Autumn is the best time to be a television viewer. All those tedious summer months of spending time outdoors with your friends are finally over, as broadcasters launch their best stuff all at once. But what to commit to? We’ve watched everything, so you don’t have to, to bring you the best of new shows, returning favourites, one-off specials and US imports.
The Pitch: In 1950s Dublin, the chief pathologist at the city morgue finds something doesn’t add up on his slab. The enigmatic Quirke turns accidental detective across the city’s smoky streets.
The Talent: Gabriel Byrne brings some A-list magic to the BBC, heading up a series of starry supporting casts. John Banneville’s novels (writing as Benjamin Black) have been adapted by screenwriting royalty Andrew Davies.
The Buzz: With three 90-minute movies, the Quirke novels are clearly getting the Sherlock treatment. These noirish mysteries are slower paced but no less sumptuous.
The Broadcast: BBC One, September.
13. The Tunnel
The Pitch: A French politician is found dead on the border of the UK and France, and detectives Karl Roebuck and Elise Wassermann are sent to investigate on behalf of their respective countries. But a shocking discovery forces them into an uneasy alliance. Yes, it’s a remake of Scandi-crime hit The Bridge.
The Talent: The Anglo-French writing team is headed up Ben Richards, whose form includes Spooks, Misfits and Party Animals.
The Buzz: Remakes of Scandi-drama can be hit and miss affairs, the US version of The Killing made a decent stab but ultimately couldn’t match the grim noir of the original. Sky’s drama output has become immeasurably better in recent years, but The Tunnel will probably live or die on whether it can play Anglo-French relations as tense enough to pull off a convincing political thriller.
The Broadcast: Sky Atlantic, October.
The Pitch: Charming American businessman Alexander Grayson arrives in Victorian London, promising to bring the virtues of modern science to England. But in fact, he is Dracula, out to wreak havoc and revenge. A luscious new version of the vampire legend from the producers of Downton Abbey.
The Talent: Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as the eponymous vamp, alongside Jessica DeGouw as Mina Harker, Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Jonathan Harker and Katie McGrath as Lucy Westenra.
The Buzz: Because Jonathan Rhys Meyers looks like a sexy vampire even on his off days, so the swoon factor will be off the scale. Meanwhile, Sky have the money and the Downton people have the know-how to make this a meaty new take on a beloved story.
The Broadcast: October, Sky Living.
The Pitch: No good can really come of summoning the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, can it? One year after the storm, and the super-powered ASBO squad must deal with a world where their secret is out, and others are coming. Meanwhile, a support group forms for those who realise their superpowers are just a bit shit really. It’s time to strap on those ankle tags one last time.
The Talent: Misfits pretty much survived the loss of most of its cast. This final series should decide whether Joe Gilgun can graduate from goofy character actor to leading man.
The Buzz: For all the talk of US spin-offs and movies, Misfits on the small screen has probably had its time. But as with Being Human, it will be nice to see the writers get a chance to finish their story properly.
The Broadcast: E4, October.
10. The Great Train Robbery
The Pitch: Doctor Who isn’t the only 50th anniversary the BBC is marking this year. Chris ‘Broadchurch’ Chibnall retells the famous heist of 1963 by splitting the story into two mirroring parts; one from the point of view of the robbers who almost got away with the crime of the century, the other from the cops who stopped them.
The Talent: Jim Broadbent plays iconic policeman Tommy Butler in A Copper’s Tale while Luke Evans heads up the cast of A Robber’s Tale as Bruce Evans.
The Buzz: After Broadchurch, Chibnall is the hottest writer on the scene right now. If he can keep up that kind of form then this retelling of a slice of British folklore will secure his place as one of the greats. If not, people will just be pissed off at this holding up series two of his other show.
The Broadcast: BBC One, TBC.
9. Masters Of Sex
The Pitch: In 1950s America, a sexual revolution is about to begin. William Masters and Virginia Johnson blaze trails of pioneering research into desire and intimacy. But what did getting a generation’s freak on do to their own relationship?
The Talent: Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan play the true-life power couple.
The Buzz: Promising. Showtime has form when it comes to high end stuff that’s just-a-bit-trashier-than-HBO. This runs the risk of being all headline no knickers, but the strength of the leads should carry it at least some of the way.
The Broadcast: Channel 4, October.
The Pitch: In the ancient city of Atlantis, a place of fantastical beasts, young goddesses have living hair and the palaces are so big it is said they were built by giants. When young Jason arrives in town, a legend begins.
The Talent: Newcomer Jack Donnelly stars as the heroic young Jason, blostered by a cast of established names like Sarah Parrish, Juliet Stevenson, and Mark Addy as Hercules.
The Buzz: Greek mythology gets the teen drama treatment, from the people that brought you Merlin and commissioned to fill that gap. This is one of the BBC’s most expensive productions. Expect mainstream heroism without too much to think about, and some stunning visuals.
The Broadcast: October, BBC One.
7. Downton Abbey
The Pitch: Six months after the shocking death of young heir Matthew Crawley, Downton remains in mourning and Lady Mary has withdrawn from life and motherhood. Meanwhile, a ghost from the past returns to haunt Mr Carter, and the return of a familiar face looks set to rock the house.
