The best TV to watch tonight

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

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My Family, Partition and Me: India 1947

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9pm, BBC1

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The production company that makes Who Do You Think You Are? is behind this two-part documentary looking back at the partition of India in 1947, and it has a similar sense of people learning emotional truths about the past that are both part of the sweep of history and very personal.

A woman from Cheshire travels to a remote Bangladeshi village to hear about her family’s time as Hindu landowners there. She discovers that her father and his relatives had to be smuggled out by boat along the river when violence descended on their village – and, amazingly, meets the man who as a boy helped ferry them to safety. 

It’s an emotional moment, one of several in the programme, as we also follow a man who was seven when his family fled the Punjab and a woman whose grandfather worked with Gandhi to end the violence that tore the country apart.

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

10pm, BBC4

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A feature-length documentary about postwar urban planning? Yes, and it’s wonderful, a fascinating account of the long tussle for the soul of New York between artful activist Jane Jacobs and housing tsar Robert Moses. 

Jacobs lived in Greenwich Village and wrote beautifully about the value of neighbourhood streets, with shops and crowds and pavements and corners and all the busy, messy life of the city. Moses saw this mess as a “cancer”, and wanted to sweep it away so that in its place he could build sterile towers connected by expressways along clean, modernist lines. 

Similar “urban renewal projects” would later became infamous city slums across America and many were later dynamited, but the heartening and humane story of how Jacobs prevented at least some of Moses’ large scale (and lucrative) vandalism is a joy to watch.

Long Lost Family

9pm, ITV

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When Swansea schoolgirl Corine had a baby in 1978, her furious father insisted the boy was adopted 24 hours after the birth. What she feels guilty about, though, is that, having subsequently married, she was unable to have more children so she adopted two siblings. “How am I going to explain that he couldn’t have my love but they could?” she asks Davina McCall. 

The other story is just as emotional. When Steve’s mother was pregnant with him, she put an advert in a local paper asking for a nice family to adopt him. Steve bears her no grudge – he knows she was only 17 at the time and his father had been killed in an accident – but all he has that connects him with her is the rather formal letter she wrote to his adoptive parents. 

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

10.15pm, ITV4

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Director James Cameron piles on the hard-edged humour and rollercoaster action in this marvellous sequel to his own 1984 horror fantasy classic. Adrenaline junkies get epic value for money as cyborg Arnold Schwarzenegger comes back from the future to save our world from the T-1000 model, whose liquid metal shape-changing abilities set a new cinematic standard for stunning, computer graphic special effects. Linda Hamilton turns in another terrific performance as the fiercely committed heroine who puts a necessary human face on Cameron’s high-decibel mayhem and pyrotechnical bravura.

Man in an Orange Shirt

BBC iPlayer

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Patrick Gale’s outstanding twin dramas — linked tales of gay love in the 1940s and 2010s — have a quality you might expect a novelist making his TV debut to lack: they leave out everything inessential and flash up key moments, be they minor or tumultuous, that tell life stories with economy and concentrated emotion.