What to watch on TV this weekend

You'll never miss a thing with our indispensable guide to telly...

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Doctor Who

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7.20pm Saturday, BBC1

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London, 1814: a vast mud-caked creature wails in anguish down by the Thames… No, it’s not Tom Hardy returning unexpectedly early as James Keziah Delaney in Taboo. We are in the exact same year and setting, but Doctor Who delivers a far less squalid depiction of Regency London – its street urchins are quite well turned out.

The Doctor and Bill arrive at the last of the great frost fairs on the Thames, where revellers and children have been vanishing under the ice. There are monsters at large – if not the kind we first imagine. “Regency England is a bit more black than they show in the movies,” observes Bill, wary that in this period “slavery is still totally a thing”. Indeed, undercurrents of bondage, racism and inhumanity soon bubble to the surface. 

Thin Ice is a superb episode, written by Sarah Dollard, in which Bill asks questions that cut to the core of the Doctor’s morality. Pearl Mackie is a remarkably empathic presence, while Peter Capaldi is the finest he’s ever been at the wit, fury and remoteness of the Time Lord. 

LA 92: the Riots

9pm Saturday, Sky Atlantic

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Extraordinary research and editing effort must have gone into this documentary about the riots that raged in Los Angeles 25 years ago. It’s a two-hour montage of contemporary clips, without narration or captions. That approach is perhaps fitting, given how the trouble started: a bystander with a camcorder had captured white police officers repeatedly striking prone motorist Rodney King, so his fellow black Angelenos didn’t merely suspect injustice when the cops were acquitted. They’d seen the raw footage. 

The relentless flow of dramatic, disturbing images feels much more immediate for not being put in retrospective context: before our eyes America’s deep-seated racism flares, and then the fragile social contract that keeps the streets peaceful is ripped up at alarming speed.

Line of Duty

9pm Sunday, BBC1

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Every year we wonder if Jed Mercurio’s police-corruption thriller can possibly top the previous season. And every year… well, you can argue over whether its transition to BBC1 has brought the best episodes ever, but you’ll have to wait until this finale has ended, because while Line of Duty is on, nothing else matters. Mercurio is a master at mixing drip-fed info and huge twists, never letting us settle long enough to formulate a theory or poke at any holes – and the odd implausibility is offset by supporting characters who form perfect little riddles, and the show’s endlessly fascinating big baddies.

This year we’ve been blessed with the majestic Thandie Newton as DCI Roz Huntley, a woman whose reserves of ruthless ingenuity show little sign of running out. We know what she’s done, or at least we think we do. Can AC-12 bring her down? There won’t be anything more exciting on TV this year than Huntley’s last desperate hour. 

The Durrells

8pm Sunday, ITV

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Parenting: it’s all Greek to Louisa Durrell. Sometimes she’s too lenient – not noticing that 11-year-old Gerry had been out all night looking for a female otter is perhaps being a bit too free and easy. Sometimes she doesn’t give her children enough maternal support – being too busy to bother reading Larry’s just-published book is so insensitive that even nice but dim Leslie is moved to reproach her. 

Inevitably her attempts to be more hands-on and caring end in disaster. Moments to savour include Spiros bringing Gerry a gift of two “magempies”; the entire family getting drunk on Leslie’s home-made kumquat liqueur; and the normally grouchy Lugaretzia gleefully riding a bike through a washing line before ending up in a bush. Charming, heart-warming and slightly silly, it’s perfect feel-good TV.

Cable Girls

Netflix

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Madrid, 1982: at a telecoms company, four women – three rookies and one old hand, the latter payed by Maggie Civantos of Locked Up – bond at work as they try to make their way in Spain’s apparently swinging but still viciously patriarchal society. One of them, Lidia (Blanca Suárez) is hiding not one but two whopping secrets from her new pals… this Netflix drama is soapy period whimsy with a gentle feminist kick.

Carol

9pm Saturday, Channel 4

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Patricia Highsmith’s controversial, keynote lesbian novel The Price of Salt is brought lovingly to the screen by director Todd Haynes, in resplendent Far from Heaven fashion. Trapped in a marriage of convenience, uptown, worldly Carol (Cate Blanchett) begins an affair with naive, besotted shop girl Therese (Rooney Mara). But this is early 1950s Manhattan and when Carol’s husband threatens her with scandal, the women embark on a road trip towards self-discovery and inalienable truths. No one is better at nuanced melodrama in the classic Hollywood style than Haynes, and with two high-calibre leading ladies exercising coiffed poise, era-sensitive intelligence and sophistication in every fabulous-looking frame, this exquisite romance is both chic and chilly in correct proportion before it explodes in tear-jerking emotional transparency. A stunning masterpiece, front-loaded with atmospheric mood and poignant tenderness.