Say what you want about 2016, but it’s produced a startlingly brilliant array of television. The small screen is really shining brightly; for every cringe-worthy reality show, there are five more fantastic dramas.
You won’t go far without spotting a few familiar faces, ones you’ll likely recognise from Doctor Who. Here are just a few TV shows from 2016 worth watching.
The A Word
An intimate family drama that is educational and funny is definitely cause for celebration – and The A Word even more so for raising awareness of people on the autistic spectrum.
Originally screened in March and April, this six-episode series received acclaim for the way it dealt with its subject matter, showing the struggles of a family dealing with five-year-old Joe, diagnosed with autism, but laced with a wonderful humour. While starring the Ninth Doctor himself, Christopher Eccleston, Under the Lake/ Before the Flood‘s Morven Christie, and Pooky Quesnel (A Christmas Carol; Class), Max Vento must get the biggest applause for his portrayal of Joe.
Written by Peter Bowker (Marvellous; Eric and Ernie), the show’s produced by Marcus Wilson (who worked on Doctor Who throughout Series 6 and 7, as well as the 2013 specials).
Charlie Brooker’s dark satire hit headlines with its first episode, back in 2011, which told the story of the Prime Minister being blackmailed into having intercourse with a pig, live on television. Its speculative style, especially about how the nature of technology is changing the world, continued for a second series, plus Christmas special, on Channel 4, attracting big names.
Its third series, however, switched to Netflix in 2016, and similarly starred huge celebrities – including, of course, Who alumni. Bryce Dallas Howard (Spider-Man 3; Jurassic World) headlined the first episode, but Who fans will take more joy in seeing Guga Mbatha-Raw (Martha Jones’ sister, Tish) in the fourth episode, San Junipero, named one of, if not the best of the season.
Across Series 3, you’ll further notice James Norton (Cold War), Faye Marsay (Last Christmas), and, directing the final episode, James Hawes (The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances).
It’s a statement about the changing face to television that two shows in a row stream on Netflix. So-called terrestrial channels still hold weight, but such services might hold the future for the small screen.
Rather deliciously, the old and the new mix in The Crown, a drama about Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, beginning in 1947 with the Monarch’s marriage to Prince Philip. The latter is played expertly by Matt Smith, aka the Eleventh Doctor, at least during the first 10-part season, available now. He might not have seemed an obvious choice, but after watching an episode, you’ll be unable to think of anyone else who could fulfil the role so perfectly.
It’s a joy to see Matt in anything, but it’s particularly satisfying knowing this TV show, written by Peter Morgan (Frost/ Nixon; The Queen), has proved such a hit.
Death in Paradise
Debuting in 2011, Death in Paradise is actually a pretty old show now; nonetheless, it still feels fresh yet welcoming, a treat that comes along early in every new year.
Ben Miller (Robot of Sherwood) was its first lead, but he was surprisingly killed off during its third series; Kris Marshall then took over, and his regular co-stars gradually replaced until Danny John-Jules (Red Dwarf), Élizabeth Bourgine (My Best Friend), and Don Warrington (Rise of the Cybermen) as the only remaining original cast members. Fortunately, its fun murder-mystery format makes the show must-watch TV.
2016’s Series 5 co-starred Adetomiwa Edun (The Return of Doctor Mysterio), Alun Raglan (The Hungry Earth/ Cold Blood), and Neve McIntosh, better known as Madame Vastra in stories like A Good Man Goes to War, The Snowmen, and Deep Breath. A sixth series starts on BBC1 on 5th January 2017.
You’ll know Gerald Durrell for his incredible conservationist work, and for founding the Durrell Wildlife Park on Jersey, but he also wrote books, including three autobiographical ones on which this TV show is based.
Regaling the true story of his family’s years on Corfu in the 1930s, The Durrells aired on ITV1 in April and May, and was an immediate hit, becoming the biggest drama launch of 2016 up to that date.
It’s entirely adapted by Simon Nye (Amy’s Choice), who brings a fantastic humour to the goings-on. While Gerald will always be a hero of mine, his mother (played by Time-Heist‘s Keeley Hawes) seemed an astonishingly strong woman, trying to start a new life in surroundings that are completely alien to them all, struggling for money, and putting up with Gerry’s (Milo Parker) ambition to turn their dilapidated house into a zoo. Special mention, too, must go to my favourite character, the novelist Lawrence Durrell (Josh O’Connor), whose obsession with finding art in his world, and, by extension, his work means he gets some of the best lines.
2014’s sure-fire hit, Happy Valley was always going to get a second series – as long as its cast and crew could find the time to make it. Written by the ever-busy Sally Wainwright, this would be a struggle, but Series 2 was, fortunately, forthcoming, following the life of Sgt. Catherine Cawood, played by Sarah Lancashire (Partners in Crime).
Increasing the average UK audience figures to over 9 million, this six-part run would juggle numerous main plots – including human trafficking, blackmail, and serial killings – with the continuation of Series 1’s themes, notably the threat of the now-imprisoned Tommy Lee Royce, played by the brilliant James Norton.
This second series also stars Katherine Kelly (Class), Shirley Henderson (Love & Monsters), and George Costigan (Voyage of the Damned).
That’s all for Part One, but in the next part, we take a look at artificial intelligence, swashbuckling adventures in France, and police corruption…