Paul Whitelaw can’t stop singing the praises of hard-hitting TV drama It’s a Sin and recommends a trip to South Africa in the company of Gregg Wallace and Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed.
It’s a Sin – Channel 4, Friday, 9pm
Once again, Russell T. Davies flits with ease between comedy and tragedy in this impeccable drama about the AIDS crisis. It’s 1988, and Ritchie decides that it’s time to come out to his parents.
His visit to their home on the Isle of Wight is heart-breaking: I guarantee that you will struggle to hold back tears. Meanwhile, Ash and Jill join a peaceful protest against Clause 28, and Roscoe hopes that his secret affair with a Tory MP (Stephen Fry) will whisk him into the high life. Fans of a certain sci-fi show (it’s RTD, so you can probably guess) will be delighted by one particular scene, but in typical Davies style it ends with a gut-punch.
Undercover Police: Hunting Paedophiles – Channel 4, Monday, 9pm
The National Crime Agency estimates that there are now 300,000 people in the UK who pose a sexual threat to children. This series gains exclusive access to a covert unit of police officers tasked with bringing child sex offenders to justice. Preview copies weren’t available, but I think it’s fair to assume that this will be a tough, disturbing watch. In episode one we follow an undercover officer as he poses online as someone looking for other men to commit more heinous crimes with him. The series promises to explore the difficult questions surrounding the causes of paedophilia, as well as the psychological repercussions experienced by people who submerge themselves in this horrifying world on the public’s behalf.
South Africa with Gregg Wallace – ITV, Tuesday, 7.30pm
As the egg man’s journey comes to an end, he takes a helicopter ride to the remote and verdant heart of South Africa’s Zulu Kingdom. With assistance from a storyteller dressed in traditional Zulu garb, he delivers a mini history lesson about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, when a small group of British soldiers fought around 4,000 Zulu warriors. Wallace is an amateur history buff and a big fan of the – as he acknowledges – divisive film Zulu, so he’s in his element. After that, it’s time for a spot of hearty home-cooked lunch in a traditional Zulu village. Wallace is known for being alarmingly ebullient, but he’s fairly restrained here. Respectful and engaged, he does a decent job.
First Dates: Valentine’s Day Special – Channel 4, Tuesday, 10pm
A special? It’s no different than any other episode of this cheerfully contrived dating show, but I have no beef with that. This week we meet Alexandra, the self-described “Bridget Jones of Northampton”, who works as a wedding planner. Her blind date is Tom, who’s in the high-end marquee hire business. What are the chances of that? Meanwhile, retired Labour MP Roger admits that he’d “struggle if I went on a date with a Tory.” Fortunately, Jean, a retired French teacher, doesn’t disappoint. And then there’s the discomfiting pathos of Adam, a heavily tattooed extrovert who doesn’t understand why women can’t take him seriously. From a certain angle, this heart-warming show doubles up as a sensitive study of loneliness.
Imagine…We’ll Be Back? – BBC1, Tuesday, 10.45pm
The UK’s performing arts industry has been severely waylaid by the pandemic. In this well-meaning programme, Alan Yentob meets some of the people who are struggling to keep it alive while we wait to return to some semblance of normality. The contributors are sympathetic, of course they are, but Yentob is such a risible figure he fatally undermines the entire endeavour. His elitist pomposity and lack of self-awareness is a constant source of dismal mirth. Despite what he clearly thinks, he’s the last person who should be presenting a programme like this. Art is for the masses, but Yentob is a snob. It’s a shame, as we really do need to support our local theatres and arts venues.
Extraordinary Escapes with Sandi Toksvig – Channel 4, Wednesday, 9pm
If you’ve ever fancied going on a luxury mini-break with Sandi Toksvig, then now’s your vicarious chance. In this new series, she visits some of Britain’s most tranquil spots while staying in various striking properties. Her first destination is the Deben Peninsula on the coast of Suffolk. Each week she’s accompanied by a famous female pal: her guest in episode one is the great Alison Steadman. Toksvig informally interviews Steadman about her life and likes (she’s a big fan of fungi and clouds), as they luxuriate in a converted 19th century defence tower, a 17th century thatched cottage, and the gatehouse of an 11th century priory. It’s just two nice women shooting the sea breeze: passive comfort viewing.
Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed – BBC2, Friday, 9pm
The provenance and purpose of Stonehenge is one of history’s great mysteries. As Spinal Tap once mused of the prehistoric Britons who built it: “No one knew who they were, or what they were doing.” In recent years, however, a team of experts have plugged a 400-year gap in our knowledge of where the monument’s original stones came from. Professor Alice Roberts gains exclusive access to a series of extraordinary archaeological digs in Pembrokeshire. She explains how this dedicated squad of archaeologists, geologists and student volunteers have managed to unearth the remains of another vast stone circle, which was dismantled just before Stonehenge was created. Their painstaking detective work has rewritten history.