What to watch on TV this weekend

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Eurovision Song Contest: Grand Final


8pm Saturday, BBC1


From old women baking bread to a man doing tricks in a hamster wheel, there’s nothing Eurovision will say no to. Except Russia’s entry, which this year’s hosts Ukraine have banned, but let’s not mention the war. Graham Norton will probably mention it for us in the commentary box, as he guides us through TV’s weirdest and most wonderfully winsome musical spectacular with his trademark cynicism and sass.

Italy’s Francesco Gabbani is the hot favourite for 2017. His catchy tune about the Westernisation of Eastern cultures features both an important message AND a dancing bloke in a gorilla costume. Who knew Gerald from Not The Nine O’Clock News was such a big Eurovision fan?

X Factor’s own Lucie Jones represents the UK with Never Give Up On You. And no, though Eurovision can get more than a little political, the song is not a sneaky anti-Brexit anthem. Yet.

Doctor Who

7.15pm, Saturday, BBC1


The hiatus seems to have given Doctor Who fresh drive. There’s been a bit less fan service and rather more desire to present solid, straightforwardly enjoyable adventures – even ones that will hook the uninitiated. And Oxygen by Jamie Mathieson, a no-messing matter of life and death, is a fine example of that.

University lecturing is all very well, but it’s not until the Doctor receives a distress call that the twinkle returns to his eye: “You only really see the true face of the universe when it’s asking for your help,” he says. Against the advice of Nardole the naysayer (Matt Lucas’s sporadic presence has been a humorous delight), the Doctor takes him and Bill out into deep space. They find the Chasm Forge, a mining station seemingly overrun by the walking dead in spacesuits (zombienauts, anyone?). But why?

Oxygen presents a future world of big business and sudden death, with its ironic computer interjections providing a running commentary. A well-designed satire that reminded me conceptually of Ben Elton’s stage play Gasping, it features some bravura pieces of direction from Charles Palmer including a heart-stopping moment of disorientation for Bill (Pearl Mackie). And a scary predicament the Doctor has never faced before. 

12 Years a Slave

9pm Saturday, Channel 4


Aside from the milestone 1970s mini-series Roots, Quentin Tarantino’s puerile revenge fantasy Django Unchained, and a handful of others, there have been precious few films about slavery in the US told from the point of view of the enslaved. At the very least, director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir (which was previously adapted for TV in 1984, starring Avery Brooks) represents essential viewing for correcting that imbalance. The added bonus is that it’s also a tremendously powerful piece of cinema, a tale of suffering, endurance, courage and abiding humanity about a freeborn man kidnapped and sold into slavery, which packs all the more wallop for the elegance with which it’s made. Yes, the scenes where characters are brutalised and tortured are shocking in the extreme. However, McQueen tempers that horror with a bravura display of directorial craft, so that the most emotionally devastating moments – for instance, a long-held close-up of Northup singing – arrive with maximum force. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s restrained, finely modulated lead performance fully deserves all the praise that’s been heaped upon it, but the supports, especially Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender, are no less impressive.


9pm Sunday, ITV


There’s a wind of sadness across the fens, and it blows through not-so-sleepy Grantchester with a vengeance. Each of our main characters has a crisis to face, and it’s a tribute to Daisy Coulam’s writing that she plaits all the storylines into a moving whole. If Grantchester wants a bit more notice from next year’s Bafta committees, this might be the episode to submit.

We begin with Sidney, who is more torn than ever between the church and his (increasingly carnal) love for Amanda. “There is a war raging inside us, a war between the spirit and the flesh… between our desires and our duties,” he preaches to his congregation, gazing at his soulmate with feeling. But it doesn’t stop there: pious Mrs Maguire, confused Geordie and closeted Leonard are each deeply troubled, too. We’re only halfway through the series, but where will it all end? 

The British Academy Television Awards

8pm Sunday, BBC1


Who sits on the TV throne? The industry crowns winners from the last year of programmes, and both Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy are nominated for royal roles (as Richard III in The Hollow Crown and Elizabeth II in The Crown). Interestingly, The Crown is up for three other awards, including best drama, a sign of exactly the kind of mainstream breakthrough Netflix was angling for.

Elsewhere there is a new category of “must-see moment”, with nods to Ed Balls murdering Gangnam Style on Strictly Come Dancing and the iguana-hungry snakes on Planet Earth II – plus, in another royal touch, Danny Dyer realising he was related to a king in Who Do You Think You Are?. Court jester for this merry masque? No, not Graham Norton for once – step forward Sue Perkins.

Queer Britain

From 10am Sunday, BBC3



Riyadh Khalaf’s humane, myth-busting documentary series about modern LGBT issues moves on to gay men’s self-image. With body dysmorphia and eating disorders on the rise, Khalaf questions where the pressure to have a perfect physique has come from.