Decades after the Cold War defrosted, spies are still everywhere.
Thursday, BBC2, 9pm
Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor
Today, BBC1, 7:50pm
In the real world, they’re reading our e-mails or singlehandedly padlocking themselves into bags without leaving a trace; on screen they’re Carrie and Saul, insisting on the virtues of old-fashioned human intelligence over targeted strikes in Homeland, or the undercover Russians in 1980s-set The Americans (returning next year). Spooks, it was recently announced, is coming back as a movie and James Bond will always be with us.
But how did, for example, Spooks’ Harry Pearce get to be that scheming, double-thinking, betray-my-friends-before-my-country spymaster? While not directly drawing on any previous spy stories in particular, new one-off drama Legacy is a sort of answer to that question.
It’s set in 1974 and its spy, Charles (Charlie Cox), is a keen young chap only a couple of weeks into the job. He’s still being taught how to do dead letter drops and not get followed, when he’s asked to recruit an old pal, now working for the Russian Embassy. Naturally, secrets, betrayals and agonising decisions follow and by the end, young Charles is well on the way to becoming as cynical and jaded as any career spy.
Legacy, adapted from a novel by Alan Judd, suffers a little from its brisk pace here: a romance is rushed, with Romola Garai quite wasted, and it’s hard to be really engaged with Charles’ discovery of a family secret before we’ve got to know him or his family. There’s also a daft scene where a spy cache is found in a patently ridiculous hiding place. Cox is fine, as is Andrew Scott as the Russian contact (with dodgy accent), and the scenes of spycraft are slick and gripping.
But the stand-out of this drama is the trio of senior handlers at MI6 who direct Charles’ mission: Simon Russell Beale, born to play a manipulative spymaster, Christian McKay as his suspicious second in command and Tessa Peake-Jones as a veteran agent. Together they’re reminiscent of Spooks at its best and would be worthy of a spin-off. Maybe in the end, it is just more interesting to watch spies who’ve already accepted the price of what they do.
The biggest TV event of the week, of course, is the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who which, inevitably, is not to be spoiled in advance. After the nostalgic one-two whammy of behind-the-scenes drama An Adventure In Space And Time and the online short prequel bringing back Paul McGann, it’s expected that The Day Of The Doctor will be an epic event bringing together different threads from the show’s past. For me, showrunner Steven Moffat doesn’t do well with epic, cramming in too many overblown attempts at creating big moments, with too much jabbering dialogue and too little sincerity. But if there’s any occasion when Who can be forgiven for wallowing in its own mythos, it’s this once-unlikely anniversary of the most unlikely series to be one of the country’s most popular.
Oh, and I expect there will be Daleks. I mean, why wouldn’t there be?
Berberian Sound Studio
Today, Film4, 11pm
Disturbing 1970s-set horror where the scariest things are not what’s shown but what’s heard. Toby Jones plays a British sound-effects man working on violent Italian movies which start to affect him.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Tuesday, Sky Atlantic, 9pm
Film portrait of the Chinese artist who’s become as famous in the West for his political protests as for his art (not to mention that time he made a Gangnam Style video). This documentary follows him from being fêted for his Olympic ‘Birds’ Nest’ stadium, to being arrested and beaten by police.
What Happens In Kavos
Thursday, Channel 4, 10pm
Though there are dozens of shows about young Brits getting drunk abroad, this returning series set in a Corfu resort is definitely the best – or should that be the worst, as it reveals the sheer excesses which lead to the local clinic. Greek doctors shake their heads wearily as yet another teen staggers in.
Friday, BBC2, 8:30pm
We’ve had cuddly polar bears, quirky meercats and lots of dogs; but the latest animal stars are the pouch-packin’ kangaroos of Australia. Chris ‘Brolga’ Barnes runs a sanctuary for orphaned joeys; watch him persuade them a pillowcase is their mum’s pouch and coo.