From wildlife and history to travel and food, TV can be wonderfully eye-opening. And that’s definitely true of the new crop of factual entertainment programmes brightening up the dark nights of 2018. These shows will tickle your funny bone, tug on your heartstrings and feed your mind. And even better, all these fantastic shows are free to view on Freeview! Big Cats BBC One Thursday 18 January at 8pm Catch-up on Freeview Play It’s been said that if human life disappeared, cats would do just fine without us. Watching this new series, that’s not hard to believe. Cats have adapted to the challenges of life in almost every environment on the planet. In Outer Mongolia, the rarely-seen Pallas cat is shown teaching her kittens to fish. And we follow the black-footed cat in South Africa as it lives up to its title of the world’s deadliest feline. Definitely no scaredy-cats on this show! The Cruise: Return to the Mediterranean ITV Thursday 18 January at 8.30pm Catch-up on Freeview Play Bleak midwinter getting you down? This cruise might offer you a breath of fresh air. On the other hand, the choppy waters that stop the ship from docking in Marseilles might just make you thank your lucky stars you’re becalmed on the couch. Meanwhile, Timothy is under pressure to increase his excursion sales figures. Tell you what, Tim, knock 50 per cent off and you’re on! Secret Life of the Zoo Channel Four Tuesday 16 January at 8pm Catch-up on Freeview Play If you ever need proof that animals have personalities, you just have to tune in to this series filmed at Chester Zoo as we watch creatures of all sizes squabble, play, feed and breed, all while looking undeniably cute. This week there are births galore, as Eastern black rhino Zuri gives birth to baby Ike and the otter enclosure welcomes some new arrivals. Spitfire Women PBS America Friday 12 January at 9pm PBS America joined the Freeview channel line-up in December on channel 94 with lots of great documentaries. And if you’re looking for inspirational stories of female empowerment then look no further than this programme. The experiences of women pilots in the Air Transport Auxiliary during the war are largely unknown yet without them, the Battle of Britain would never have been won. One in ten of them died, and only 15 remain alive. This documentary uses archive footage and testimony from the surviving members and their relatives, to celebrate their courage. Room 101 BBC One Friday 12 January at 8:30pm Catch-up on Freeview Play Jungle queen Scarlett Moffat and Dr Who’s ex-travelling companion Pearl Mackie join professional curmudgeon Charlie Brooker in a new series of the show that consigns celebrities’ pet hates to the outer darkness. Among the items up for the chop are mosquitos, haircuts and plastic shoes. Dump those crocs, and make it snappy! The Wine Show Channel 5 Friday 12 January at 7pm Catch-up on Freeview Play If you’re struggling through #DryJanuary then it might be best to avoid this new series and watch on catch-up in a couple of week’s time. For everyone else though, there’s wine tasting in the south of France and tips for wine matching from wine critic Jancis Robinson. Definitely a berry nice addition to the TV schedules! The Biggest Little Railway in the World Channel Four Sunday 14 January at 8pm Catch-up on Freeview Play So, you’re at a loose end for a couple of weeks. What better way to fill your time than to build a model railway across the Scottish Highlands? Presented by Dick Strawbridge – owner of the most impressive moustache in the world – the series follows a team of model railway enthusiasts as they attempt to build a 71-mile track from Fort William to Inverness, overcoming minor obstacles like mountains and rivers. Deluded? Maybe. Delirious? Possibly. Derailed? Hopefully not! A Vicar’s Life BBC Two Friday 12 January at 8:30pm Catch-up on Freeview Play If you thought the life of a country cleric was a cushy number – only working one day a week, doing karaoke to Songs of Praise, unlimited jumble sales – then this series should make you think again. The documentary follows the day-to-day lives of three vicars in rural Herefordshire. Among the challenges they have to face are dealing with a break-in and caring for a terminally ill parishioner. There are happier moments too, including the wedding of a local hairdresser and her firefighter fiancé. The Hairy Bikers’ Mediterranean Adventure BBC Two Thursday 18 January at 8pm Catch-up on Freeview Play Can’t wait for summer? The Hairy Bikers have made it their mission to bring some sunshine to our lives in this latest series, and they’ve now reached the island of Corsica in their journey across the Med. The locals are keen to introduce them to all the traditional delicacies, including chestnuts, cheese and world-class meat. And Si and Dave don’t need any encouragement to join in the cooking! School for Stammerers ITV Catch-up on Freeview Play This one-off documentary had a huge impact on viewers judging by the social media reaction and is available to view on catch-up until 8 February. The eye-opening show followed six people undergoing an intensive speech therapy course, coached by those who had themselves conquered stammering. Tissues at the ready! And if you’re looking for something a bit more serious, then here’s our pick of some other great programmes to watch… 24 Hours in A&E Channel Four Tuesday 16 January at 9pm Catch-up on Freeview Play Filmed in St George’s Hospital in London, this series explores the stories behind the headlines of NHS pressures. This week the medics are shocked to treat three women stabbed in a Surrey supermarket car park in broad daylight. A House Through Time BBC Two Thursday 18 January at 9pm Catch-up on Freeview Play All houses have their own story to tell, but in this series, David Olusoga uncovers 180 years of stories behind the doors of one terraced house in Liverpool. He finds out about the house’s previous occupants – a cotton broker, a saddler, a docker – and charts its ups and downs, from Georgian grandeur to slum tenement and restoration. The house also offers a window on the changing face of Liverpool and of Britain, reflecting the impact of world wars, economic depression and urban regeneration. Surgeons at the Edge of Life BBC Two Monday 15 January at 9pm Catch-up on Freeview Play It may not be for the squeamish but this documentary series takes us behind the theatre doors of Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, where surgeons push medical boundaries to the limits. Life and death decisions have to be made on the operating table, as the medical teams work together to try and save their patients. Remember, with Freeview Play you can watch lots of documentaries on demand, all in one place, giving you easy access to BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My5 and UKTV Play. Just make sure your Freeview Play TV or recorder is connected to the internet and you’re good to go (some services available on Smart TVs too).