10 TV picks: new documentaries

These 10 TV picks highlight the vast range of factual output across all channels and genres.

Ben Fogle travels to Chernobyl for Channel 5 while on ITV Lorraine Kelly returns to Dunblane 25 years after the terrible massacre that left 16 pupils and their teacher dead.

Elsewhere, Sky Documentaries turns back the clock to Frank Bruno’s two heavyweight championship clashes with Mike Tyson, Gold remembers one of the great sitcoms of all time, and Channel 4 is back in the Dog House (in the best way possible).

Inside Chernobyl with Ben Fogle - Channel 5

Ben Fogle is no stranger to hostile environments and pushing himself to the limit but his latest assignment was something else - spending a week within the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

The intrepid explorer travelled to the scene of the world’s biggest nuclear disaster to discover what has become of the city of Pripyat and the surrounding area, still radioactive 35 years later.

It makes for an extraordinary hour and a half of television, from the eerie streets and deserted buildings to the residents who have insisted on returning despite the dangers, culminating with Fogle’s visit to the doomed reactor number four. 

What they say: ‘Fogle was front and centre throughout … in a ballsy and fascinating way. Gripping.’ The Times

The Vicar of Dibley: Inside Out - Gold

This affectionate look back at the Vicar of Dibley is absolutely the tribute one of Britain’s best-loved sitcoms deserves.

The two-hour special features fabulous stories and wonderful never-seen-before rehearsal footage from the comedy which is still making Gold viewers laugh (and occasionally cry) three decades on.

And the cast list is all you’d hope for and more, including Dawn French, Richard Curtis, James Fleet, with appearances from guest stars including Kylie Minogue, Hugh Bonneville and Joanna Lumley. A proper treat.

What they say: ‘Come and praise the Dawn French sitcom with this affectionate doc filled with behind-the-scenes gossip.’ Radio Times

Bruno vs Tyson - Sky Documentaries

Frank Bruno not once but twice stepped into the ring with the most ferocious boxer of all time, Mike Tyson.

This Sky Sports documentary, co-directed by Oscar-winning Kevin Macdonald, looks back at those two contests, the issues of politics and race that surrounded them and the mental health issues faced by both men.

Along with fascinating archive footage and insight, it also brings the two boxers together for an emotional reunion. Like Harry Carpenter’s famous commentary during that first fight, you might also find yourself yelling: ‘Get in there, Frank!’

What they say: ‘A rollicking, Rocky-esque film climaxing with a touching reunion between the two old foes.’ Daily Telegraph

The Dog House - Channel 4

The Dog House follows staff at Wood Green animal shelter as they act as matchmakers to find the perfect new owners for dogs that need to be rehomed.

Returning to Channel 4 for a second series on Thursday, cameras capture the moment when prospective new owners meet the dogs for the first time. But will it be a match made in heaven?

It makes for an utterly heart-warming and absorbing watch. Hankies at the ready, everyone.

What they say: ‘Feelgood TV at its fluffiest. Like a canine First Dates, this masterful matchmaker show pairing pups with new owners is the perfect televisual tonic.’ The Guardian

DNA Journey - ITV

A genealogy show with a twist, DNA Journey features sporting heroes Andrew Flintoff and Jamie Redknapp taking a trip back into their ancestral past.

There are surprises galore for the two best mates and no shortage of friendly rivalry as they try to outdo each others’ family trees.

Beginning on ITV on Wednesday it’s the first of a new three-part run of the series which began with Ant and Dec in 2019 and continues with Amanda Holden and Alan Carr and Martin and Roman Kemp.

What they say: ‘Freddie Flintoff and Jamie Redknapp hit the road for an amiable, jokey journey into their family histories.’ Radio Times

The Shift: Women on the Force - W

This new observational documentary follows the work of women who work at all levels of the West Yorkshire police force.

The six-part series, which began on W on Monday, looks at the day-to-day challenges faced by some of the 1,600 female police officers on the force, from trainee detectives to chief constable.

There has been a fourfold increase in the number of women police officers over the last 40 years - to 30% of the total workforce in 2018 - and this series promises a unique perspective on the demands it places on them, on duty and at home.

What they say: ‘It’s clear that the job encompasses elements of social work and counselling too … An interesting snapshot of the demands of frontline policing.’ Radio Times

Framing Britney Spears - Sky Documentaries

Framing Britney Spears is the most talked about documentary of the year so far.

The New York Times investigation is both an examination of the extraordinary control over her life that’s been given to her father, and a forensic examination of our toxic celebrity culture.

It looks again at the story of the singer’s extraordinary career, this time through the lens of the #MeToo movement, and asks questions about how complicit we all were in the media feeding frenzy that has followed the star for three decades.

What they say: ‘Utterly gripping but upsetting viewing … A must watch.’ London Evening Standard

Return to Dunblane with Lorraine Kelly - ITV

Lorraine Kelly was working for GMTV when she reported on the massacre of 16 children and their school teacher in Dunblane in 1996.

Now, 25 years later, she makes a hugely emotional return to the Scottish town for this one-off documentary which airs on ITV on Thursday.

The presenter meets parents of the murdered children and also looks back on the Snowdrop campaign which was founded after the shootings and led to a total ban on handguns in the UK.

What they say: ‘The poignant documentary … aims to highlight the enduring spirit and resilience of the community, who came together to change UK gun ownership laws as a result of the attack.’ Metro


The Pandemic at Number 47 - Channel 4

There’s been no shortage of programmes about the pandemic but Bafta-winning Paddy Wivell’s observational film for Channel 4 is one like no other.

Wivell essentially pointed a camera out of his living room window and asked his neighbours for a chat. He later broadened his scope to a nearby estate and the result was a fascinating - and wholly relatable - snapshot of a nation in lockdown.

So much more than another documentary about Covid-19, Wivell’s film shines a light on our relationships with our family, our friends and our neighbours (if indeed we know them at all) in an unprecedented year.

What they say: ‘The sublime documentary that sums up what we've all been feeling in lockdown … Will strike a chord with everyone.’ Daily Telegraph


Emma Willis: Delivering Babies in 2020 - W

Emma Willis’s third series about childbirth for W is very different from the first two for reasons that will become immediately apparent.

Having joined mums-to-be in hospital for the first two series - becoming a fully qualified maternity care assistant in the process - the third series was filmed largely by the families themselves because of the pandemic, with Willis interviewing them on Zoom.

But despite - or perhaps because of - the enforced distance, there is something about this new series that feels even more intimate, taking viewers through what it’s like to be pregnant - and give birth - during the pandemic.

What they say: ‘A refreshingly positive take on pandemic pregnancy … [It] tugged at my usually steadfast heartstrings. There were tears.’ iNews

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