Catapult start to the year

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Robin Buss finds some welcome antidotes to post-holiday ennui

The children may be a little jaded after the holiday, so it is just as well that the year starts with a good line-up of programmes for them. An old favourite, The Story of Tracy Beaker, adapted from the book by Jacqueline Wilson, returns on Tuesdays and Thursdays from January 7 (BBC1, 4.10-4.35pm). This time, Tracy goes back to her children's home after an unfortunate episode with foster parents. But she doesn't let that get her down, and is soon making her presence felt at "the dumping ground", as she calls it.

On the same evenings (BBC1, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5-5.25pm) we have a new drama serial, Face at the Window, about a brother and sister who get to know a young Balkan refugee, and find they have taken on more than they expected.

Filling the midweek gap between these two dramas, we are given a chance to guess how far a giant catapult will throw a toilet and other items of furniture. It's all part of Xperimental (BBC1, Wednesdays, 4.20-4.35pm), a game show in which teams from schools around the UK predict the outcome of some far-out scientific experiments: how much orange juice can a group of children drink in 30 seconds? How many rugby players does it take to sink a rowing boat? The winning teams will compete in a grand final at the end of the series.

For younger viewers, Little Robots (BBC2, Tuesdays from January 7, 10.30-10.40am; 9.30-9.40am in subsequent weeks), is a wacky new adaptation of a book by Mike Brownlow. Tiny Robot and his friends, abandoned on the scrapheap at the edge of the world, must create their own environment out of the odds and ends that they find there. In the first episode, they build a new moon with the help of some bendy specs; later they put together an orchestra. This is a truly original series, with an unusual mixture of puppet animation and computer-generated backgrounds.

Computer whizz kids who are too old for the Little Robots may dream of being Taj Lewis, the 14-year-old hero of Kerching! (daily on CBBC, from January 6, 5-5.25pm). Taj (played by Devon Anderson) has set up his own dotcom business. The problem is that he doesn't always make money and, worse still, he has forgotten to tell his mum.

There's also something for adults (and older children). Royal Deaths and Diseases is the irresistible title of a new five-part series on Channel 4 (from January 3, 8-9pm). It begins with the arrows that killed Kings Harold, Rufus and Henry V and the crossbow bolt that saw off Richard the Lionheart, in the days before gunpowder was available to assist treason and plot. Next week, under the heading of Disease, we meet royals who were one jewel short of a crown. The chief exhibit is George III, although Queen Victoria, it seems, suffered from depression.

History continues to be top genre on television. In the coming week, Channel 4 has Napoleon (four parts, starting on January 4, 5.30-6.30pm), then the first of 13 new archaeological digs for the Time Team (from January 5, 5.30-6.35pm). Professor Niall Ferguson's series, Empire (six parts, from January 9, 9-10pm) is the story of how Britain conquered the world - thanks, according to episode one, to the pirate Captain Morgan. On BBC4, Peacemakers (January 8, 8-9pm) analyses the postwar summit that brought together Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson and Georges Clemenceau at Versailles to thrash out the peace treaty of 1919. It argues against the accepted idea that the treaty was punitive and led to the Second World War.

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