9pm, BBC One

When Shetland’s pilot episode arrived in 2013, I was in no doubt that a series would ensue, because there was just too much that was too good, in satisfying primetime ways, for it not to happen. That it has become a strong export is no surprise: well performed, well structured stories, wrapped in stunningly bleak and brooding landscapes that never quite become too postcardy, it’s a Nordic-noir copy that has been successfully sold back to Scandinavia. But I also remember wondering just how many violent murder mysteries those small islands could plausibly sustain, before the storms of incredulity grew too strong, and the show came adrift and went floating off to bump against the implausible coastline of Midsomer Murders.

Ann Cleeves, whose novels the series is based on, seems to have had a similar concern. She has said that the recent Wild Fire, the eighth book in her Shetland-based series about detective Jimmy Perez, will be the last. But, from the first, Shetland the TV show has set out to be its own thing (one of its greatest strengths, the character of Tosh McIntosh, Perez’s perpetually unimpressed, slightly wounded and always watchful sidekick, terrifically played by Alison O’Donnell, is entirely a creation of the lead writer, David Kane), and it has long since moved off from the books. The last time a story came adapted from Cleeves’s novels was back in the second series, in 2014.

Still, as the show returns for the six-part story that makes up this fifth series, and yet another body – well, a bit of a body – gets washed up on that bleakly beautiful beach, you have to wonder: how long can it be before the mainland authorities, getting hit with yet another request for technical assistance to help in the investigation of yet another slaughter on the islands, begin to wonder just what the hell is going on out there? Maybe the entire Shetland series to date has actually been a precursor to another kind of show entirely: some sci-fi eco-horror, in which it is revealed there is some toxic nerve agent in the water, turning everyone into depressed psychopaths.

The roots that Cleeves planted remain, but as the series has grown, it has looked rather more to the inspiration of Wallander, the Swedish series that is Shetland’s true model and closest spiritual cousin. As with Wallander’s town Ystad, the tiny, troubled geographical spot Perez patrols has become a rupturing focal point where wider global ills suddenly come bursting to the surface. The last series saw the Shetland squad wondering about energy corporations and travelling to Norway to face the rise of far-right politics across Europe, while the body count mounted epically around them.

This time, the dismembered stranger on the shore sets in motion a case that seems to stretch across the continents to involve people trafficking, modern day slavery and western racism, not to mention the impact of fishing quotas on the local industry.

Too much? I’m not sure. The new story is engrossing enough, although I suspect I prefer Shetland a little smaller. I’ll keep watching, in any case, if only to continue to appreciate the greatest example of an actor clicking with a character we’ve had on British TV for years.

If anything, as he makes the role more and more his own, Douglas Henshall is only getting better as DI Jimmy Perez, the decent, lonely detective watching the rest of us with quiet dismay and increasing hints anger. It’s the best stuff he’s done on screen. Even as the storylines grow more baroque, Henshall keeps everything in reserve. There’s real strength about the performance, but, whether amused or in despair, he plays it softly, brilliantly natural. No fiddly bits.




8pm, STV

Yes! Finally! I’ve been saying it for years and they’ve finally listened – they’ve remade George & Mildred! Beauty! Aw, wait. Hang on. Ach, no, they’ve not. It’s just Young Morse has grown a moustache. But, listen, ITV, check it out: he’s got that ratty downtrodden but sneaky Roper look down to a T. Think about it: Shaun Evans as George, Maxine Peake as Mildred, eating him alive. I’d watch it. Meanwhile, back in Endeavoursville, following the calamity that ended last series, Young Morse has been stuck back in uniform as a sergeant and posted to a station out in the sticks. He’ll never be a detective in Oxford again…will he? When a brutal murder occurs in his old manor, he’s called back, and is soon disagreeing with superiors. Roger Allam is back, too, as his trusty mentor Thursday.


