The previous 12 months have been almost completely devoid of Doctor Who, save The Return of Doctor Mysterio on Christmas Day. It’s been painful, but sometimes, a brief hiatus is a good thing.
And at least the rest of television has been populated by some truly excellent dramas. We’ve already highlighted the likes of The A Word and Death in Paradise; now it’s time to talk about some more of 2016 best shows…
Based on the Swedish sci-fi show, Real Humans, Channel 4’s iteration of this take on artificial intelligence became the station’s highest-rated drama since 1992. The first series dealt with the idea of personalised, anthropomorphic robots called Synths, and a very select number of them having independent thought and the capacity to feel. That series left the possibility of more Synths being “woken” by a code now in the hands of the most unstable Synth, Niska, played by the fantastic Emily Berrington (who I want as an upcoming Doctor Who companion, pretty please?).
Series 2 manages to add even more questions over artificial intelligence, and our relationship with robots, looking at their impact on the job market, on human law, morals, relationships, and, as they learn to simulate us, how we learn to simulate them.
Starring Gemma Chan (The Waters of Mars), Tom Goodman-Hill (The Unicorn and the Wasp), Colin Morgan (Midnight), Letitia Wright (Face the Raven), Ruth Bradley (Big Finish’s Molly O’Sullivan), Anastacia Hille (Class), Danny Webb (The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit), and plenty more, Humans frankly knocks it out of the park.
Last Tango in Halifax
Fans of this quirky drama about the families of two long-lost loves have had a long time to wait for these two specials, screened over Christmas 2016. The previous series of Last Tango in Halifax aired in December 2014 and January 2015!
It’s a simple idea: two long-lost loves find each other again in their retirement and their very-different families have to learn to live with their new realities. Sally Wainwright is a superb writer and knows the potential that can come from such a premise; her dialogue in particular never fails to impress. And for Doctor Who fans, the four main leads – Anne Reid (Smith and Jones), Derek Jacobi (Utopia), Sarah Lancashire (Partners in Crime), and Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka for Big Finish) – are perfectly picked! Plus, the brilliant theme is by Murray Gold…
The latest two-part story saw Lancashire’s character, Caroline, taking on a new challenge following the death of her partner, played in the previous series by Nina Sosanya (Fear Her), while Walker’s Gillian ponders about the afterlife, and the effects of murder…
Line of Duty
The second series of this BBC2 crime drama about police corruption made the headlines, but that resulted in extra pressure for Series 3, screened in March and April 2016, to be a success.
But fans trusted writer, Jed Mercurio, and it paid off: the third run of episodes was such a massive hit that a fourth and fifth series were immediately commissioned – and the show bumped up to BBC1!
The cast is led by Adrian Dunbar, Martin Compston, Vicky McClure, and Craig Parkinson, while guest stars include Daniel Mays (Night Terrors), Keeley Hawes (Time Heist), and George Costigan (Voyage of the Damned). For the latest series, a shocking death leads to the unravelling of “The Caddy,” a corrupt element, sitting right at the heart of AC-12, the anti-corruption unit.
The extra-long series finale was an incredible TV event, one which just has to be experienced, and featuring one of the greatest scenes of 2016.
ITV’s adaptations of Georges Simenon’s novels began this year with Rowan Atkinson taking the lead role as Jules Maigret, and its first episode, aired over Easter, was so popular, two further episodes were confirmed for 2017.
Maigret Sets A Trap saw the French detective scouring Paris for a serial killer whose victims seem to have nothing common, forcing Maigret to attempt a dangerous ruse. Christmas Day’s second story, Maigret’s Dead Man, meanwhile, featured a man desperately trying to contact the police, specifically asking for Maigret by name, warning that he’ll be killed – and indeed, he turns up dead soon after.
The unfamiliar 1950s Paris setting gives us some great visuals and Atkinson proves a fantastic, but refreshingly gentle, front man. Shaun Dingwall (Father’s Day) co-stars as Inspector Janvier, while Anamaria Marinca (Asylum of the Daleks) guests in Maigret’s Dead Man.
We’ve already praised The Musketeers, but we’ve still got a nasty taste in our mouths after the BBC unceremoniously cancelled the show and buried its concluding series. Fortunately, its fans stuck with it, no matter how it was thrown around the schedules.
The show debuted in 2014, starring Peter Capaldi as Cardinal Richelieu as the Moriarty to the Musketeers’ Sherlock, but he was forced to leave for its second series (he was busy recording an unheard of show about a travelling physician). Marc Warren (Love & Monsters) filled a similarly-villainous role in Series 2 (and he was exceptional), while this final series, screened on BBC1 between May and August introduced Rupert Everett as Marquis de Feron, and Matthew McNulty as Lucien Grimaud, the latter of whom reached new highs of nefariousness (good word, that).
Everything was at stake, and the grim spectre of death loomed over Athos (Tom Burke), Aramis (Santiago Cabrera), Porthos (Howard Charles), d’Artagnan (Luke Pasquelino), and co.
The Musketeers Series 3 also started Lily Loveless (The Sarah Jane Adventures), Meera Syal (The Hungry Earth/ Cold Blood), Harry Melling (grandson of Patrick Troughton), and the Eighth Doctor himself, Paul McGann!
A fresh detective drama is always great thing to witness, but to have it written by Anthony Horowitz is an extra pleasure. Many of us surely would’ve grown up with his Alex Rider novels (myself included), and since enjoyed his James Bond and Sherlock Holmes books, so this show was eagerly anticipated.
His seven-episode series comprised of three cases, and paired up two unlikely leads: Mark Strepan as Stefan Kowolski, junior investigator for the Serious Fraud Office, and Ben Tavassoli as Trainee Detective Constable Arrash Sayyad. They hate each other – or at least Sayyad can’t stand Kowolski, exacerbated by the latter’s crush on Arrash’s sister.
If this all sounds too city-slick, too clichéd, rest assured that the stories themselves are excellent, it looks beautiful, and Strepan and Tavassoli have great chemistry, making this a genuinely funny and exciting show. It also stars Kathryn Drysdale (Love & Monsters), Ariyon Bakare (The Woman Who Lived), Torchwood‘s Indira Varma, Alistair Petrie (Sherlock), and Mark Bonnar (The Rebel Flesh/ The Almost People).
That’s all for now, but come back for the concluding part, looking at war abroad, the Monarchy, and cold-blooded murder…