The Bletchley Circle, ITV, Anna Maxwell Martin, Rachael Stirling, Julie Graham, Sophie Rundle PREVIEW

Rachael Stirling, Julie Graham, Anna Maxwell Martin and Sophie Rundle in The Bletchley Circle. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: starts Monday, 6 January, 9pm

Story: The former code-breaking women are reunited for their second case when their old Bletchley Park colleague, Alice Merren, is accused of murder.

THE WOMEN of the Bletchley Circle are a little like traditional comic-book superheroes. They have secret identities as accomplished code crackers from their wartime service at Bletchley Park, which cannot be revealed thanks to the Official Secrets Act.

They also have individual secret powers – superb at maths, brilliant at linguistics and cartography, a photographic memory – which they don’t flaunt before the dozy men who dominate the postwar world.

Susan, Millie, Jean and Lucy are back in action using these skills for a second series as the clandestine crime fighters. Set in 1953, a year after the first series, the fantastic four are reunited when a former colleague from Bletchley, Alice Merren, is charged with murder and faces the noose.

Susan’s still hiding her talent from her husband

The dead man is John Richards (a very small role for Paul McGann), a senior bod at Bletchley with

Hattie Morahan as Alice, who faces the noose

whom Alice (Hattie Morahan) once had an affair. Alice, found with gun in hand, refuses to confess or deny the charge, and the death penalty awaits. Jean believes she is covering for someone and calls her friends together to flex their analytical skills on Alice’s plight.

A problem with series that are commissioned one at a time is that we have to go over old ground to set up the new mystery.

So, Jean (Julie Graham) has to recruit her friends to the cause all over again, which in Susan’s case ain’t easy. Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin) pulled the group together in the first series, but was traumatised by that case involving a serial killer and once again has family issues. Her husband, Timothy (Mark Dexter), is as condescending as ever, unaware of Susan’s extraordinary talents, and wants her to carry on looking after the kids when they move abroad for his big promotion.

• Here’s a mystery: why are period crime dramas so popular? Here are some recent ones – Foyle’s War, Agatha Christie’s Marple, Poirot, Father Brown, WPC 56, Endeavour, Boardwalk Empire, Ripper Street, The Lady Vanishes, Spies of Warsaw, The Americans, Peaky Blinders. And some we’ll see soon – Lucan, The Great Train Robbery, Quirke, Death Comes to Pemberley

Paul McGann as John Richards, Alice’s former lover

The opening story, Blood on Their Hands, is a two-parter, and is followed by another, Uncustomed Goods.

The story in series one was more compelling than Blood on Their Hands, involving as it did Susan spotting a pattern in a sequence of murders of female victims. This time round it is more of a straight murder conspiracy, which is interesting but does not explore the women’s gifts as well.

All the female leads are interesting, though, with Lucy (Sophie Rundle) having left her abusive husband, Millie (Rachael Stirling) the most modern of them, and Jean still playing the role of leader that she had during the war.

Bletchley received rave reviews in America

Most of the male characters are either sexist dullards or villains, but the main thrust of Bletchley – women forging new lives in postwar Britain – is captured well, and certainly appealed to ITV’s audience.

The first series was watched by an average of 5.6 million viewers (making it second only to Endeavour as ITV’s best performing new drama last year), and it received rave reviews when it went out on PBS in the US.

It will be interesting if series 2 does as well, as it becomes more of a straight-forward crime drama.

Cast: Anna Maxwell Martin Susan, Rachael Stirling Millie, Julie Graham Jean, Sophie Rundle Lucy, Hattie Morahan Alice, Paul McGann John Richards, Faye Marsay Lizzie, Freddie Anness-Lorenz Sam, Mable Watson Claire, Mark Dexter Timothy, Nick Blood Ben Gladston, Paul Ritter Professor Masters, Tim Pigott-Smith Colonel

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Endeavour ITV, with Shaun Evans, Roger Allam PREVIEW

Jakes (Jack Laskey), Morse (Shaun Evans), Bright (Anton Lesser), Thursday (Roger Allam) in ITV's Endeavour
Jakes, Morse, Bright and Thursday in Endeavour. Pic: ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV: Sunday, 14 April, 8pm

Story: Margaret Bell, a young woman with a heart condition, is found dead. DC Endeavour Morse suspects that the death may not be down to natural causes, suspicions that bring the novice detective into conflict with his superiors.

