1. Doc Martin, ITV
Spoiler alert - the new series started with a wedding! Could the will they/won’t they love affair between Martin Clunes’s Doc and Caroline Catz’s Louisa really end in joy? Obviously not.
If anything, series six is the darkest yet, as Martin struggles to cope with the changes in his life — especially when his mother Margaret (Claire Bloom) arrives later in the series and, with baby James Henry, there are three generations living under one roof. His character slowly unravels — but with jokes.
2. Downton Abbey, ITV
Having raced from the sinking of the Titanic to the outbreak of the First World War in series one, Julian Fellowes has been slowing down rapidly since — eager to ensure the show doesn’t hit the Second World War too soon, heralding Downton’s inevitable take-over by the military and then the National Trust. So series four is set entirely in 1922.
Prepare for another departure and some arrivals, while the mourning Lady Mary looks fantastic in black (lovely jewellery, too!). Opera diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa even makes an appearance as the first real-life character, Australian singer Dame Nellie Melba.
3. Quirke, BBC1
Gabriel Byrne takes the lead in this murky, 1950s-set, three-part thriller series based on the books by Benjamin Black (pseudonym of award-winning Irish writer John Banville). The eponymous Quirke is a pathologist investigating sudden deaths — the church is suspect, the streets are misty and Geraldine Somerville and Michael Gambon co-star.
4. Peaky Blinders, BBC2 (starts 12 September at 9:00pm)
An epic saga of gangsters — in Birmingham? This has all the ambition of Scorsese’s Boardwalk Empire or Gangs of New York, but a more original story. Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill and Helen McCrory fight to control the streets of England’s second city. “Cillian Murphy is another example of a big US star taking a leading role in UK drama — we’re seeing actors who might have only worked in film now happily moving between film, theatre and TV,” says Ben Stephenson of the BBC.
5. The Guilty, ITV (starts today at 9:00pm)
Aiming for the Broadchurch audience, The Guilty stars Tamsin Greig [Cold Soup, Green Wing] as DCI Maggie Brand, whose troubled son Sam is about to start school just as the body of a missing child, Callum Reid, is discovered, almost five years after he disappeared. Katherine Kelly and Darren Boyd play Callum’s grieving parents as the drama unfolds across two timelines, 2008 and the present day. “Tamsin Greig may be an unfamiliar face on ITV, but viewers love her,” says Steve November, the channel’s director of drama. “I think the days when actors were associated with certain channels are fading.”
6. Breathless, ITV
Already dubbed ITV’s answer to Call the Midwife, Breathless is set in the gynaecology unit of a London hospital in 1961. Under the smouldering gaze of Jack Davenport’s Otto Powell, his This Life co-star Natasha Little, Zoe Boyle (Downton’s Lavinia), Joanna Page and Catherine Steadman wrestle with abortion — still illegal — and the Pill, available now but only to married women. It’s like Emergency Ward 10 meets the sexual revolution.
7. Dracula, Sky Living
Jonathan Rhys Meyers (of The Tudors) is back to form, playing a steampunk version of everyone’s favourite vampire. Vlad, aka Alexander Grayson, has been investing in energy futures and arrives in London posing as a US billionaire.
8. The Great Train Robbery, BBC1
The Great Train Robbery has influenced so many British crime films it’s a wonder it’s taken 50 years to produce
a TV drama. In the end the BBC made two, written by Broadchurch’s Chris Chibnall, from the perspective of both the gang and the police. A Robber’s Tale sees events through the eyes of Bruce Reynolds, Ronnie Biggs and co, while A Copper’s Tale stars Jim Broadbent as detective Tommy Butler.
9. Masters of Sex, C4
They thought about sex, they talked about sex and they tried to help a lot of people have sex. Michael Sheen and Lizzie Caplan star as the 1950s human sexuality researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Probably not as raunchy as it sounds, but a fascinating tale of sexual liberation, in every sense.
10. An Adventure in Space and Time, BBC2
If any TV programme is allowed to eat itself it’s Doctor Who — Time Lords aren’t just postmodern, they’re pre-modern, intra-modern and ur-modern as well. As part of the buildup to the show’s 50th anniversary, BBC2 has commissioned this one-off, 90-minute drama about, er, the BBC commissioning Doctor Who. David Bradley (newsagent Jack Marshall in Broadchurch) plays William Hartnell — an actor stereotyped in hard-man roles becoming an unlikely hero to millions of children.
11. The Tunnel, Sky Atlantic
Sky’s version of The Bridge. When a body is found in the Channel Tunnel it turns out to belong to two victims, one English, one French. Cops from both countries collaborate to outwit a serial killer highlighting social issues. “The killer in the original espoused five truths — here it’s a longer list and it looks at the way we treat the old, the young and mentally ill,” says Sky’s head of drama Anne Mensah.
12. Atlantis, BBC1
Misfits creator Howard Overman has written the BBC’s autumn blockbuster, a fantasy drama starring Mark Addy, Jemima Rooper, Juliet Stevenson, and Jack Donnelly as Jason before the Argonauts.
It comes from the Cardiff base of Doctor Who and Sherlock. “There’s a sophisticated story, epic high production values, some Greek myths and legends that the family audience is drawn to,” Ben Stephenson explains. “It’s our most ambitious fantasy series since Merlin. A few years ago, TV was wary of things on this scale, but the audience has long been sophisticated enough.”
13. The Escape Artist, BBC1
David Tennant dons a barrister's wig as clever defence layer Will Burton, who earns his nickname "the escape artist" by digging people out of deep legal holes. In this three-parter he finds himself saving a murder suspect from jail, only to suffer as the case comes back to bite him. Ashley Jensen makes a welcome return to primtime, alongside Tody Kebbell and Sophie Okonedo.