WHITNEY: CAN I BE ME?
BBC2, Saturday, 9pm

WHITNEY Houston’s life story shows that money and incredible talent don’t necessarily bring happiness.

This feature-length documentary opens with the 911 call made from the Beverly Hilton where she was found unconscious in the bath. Rumours sprang up immediately that this was due to drugs, but an invisible speaker tearfully insists “she actually died of a broken heart”.

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This film is packed with previously unseen footage of Houston. It starts backstage at a concert, and she is perky and excitable as she walks through the corridors to the screaming crowd. On stage we see close-ups of her honest, perspiring face as she belts out “that bit” from I Will Always Love You – I had to turn the volume down.

The power in her voice was exceptional, but it was wasted. She was rarely happy and never able, as the title suggests, to relax and be herself. Some in the industry accused her of pursuing a “white” image. Others exploited and abused her, and she sought release in drink and drugs. It’s a sad film, especially when we see how vibrant and funny she was.

THE X FACTOR,
STV, Saturday, 8pm

HOW can it be that time of year again?

It’s a sad day when you are measuring the passage of the year, and the dwindling away of your life, by TV programmes. The Bake Off means late summer, The Apprentice means chilly autumn, and the climax of the X Factor means Christmas is coming. Clearly there’s no TV show that means it’s time to pull your socks up and actually get on with life, as that time of year never seems to come around.

We all know what the X Factor is, and it’s always comforting to watch it – apart from the misguided period where it went wonky and brought in different judges and terrible arena auditions. Now it’s back to its classic, ridiculous self with Sharon, Louis and Simon and the big dramatic one from the Pussycat Dolls who actually resigned from a Broadway musical so she could do this. It must pay well.

Tonight, they scope out the talent in Edinburgh, London and Manchester – and a theme park. As if there won’t be enough crying and screaming.

FROM RUSSIA TO IRAN: CROSSING THE WILD FRONTIER,
C4, Sunday, 8pm

OUR hardy adventurer Levison Wood takes us into the rocky Gobustan desert in Azerbaijan. It looks strangely lunar and is known as “The Land of Fire” because under the vast grey stretches of land lie “mud volcanoes” which spit lots of bubbling hot mud up into the air.

Even though the place seems silent and empty, we’re reminded that Azerbaijan has been at war with its neighbour, Armenia, since the fall of the Soviet Union, and thousands have died.

This deceptive calm is emphasised by the peaceful shepherds we meet who use vicious mastiffs to guard their flocks and homes, and where the empty roads constantly threaten landslides. The only escape is to “drive really fast!”.

Then we go on into Georgia, Stalin’s home, and a country so beautiful the ancient Greeks called it “paradise”.

Watching this gutsy travel show it’s strange to remember how we once pictured the Soviet Union as endlessly dull, mundane and uniform.

VICTORIA,
STV, Sunday, 9pm

IF you thought the Victorians were prudes and went around concealing piano legs lest they be considered too shapely, this series is determined to correct that idea. Whether it’s historically accurate or not hardly matters. The purpose of costume dramas like these is to entertain and get us swooning at the dresses and tiaras and dining tables.

No-one should be looking to a Sunday night drama for their historical education anyway.

This week, sex is brought up yet again, with the lusty Victoria getting a bit jealous.

Albert has been spending rather too much time with the pretty mathematician, Ada Lovelace.

He fancies himself as a bit of a boffin and so is very interested in the lady’s ideas for an early computer.

And jealous Victoria is not feeling her most attractive, having recently given birth and being constantly threatened by yet more pregnancies.

She enjoys sex but isn’t too happy with its inevitable results.