Colin Dexter and ITV created one of the UK’s most popular fictional detectives in Inspector Morse and you can almost hear the intake of breath among viewers as this first prequel series starring Shaun Evans approaches.

A good pilot for Endeavour went out in January last year, immediately won an audience of 6.5 million and the series of four films was quickly commissioned. So, how good is Girl, the opening story?

Well, it blows Lewis away. Kevin Whately’s sequel is still popular enough but has fallen into a rut as a rather uneventful procedural with flat characters.

‘Queer fish, stand-offish, rude’
Endeavour is energised with protagonists who don’t just go round saying, ‘Where were you on the night of the 14th?’ Writer Russell Lewis uses his two-hour slot to flesh out the characters, particularly Morse, creating a precocious detective not much liked by his colleagues but mentored by DI Fred Thursday, played again by the excellent Roger Allam.

As PC Strange tells Morse, the boys think he’s a ‘queer fish, stand-offish, rude’.

A fine new addition to the ensemble is Anton Lesser, giving us yet another snake-like character, this time Chief Superintendent Bright (ironically named, no doubt), who is a stickler for plodding procedure and who feels Thursday has promoted Morse above his station. Bright is the kind of boss we’ve all encountered – an unoriginal thinker, bit of poser with his foreign phrases (‘tabula rasa’ etc), and a snob who refuses to believe Morse’s theories, such as his suggestion that a vicar may have been at the scene of a murder.

A coded brainteaser for Morse
Bright feels Morse should be investigating a series of gas meter thefts, which is where we meet him as the episode opens. However, when a young woman, Margaret Bell, who has a heart condition, is found dead, Morse starts to have suspicions that it may not have been down to natural causes.

He is further perturbed when the partner of Margaret Bell’s GP is shot dead. A bike found at the scene is, according to the young detective’s Holmesian deductions, probably the property of a left-handed vicar. Pillar of society Chief Superintendent Bright orders Thursday to eliminate known criminals before bothering the clergy.

But Morse traces the vicar, who on learning that the detective was in the signal corp and is skilled at cryptic puzzles, gives him a coded brainteaser to mull over. Morse’s digging soon puts him on a crash course with Thursday and Bright.

Shaun Evans, Roger Allam and Anton Lesser
It’s a convoluted mystery, involving an eminent physicist, the dead doctor’s troubled sister-in-law, Pamela, and a local trade in amphetamines. The sentimental obsession of these period dramas – here we get all the vintage buses, 10 shilling postal orders, and ‘something for the weekend’ banter from a barber – gets cloying after a while.

But Endeavour works on the strength of the drama between the principle characters and the performances of Shaun Evans – excellent as the cussed, dogged detective – Roger Allam and Anton Lesser. Morse’s battle to prove himself against all his doubters, finally deciphering the vicar’s clue at the end, is full of intrigue and drama, and gets Endeavour off a great start.

Cast: Shaun Evans Endeavour Morse, Roger Allam DI Fred Thursday, Anton Lesser Chief Superintendent Bright, Jack Laskey DS Peter Jakes, Sean Rigby PC Jim Strange, James Bradshaw Dr Max DeBryn, Mark Bazeley Dr Bill Prentice, Luke Allen-Gale Derek Clark, Albert Welling Wallace Clark, Olivia Grant Helen Cartwright, Sophie Stuckey Pamela Walters, Jonathan Guy Lewis Rev Monkford, Jonathan Hyde Sir Edmund Sloan

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WPC 56, BBC1, with Jennie Jacques