The Talent: Joining the cast in a definitely-not-replacing-Dan-Stevens-oh-no is Tom Cullen as the mysterious Lord Gillingham, a potential new suitor for Lady Mary. Cullen is a rising star thanks to his role in acclaimed gay indie movie Weekend.
The Buzz: You’re either down with Downton or you’re not. But there’ll be little escaping it between now and Christmas and you already knew that.
The Broadcast: ITV, Saturdays from September 22.
The Pitch: With Brody now on the run as the world’s most wanted terrorist after the attack on Langley, can Carrie put her life back together and protect national security another day?
The Talent: While Damien Lewis is definitely still part of the cast, for now at least, Brody’s predicament means he won’t appear in early episodes. Expect Mandy Patinkin’s Saul to step further toward centre stage, with Sarita Choudry returning as a regular character as his estranged wife Mira.
The Buzz: Homeland had an iffy second season, with many fans complaining that the twists were stretching credibility too far. Producers are promising a ‘Homeland 2.0’, but only time will tell whether this is going the way of a 24 or a Breaking Bad.
The Broadcast: Channel 4, October.
5. An Adventure In Space And Time
The Pitch: London, 1963, and a gang of misfits – a Canadian, a young Indian, and a young woman – go into a buttoned-up BBC to develop a children’s show about history that nobody has any faith in. Their star is a cantankerous old so-and-so named William Hartnell who thinks he’s above it. Surely their programme, Doctor Who has no chance of succeeding… does it?
The Talent: David Bradley, the greatest Doctor we never had, gets his chance, portraying Hartnell. Professional Who fan Mark Gatiss wrote the script.
The Buzz: This 90-minute docu-drama about the origins of Doctor Who is the other cornerstone of November’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Fandom is already foaming at the mouth, but the untold story behind this British institution should be enough to excite the casual viewer as well.
The Broadcast: BBC Two, November.
4. Peaky Blinders
The Pitch: Epic period gangster thriller set in Birmingham, 1919. In the shadow of WW1, the lawless streets are run by a feared family of bookmakers. But will the arrival of a ruthless new police chief from Belfast, a haul of arms and young gangster Tommy’s tormented memories off the war conspire to blow up the city’s fragile piece forever. The Peaky Blinders are so-named after the razorblades they keep in the peaks of their caps.
The Talent: Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill and Helen McRory head up the kind of cast most series would slit your throat for.
The Buzz: That cast! But then so much more. This sounds a tough sell on paper but it’s probably the most compelling new drama of the season. The first episode manages to build an intricate world and effortlessly hook you into the characters at the same time, powered by some towering performances from Murphy and Neill. At once shockingly violent and powerfully moving, this is one to get onto from the start. For obvious reasons it’s already being called a British Boardwalk Empire. The main difference is, it isn’t tedious.
The Broadcast: BBC One, Thursdays from September 12.
3. Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Pitch: New York was decimated then saved in the thrilling climax to The Avengers. But what happens now that everybody knows there are superheroes and stuff? Joss Whedon’s return to TV sees him stick with the Marvel universe, following the day-to-day adventures of the secret government organization tasked with keeping the peace between civilians and what lies beyond.
The Talent: Joss Whedon, Joss Whedon, Joss Whedon! The Scooby Gang of relative unknowns is led by Marvel movie favourite Clark Gregg, last seen meeting a sticky end midway through The Avengers. Spoiler alert: #CoulsonLives.
The Buzz: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. looks pretty much bulletproof. Post Buffy, Whedon’s shows have been beloved of fans but less so of actual numbers of viewers. Here is a classically goofy, funny and heartbreaking signature drama powered by Marvel’s commercial might. At least that’s what we’re hoping because we’re already in love after the pilot.
The Broadcast: Channel 4, September 27.
The Pitch: An eccentric detective returns from the grave after… oh you know all about this one already don’t you.
The Talent: During the long, long wait for series three, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have become your actual heavyweight blockbusting movie stars, so having them on your actual British small screen is going to feel like a sex dream.
The Buzz: Seriously?
The Broadcast: BBC One, probably New Year’s Day if you believe what people are saying.
1. Doctor Who
The Pitch: The Last Of The Timelords is having a terrible day; The Great Intelligence took him to his own grave at Trenzalore, poisoned his own timeline and his best friend had to jump back in, scattering herself across time and thusly becoming the Impossible Girl. Jumping in to save her, he finds himself lost in a timey wimey wilderness of himself and confronted by the secret he’s spent hundreds of years trying to bury…
The Talent: The series seven finale saw the twist to end all twists, John Hurt introduced as a Doctor we’ve never seen before. Also returning for the party are David Tennant as Ten and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, Plus, we would hope, a few more familiar faces.
The Buzz: The stakes are high for this 50th anniversary special. Fandom is frustrated by the paucity of episodes in such a big year, and consensus found the spring series a little lacking. Everyone is hoping that this feature-length 3D special will make everything okay again.
The Broadcast: BBC One, November 23.