a Royal Blood album cover and the music is part classical emotions, part jarring shuddering electronics, as if the Terminator was in a string quartet. This isn’t just an interesting score; this is fundamental to the story. Matilda (Lydia Wilson) is a successful cellist, riding high with her pianist Hal (Joel Fry, wonderful in everything, recognisable from Game of Thrones where he’s got a similar complicated relationship with a powerful blonde) in hipster London, her haircut, flat and career fitting in nicely to that group of people who hate fitting in. Her lovely Mum Janice (the exceptional Joanna Scanlon, last seen as fearless matriarch Viv Deering in No Offence) is sad they’re spending more time apart, but delighted for her success. Matilda seems restless, her one-night stands interrupted by nightmares of an imprisoned girl.

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‘Hard Sun’ Episodes 1 & 2 – BBC1

After the mauling that The Guardian gave BBC1’s new cop show/ sci-fi drama you’d be forgiven for thinking the BBC were presenting a badly-written festive pantomime like A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong . This was the tone of the preview published at 11am yesterday. The actual 4 star review landed a few hours later calling it gutsy and ambitious. Same newspaper, very different opinion. Great work guys – don’t make up your mind about something, teach the controversy.

So safe to say this end-of-the-world drama written by Neil Cross of Luther fame is polarising opinions. Twitter seemed suitably impressed and a lot of people were very happy to realise the series was all set ready to binge on iPlayer. We put the second episode on straight away but now I’m not sure how much more of it I want to see.

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‘Armchair Detectives’ – BBC1

Guys, there’s been a murder! But fear not; it’s mid-afternoon on BBC1 so there’s no blood, no swearing and no one speaking Danish. Armchair Detectives is 100% safe for the squeamish. It’s a very unusual format, a quiz show Cluedo with Susan Calman as presenter and lead investigator. 15 members of the public sit jury-style as the studio audience from which three are picked each day to have their turn as the titular detectives. They are invited up to the drawing-room style stage to sit in fancy leather armchairs and work out whodunnit. The only person who doesn’t get to sit is Susan, despite having a chair placed behind her, which seems unfair given her legs must have taken a battering in the run-up to Strictly Come Dancing.

The contestants are all chatty and intelligent, and are probably the last people you want to watch Prime Suspect with as they’ll have smugly figured it all out at least 20 minutes before the credits roll.  And they’ll smile and say “aha!” and make you feel like a berk. Our first team of three include a librarian who loves the Lord Peter Wimsey books, a crime writer, and one is actually called Wisdom. I expect great things.

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