WPC 56, BBC1, Desk Sgt Peter Pratt (GERARD HORAN), Cathy Sinclair (JUSTINE MICHELLE CAIN), PC Eddie Coulson (CHRIS OVERTON), WPC Gina Dawson (JENNIE JACQUES), DI Jack Burns (KIERAN BEW), Sgt Sidney Fenton (CHARLIE DE'ATH), Chief Insp Nelson (JOHN LIGHT)
Gina Dawson (Jennie Jacques, front) joins the team. Pic: BBC

BBC1 has a new daytime drama running every weekday next week (2.15pm, from Monday, 18 March). WPC 56 follows Gina Dawson, played by Jennie Jacques, the new face starting work as a policewoman in a fictional, 1950s Midlands constabulary. The all-male police team are patronising, but also a little unsure of this novel phenomenon – the WPC. Expect sexism, corruption and racism in a drama offering an unsentimental glance at an era often associated with the comfy Dixon of Dock Green depiction. The Beeb is unleashing the series with very little ballyhoo or publicity material, so you’ll just have to watch it to discover whether it’s any good. Judgments welcome below…

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Foyle’s War series 8, ITV, starring Michael Kitchen, Honeysuckle Weeks PREVIEW

Foyle's War series 8, Samantha and Foyle
Caught out – Sam and Foyle break into a flat containing stolen uranium. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½ 

ITV: Sunday, 24 March, 8pm 

Story: The war is over, but retired former Detective Chief Superintendent Foyle is recruited, somewhat reluctantly, to help MI5 investigate a spy ring in London.

Honeysuckle Weeks as Samantha in Foyle's War
Is Sam a spy?

Christopher Foyle has had more comebacks than Frank Sinatra. The Comeback Copper has retired three times now, and ITV even tried to force him to retire by cancelling his wartime crime series in 2007, but here he is again being pressed back into service for his country.

Foyle’s War has now gone cold. The Second World War is over and the new battle is against Soviet subversion and the threat of nuclear war. There’s a prologue in this first of three mysteries – called The Eternity Ring – which begins in New Mexico in 1945 before switching to London a year later. At the Soviet Embassy someone is stealing documents.

Finally, we encounter Foyle – who retired, of course, at the end of series 7 – having just arrived at dockside in Liverpool after sailing from the USA. He is unexpectedly whisked off to meet some frightfully serious chaps from MI5.

Foyle investigates a Russian defector
They want him to investigate the Russian who defected with the documents and the possible passing of secrets to the Commies. Why Foyle? Because his former driver, Samantha, has been photographed with a suspected Russian agent.

And so the popular author and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz pitches the pair into another twisting, murky escapade. Sam is now married to a prospective Labour Parliamentary candidate, Adam, while also working as an assistant to a leading physicist. Hence her proximity to some valuable nuclear secrets.

Michael Kitchen as Foyle in Foyle's War
No time to retire for Foyle

In a two-hour drama Horowitz is able to develop some subplots along with the main mystery. So we find Honeysuckle worrying she might not be able to have children, and meet Frank, an old colleague of Foyle’s and former constable, who returns from the war to find himself getting a shabby reception at home and from an embittered recruiting police officer.

Foyle and Sam and the missing uranium
The one character we never find out too much about is Foyle himself. He is as non-confrontational and modest as ever, as he untangles the mystery of some missing uranium – which partly contaminates him and Sam – and finally realises who is really double-crossing whom.

It’s a handsome production, which has a sepia quality that really evokes ration-blighted post-war London at times. Horowitz cleverly reboots the series by taking his much loved hero out of his comfort zone in Hastings and the police and pitching into a world where the stakes have national importance.

While it’s hard to be surprised by tales of intelligence agency duplicity having seen a hundred adaptations of Le Carré and Deighton and Ludlum, this new series will still please fans of the phlegmatic, unassuming detective. And period crime series are a ratings safe bet these days (with Marple, Poirot, Father Brown, Miss Fisher, Mrs Biggs, Spies of Warsaw, Vegas, The Lady Vanishes coming soon, Ripper Street, Mr Whicher – OK, that’s enough).

Like an old soldier, Foyle will not die any time soon – particularly, if ITV’s efficient and stylish productions keep nabbing his customary ratings of around 7million.

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