The best TV to watch tonight

Your indispensable guide to the best things on the box...

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A Time to Live

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9pm, BBC2

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“Have you ever wondered what you’d do if you were given a terminal diagnosis?” asks documentary-maker Sue Bourne in the opening of this film, which meets 12 people who know they are dying sooner rather than later. The answer seems obvious: do more of what makes you happy, spend time with your loved ones and don’t leave anything left unsaid.

That is the answer the film’s subjects repeatedly give, though it’s no less moving for being predictable. And as trite as it may sound to declare a new perspective on life after being told your ration of it is limited, it’s another thing entirely to hear about that sort-of liberation from such clear-eyed, frank, vivid, articulate people.

It’s not all positivity; there is sadness, and anger, and Bourne’s subjects don’t deny that. Instead they turn frustration into productivity – some even manage serenity. 

Michael Mosley vs the Superbugs

9pm, BBC4

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Microbial Michael might sound like the world’s most underwhelming superhero. In fact, it’s a giant Michael Mosley-shaped jelly baby pressed into service for a documentary about the increasing and alarming resistance of superbugs to antibiotics.

It’s a critical, sometimes deadly scientific and medical emergency; after 70 years antibiotics are losing their ability to fight bacterial infections.

Microbial Michael is made from a cast of Mosley’s body, which is then filled with agar jelly. Bacteria are grown on this strange clone, or “living bacterial sculpture”, before they are hit with a broad-spectrum antibiotic. 

But as he travels the world, Mosley discovers that bacteria are effectively programmed to change their DNA to overcome antibiotics. In a cave in New Mexico he finds that this process has been going on since long before the discovery of penicillin. 

Isis: The Origins Of Violence

9pm, C4

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Tom Holland’s 2012 film for Channel 4, Islam: the Untold Story, provoked a storm of protest from Islamic critics. Here, he cautiously raises his head above the parapet for another look at Islam and its history, this time searching for the roots of Islamic State’s meassage of extreme violence. “Most Muslims regard them with horror,” he notes. “But are they really a dark and ancient strain of Islamic thought?” 

In one powerful scene he walks through the silent, shattered streets of Sinjar in Iraq and reflects on the Isis massacres there against Yazidis. It’s a wide-ranging, sometimes rambling story, but as hauntingly perceptive as an Adam Curtis film. 

White House Down

9pm, ITV

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On paper, White House Down sounds identical to Olympus Has Fallen, released in cinemas just a few months before it. In both, terrorists storm the presidential building, and a lone hero stands between them and world annihilation.

In fact, the films are quite different. The Gerard Butler vehicle plays it straight and is overly patriotic, whereas this blockbuster epic from director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) is a thoroughly entertaining romp – as long as you switch your brain off.

In what is effectively “Die Hard in the White House”, Channing Tatum plays the John McClane-type tough guy who helps Jamie Foxx’s US president discover his inner action hero in order to thwart the bad guys. The two leads are capable enough, but they definitely play second fiddle to the spectacularly staged stunts that are the director’s trademark.

If nothing else, you have to admire Emmerich’s audacity – he’s even managed to wrest a car chase out of a film set entirely in the White House. 

Dear White People

Netflix

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Making comedy drama with a political message is hard. Discussing racism within a show as funny, sexy and searingly smart as this? That’s a miracle. Writer/director Justin Simien expands on his 2014 film to examine various viewpoints, and explore why individuals hold them.