There are two words that strike dead into any TV reviewer (or, for that matter, previewer). No, I’m not talking about “Doctor Who”. Or “Big Brother”. Not even “Hollyoaks spin-off”, although the blood does run cold even typing that last one. No, I’m talking about the dreaded “drama documentary” — a curious mongrel which cross-breeds two successful genres, but somehow manages to lose the best elements of both.
Which makes it all the more surprising, then, that The Somme — From Defeat to Victory (8.00pm Sunday, BBC1) is actually quite good. Showing to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the cataclysmic World War I battle, the programme follows a group of young friends from Salford, who fought and died side-by-side in the French trenches. Based on extensive research, the documentary shows how the five-month-long battle changed the British army’s tactical approach to warfare, and turned such monumental carnage — 20,000 troops died in a single day — into eventual victory.
Battles of the heart, subterfuge, disguise and partner-swapping aplenty abound, when the BBC shows a live broadcast of Mozart’s classic comic opera Così Fan Tutte (7.00pm Saturday, BBC Four) from Glyndebourne. Nicholas Hytner’s first opera in ten years, staged to celebrate the composer’s 250th anniversary, is “a very welcome return”, according to Stage critic George Hall:
His staging, with delicate period designs by Vicki Mortimer, subtly lit by Paule Constable, is visually elegant and probes this most complex of comedies with intelligence and perception. Arguably the humour is underplayed at first, but no one will feel short-changed by the end. The characters and the audience go through a profound and troubling experience.
Meanwhile, it’s all kicking off in Doctor Who: Army of Ghosts (7.00pm Saturday, BBC1), with the first of a two-part season conclusion that promises the return of the Cybermen and the despatch of Billie Piper to the great TARDIS in the sky. We also get to see inside the mysterious Torchwood Institute, led by ex-EastEnder Tracy-Ann Oberman, for the first time. Referenced in last year’s Christmas Day episode, and with references inserted (a little too clumsily, at times) into most of this season’s episodes, the Institute is due to get its own spin-off series on BBC Three in the autumn. As a taster, Doctor Who Confidential (7.45 Saturday, BBC3) gives a sneak peek, and promises some glimpses of John Barrowman, who is due to return in his acclaimed role as Captain Jack.
And we finish off with a little bit of populist culture — no, not Heartbeat (8.20pm Sunday, ITV1), of which there’s two hours of period nonsense this week, but the final episode of The Singing Estate (8.00pm Sunday, Five). The novice choristers are getting geared up to sing O Fortuna, from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, in the Royal Albert Hall. Tensions are high, tempers are fraying, and there just isn’t enough time to rehearse. Will they succeed?
Well, what do you think? Ivor Setterfield is hardly Whoopi Goldberg in a wimple, but the dramatic structure of this show should be familiar to anyone. Still, it’s been a fun watch, and in a weekend where the schedules are dominated by football, tennis and Formula One, we have to take our comfort where we may…