World Cup Qualifier: Scotland v England
4:30pm, Saturday, ITV
Gareth Southgate made himself the only option for the new boss of England when he faced Scotland as caretaker manager at Wembley back in November: his team’s cooler finishing soon dispelled the possibility of once again failing to beat an organised but less talented opponent. For Scotland head coach Gordon Strachan, the manner of the 3–0 defeat might easily have meant a P45, but he’s still in place, trying to mastermind an unlikely but essential home win to keep hopes of World Cup qualification alive.
Both men have needed to instil unity in their teams: Strachan to quell angry postmortems and give his starless 11 a chance of an upset; Southgate to deflect unhelpful demands from Premier League managers. The England chief’s willingness to take tough decisions – Wayne Rooney has, on merit, been omitted – suggests Scotland will be unlucky again.
7:15pm, Saturday, BBC1
In November 1967, the Ice Warriors made their Doctor Who debut and swiftly became one of the most popular monsters in the programme’s mythology, but across all those 50 years we’ve never seen the armour-plated reptiles on their home world. Mark Gatiss rectifies the matter in his spirited adventure, Empress of Mars.
It begins with the Doctor, Bill and Nardole crashing Nasa HQ where a Mars probe is in progress, before looping back to 1881 where a band of Victorian soldiers have fetched up on the Red Planet with a Warrior who seems to be the sole survivor of his race.
Of course, he’s not – an army lies in hibernation in a hive awaiting activation by their formidable Empress (Adele Lynch), and the Doctor soon finds himself arbitrating between the Martians and the Victorian invaders. Gatiss cleverly toys with the idea of two empires at war and suggests that it’s better left to the females of the species to broker peace.
8:00-10:30pm, Saturday, C4
In this classy addition to the Marvel Comics movie canon, Robert Downey Jr stars as billionaire playboy and weapons genius Tony Stark, who’s captured and held hostage during a trip to Afghanistan. His insurgent captors order him to build them a bomb, but instead he devises an armoured suit that he uses to escape. Back in America, Stark decides to change his ways, aided by his loyal, wise-cracking assistant (Gwyneth Paltrow). He also finesses the armour and creates the crime-fighting persona of Iron Man. But Stark’s new-found peacenik status upsets business partner Jeff Bridges, who has his own ideas about how to use the technology. Jon Favreau’s direction is unfussy and controlled, and he cleverly filters the comic’s 1960s origins through contemporary war on terror paranoia. In an exemplary piece of casting, Downey Jr gives a powerhouse performance, adding depth and believability to his character as both self-indulgent waster and do-gooder superhero, while the futuristic gadgets and stratospheric flights are great fun. The only slight disappointment is an ending that seems more in keeping with Transformers than the briskly told story that’s gone before.
9:00pm, Sunday, BBC1
In a terrifically gothic piece of theatre, a tremulous Aunt Agatha gazes at the velvety black Cornish night sky and imparts the superstitious wisdom of ages: “Cursed be those born under a black moon!”
It’s a particularly pointed bit of folklore because Elizabeth Warleggan, as we must learn to think of her now, is heavily pregnant. Though we all wonder, “Who’s the daddy?” after the events of the previous series and her brutal encounter with Ross. Let’s just say that her due date is a bit hazy…
As we return to Debbie Horsfield’s thrilling adaptation of Winston Graham’s stories, Ross and Demelza (Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson) have reached an uncomfortable accommodation as they repair their marriage.
But as Ross does a bit of thatching in a fetching blouson, Demelza hears news of her vicious father, which leads her to make a pact with her pious young brothers.
David Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities
7:00pm, 7:30pm, Sunday, W
Here’s a fresh run of Attenborough’s animal anomalies – his look at creatures that have headed down unlikely byways of evolution. In the case of the first programme, he’s looking at what might soon be a viable new species – the so-called pizzly bear, a hybrid between a polar bear and a grizzly, whose ranges increasingly overlap as climate change shrinks Arctic sea ice. Soon, Attenborough suggests, pure-bred polar bears may struggle to survive in the wild at all.
Meanwhile, another hybrid was the result of a 1950s breeding experiment that went epically wrong, producing aggressive “killer” honeybees in South America that were liable to swarm and attack humans.
Attenborough provides a thoughtful biology lesson – he doesn’t shy away from technical details about body shape and behaviour and so on – but as ever, he also tells a fascinating story.
No need to wait for the final season of an ingenious sic-fi drama: here it is, the day after it aired across the pond. Tatiana Maslany has been consistently excellent in the role of several cloned “sisters” who have the same face but different minds. Continues with a new episode next Sunday.