Storyville: Marie Colvin – Under The Wire 10pm, BBC Four This superb, sometimes harrowing documentary pieces together events on the ground in Syria 2012, when the fearless (and, according to many, fearsome) Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin and photographer Paul Conroy sought to cover the siege of Homs – the assignment that cost Colvin her life, when she was killed by Syrian artillery fire. Piecing together that journey, and the subsequent life-or-death attempt by Conroy to get out and bring the story to the world, the film works on three fronts. It’s a tribute to Colvin and her career, but also works as the kind of reportage she exceled at – an unflinching, hard-hitting, heartbreaking portrait of the horror, injustice and slaughter of the Syrian conflict, and the people caught in the middle, paying the price. Finally, it’s a film about the value of journalism itself, and war journalism in particular.


The 15 Billion Pound Railway

9pm, BBC Two

Allowing cameras to record the mammoth London Crossrail construction project for an ongoing TV documentary was a fantastic idea for viewers and posterity – but you have to wonder whether the leaders of the project themselves are beginning to regret agreeing to it. Since the first series, back in 2014, the projected cost alluded to in the title has ballooned (following several bailouts, current estimates suggest it will be nearer £18 billion), and the completion date just keeps slipping – originally announced to open December 2018, it will now be delayed to 2020, at least. Fun times, then, as this third series, filmed last year, begins. Cameras find the teams beneath the streets of London under increasing pressure to try and complete the “final stages” in time to meet that original schedule – a ship that the audience knows has already sailed.


Venus Uncovered: Ancient Goddess Of Love 9pm, BBC Four It’s Valentine’s Day, so let’s see. BBC One is celebrating with Death In Paradise. BBC Two has a documentary about hospitals. ITV has a thing about a real-life death. Channel 4 has people pretending to be on the run in Hunted. And Channel 5 has a documentary about cash strapped people trying to get loans. The romance. It’s left to BBC Four to acknowledge the date with two repeats. First up, historian Bettany Hughes with her excellent film on the roots and surprisingly complex history of Venus, from her days as Julius Caesar’s favourite pin-up war symbol, through to the slashing of a Velazquez painting of the goddess at the National Gallery by suffragette Mary Richardson in 1914. It’s followed by Sex, Lies & Love Bites: The Agony Aunt Story, psychotherapist Philippa Perry’s wry documentary on the history and lasting appeal of the problem page.


Flat Pack Pop: Sweden’s Music Miracle

9pm, BBC Four

This documentary by James Ballardie offers an insightful overview of the revolution in a particular kind of ruthlessly efficient pop that grew out of the Cheiron Studios in Stockholm under producer-songwriter Denniz PoP. If you don’t know the name, you definitely know the tunes, at least if you ever heard mainstream radio across the mid-to-late-1990s, when PoP’s team were behind a steamrollering series of hits by acts including Ace Of Bass, N’Sync, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, for whom the Cheiron crew created the world-devouring “Baby One More Time,” released just after PoP passed away. Ballardie explores where their brand of songwriting came from – roots that, in this telling, stretch from Sweden’s underground 1990s club scene, back through its 1970s socialist education system, to its cow-herding folksongs – and its ongoing impact. Cheiron co-conspirators Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake are among the interviewees.



9pm, BBC Four

Long term members of BBC Four’s Saturday Night Subtitles Club (Nordic Division) will remember Trapped, the chilly, claustrophobic, hugely atmospheric cult thriller created by Baltasar Kormákur, set in an isolated town in the remote northeast of the country, cut off from the outside world by a raging blizzard. Returning for a second series, we find the bearlike police chief Andri (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) now stationed in metropolitan Reykjavik. But when a local politician is hideously murdered, he's reluctantly dispatched back to his remote little hometown, to work with his former colleagues investigating local links to the case, involving bad feelings against a proposed new factory, and a far-right nationalist group. What are the chances of another giant snowstorm cutting them all off again? The ten-part mystery begins with the traditional double bill tonight. Stay warm.