Friday 10

Deadwater Fell

9pm, Channel 4


Amazon Prime

It’s a new year, but, as Deadwater Fell begins, it’s hard to shake the feeling we’ve been here before. Written by Daisy Coulam, the four-part drama takes us back yet again to the location that has become the go-to setting for our TV crime mysteries: the picturesque small town with nasty secrets lurking behind the postcard veneer; that pretty, claustrophobic, quasi-incestuous little place where everybody knows everybody else, and most of them have something to hide.

Heightening the sense of déjà vu is the presence of David Tennant, who of course led the investigation in Broadchurch, the drama that introduced the new, somewhat Scandinavian design most subsequent British series in the small-town-with-secrets mould have adopted. It’s to Coulam’s credit, then, that Deadwater Fell quickly asserts a distinct, intriguing personality. Quieter, sadder, and following characters with their own motives, it becomes more than just another Broadchurch copy.

The strong local atmosphere helps. The story is set in the fictional Scottish town of Kirkdarroch, and director Lynsey Miller captures its mood beautifully. (In reality, the series was filmed around Dunlop, East Ayrshire, a place that might see a boost in tourist interest as viewers fall for its charm). Among the tiny population, we follow four people: the local GP, Tom (Tennant), and his teacher wife, Kate (Anna Madeley); and the local police sergeant, Steve (Matthew McNulty), and his partner, Jess (Cush Jumbo), who helps him look after his two kids from a previous marriage to a local woman.

The couples are close friends. Jess works alongside Kate, and their little kids – Tom and Kate have three little girls – all knock around together. Meanwhile, Jess and Steve have been trying to have a child of their own, with no luck so far. That struggle seems the only cloud marring their lives, at first. But when, one night, the village’s tiny community is rocked by a tragedy, the façade begins to crumble. Lives are lost, and soon, what seemed like an accident begins to look like the most horrendous of crimes.

While, like so many British TV dramas at the moment, it can get a little carried away with flashbacks and flashforwards, the first episode generally has the confidence to take things slow. The opening scenes lay out the little town’s sleepy, happy life with a lovely touch, with some wonderfully natural detailing around the primary school class, and a feel for summer nights. The lead cast are terrific, with Tennant displaying the slippery skill he has for playing men who might not be quite what they first seem.

Taking a step away from the kind of crime stories she’s known for as lead writer on ITV’s cosier Grantchester, Coulam crafts a bitter, dark and intense story about friendships gone wrong and relationships grown twisted. As suspicions spread and fingers are pointed, it’s worth sticking with to see how all the lies and hidden truths come spilling out into the open.

Where Deadwater Fell revisits familiar ground in satisfying style, Treadstone is a less successful attempt to recapture old glories. But it sure moves faster. An unashamed action outing, the show is a spin-off from the Jason Bourne movies: Treadstone was the name of the CIA black ops programme that produced the near-superhuman assassin Bourne. In the series, we glimpse both the origins of the project, back in the Cold War era, and yet more consequences today, as, around the globe, more Bourne-style sleeper agents are suddenly activated, creating much mayhem. Treadstone, sadly, doesn’t have anything like the intelligence that made the best Bourne movies so great, but it has plenty of blunt, bone-cracking, car-smashing thwack and pace. No classic, but it kills time with extreme prejudice.



Call The Midwife

8pm, BBC One

Following the soul-chilling traumas of the Christmas episode, the nuns and nurses of the BBC’s runaway success are back for a ninth series proper. It’s January 1965 now, and, along with the rest of the UK, the Nonnatus House team is stunned by the death of Winston Churchill. As his state funeral jams the streets of London, Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) is among the millions following the events on TV. Meanwhile, there is far less pomp and ceremony to be found in the lives of the people around them: at a run down homeless unit, Nurse Crane (Linda Bassett) meets a heavily pregnant woman and her 10-year-old son, and tries desperately to find them a place to live before the new baby arrives. And back at the maternity home, yet another new baby arrives, but in very unusual circumstances.


Father Brown

2.15pm, BBC One

One of the smartest moves the BBC made in recent years was the decision to invest again in daytime drama, and this cracking little cosy crime series, (very) loosely based on the stories by GK Chesterton, is one of the best results, a mischievous little thing that plays like a slightly warped picture book. Returning for an eighth 10-part series, Mark Williams is back as the crime busting holy man, and in this first episode, he’s up against the most sinister danger of his life (not really), as he races to unmask the villain attempting to sabotage the Kembleford Choristers and stop them winning the Three Counties Choir contest. The series continues across the week, and takes a turn into darkness and bleak horror (not really) tomorrow, as Father Brown investigates the death of a beekeeper.


Storyville: Jonestown – Terror In The Jungle

9pm, BBC Four

In November 1978, the world was shocked by grisly news coming out of Guyana, South America: over 900 Americans had died in a combination of murder and suicide at a place called Jonestown, a remote jungle compound established by the religious movement known as The People’s Temple. This meticulous two-part documentary (concluding tomorrow) explores the case not simply by focussing on the tragedy itself, but the context in which it happened, laying out the career of the Temple’s charismatic leader, Jim Jones. Mixing a leftist, racially integrated message with quasi-supernatural beliefs, Jones set up his church in rural Indiana, but as he came under increased scrutiny, moved his congregation to California, where his ego, paranoia, drug habit, apocalyptic leanings and need to dominate began to spiral out of control. Period footage and candid interviews with survivors bring the story to life in unsettling detail.


The League Of Gentlemen: Return To Royston Vasey

10pm, BBC Two

Continuing tomorrow and Friday, a repeat for the three specials first shown in 2017 to mark the 20th anniversary of the beloved, curdled cult comedy created by Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. Things never change in Rosyston Vasey, but as we return, the sinister little timewarped village is in peril, as a reworking of the county lines means it could be merged with a nearby town. Things grow even more sad and sinister than usual, as familiar faces reappear – including, apparently back from the grave, those murderous, snout-nosed shopkeepers, Edward and Tubbs. A sticky, icky thing, with its “A local shop for local people” rallying cry, it these days plays like a grotesque metaphor for Brexit: we’re all trapped in Royston Vasey forever, surrounded by bizarre characters with unfathomable motives and desires.


Baby Chimp Rescue

8pm, BBC Two

You had me at “Baby Chimp.” This new series is super cute, but, of course, it has a serious message. The documentary introduces wildlife vet Jim Desmond and his wife Jenny, whose conservation work brought them to Liberia, where life took an unexpected turn. When they took in two baby chimpanzees needing care, word spread, and more and more orphaned chimps were brought to their door – currently, they have 21. The babies are victims of hunters fuelling the illegal pet trade, and the Desmonds and their team work to care for the chimps, and release them back into the forest. But this means teaching them how to survive, and so chimp specialist Ben Garrod has arrived to show them the basics, including how to climb, forage for food and recognise dangers. Put that down! It’s not a toy, it’s a deadly snake!


Joanna And Jennifer: Absolutely Champers

9pm, BBC Two

That’s Lumley and Saunders, of course, who, in this documentary (first shown in 2017), are off to the north of France on a not particularly taxing pilgrimage in honour of the stuff that kept their onscreen counterparts Patsy Stone and Edina Monsoon fuelled in Absolutely Fabulous. Touring the picturesque Champagne region, and visiting all the famous houses – Moet, Dom Perignon and, their Mecca, Bollinger – the pair help harvest grapes, learn how bubbly is made to bubble, and sample a vintage Bolly from 1992, the year their show debuted. But, between all that and a bundle of clips from the AbFab archive, the programme is best simply for the banter between the two along the road. It’s followed by a screening of the Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, and there’s nothing wrong with that.