Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery, BBC4
Pedigree Dogs Exposed, BBC1
Who Do You Think You Are? BBC1
The history of surgery is gory viewing – not to mention what they do to dogs
I'm sorry, but I couldn't look any more. Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery showed a patient chatting away while a surgeon teased away the red tissue lining of her brain, like a gourmet delicately working on a soft-shell crab. As he exposed the white, pulsing stuff of consciousness, I hid my head in my notebook.
There is only so much a critic can take in a week. Andrew Marr's flapping face as he skydived through Britain from Above was one thing. Jane Asher's sexy conducting on Maestro was another. But a real, honest-to-goodness life-giving miracle of neuroscience? Had to look away. This history of surgery came with the added Grand Guignol of blood and guts. Presenter Michael Mosley took rather too much pleasure in demonstrating the butchery of transorbital lobotomy using an ice pick. ("Bop it through the skull and squiggle it around!") There is more of this sort of thing, if you want it, at the London Dungeon.
Pedigree Dogs Exposed was also difficult, but so urgent you couldn't look away. It has made the BBC threaten to boycott Crufts; it may even hasten changes in legislation. Why? We've always known that highly selective breeding is dangerous (look at the crowned heads of old Europe) but this showed how fast genetic diseases are spreading. An epidemic of syringomyelia is hitting King Charles spaniels, their brains crammed into tiny skulls "like a size 10 foot in a size six shoe", as a commentator explained. No punches were pulled here. Sometimes the programme threatened to knock itself out with its own hyperbole, in fact. Dog breed standards are "keeping Hitler's work alive", apparently – a point underlined by a jump cut from footage of Nuremberg to a shot of the Kennel Club HQ Mayfair.
Writer/director Jemima Harrison could also have done without asking the Kennel Club chairman if he would consider impregnating his own daughter. Her polemic was strong enough already. It made you see differently. Before, when you looked at the Crufts 2003 best in show you saw a cute waddling Peke; afterwards you saw a sad and spavined Furby, helpless as a Hapsburg.
Here one's thoughts turn to Boris Johnson – only because, I hasten to add, Who Do You Think You Are? revealed rather spectacularly last week that he is related to all the royal blood lines of Europe. Aye, and some of its courtesans too. He is firmly on the wrong side of the sheets – now known as the right side of the genetic balance sheet. There ain't no syringomyelia there. His brain is just wonderful, thanks. Classic expostulations –"Not the DePfeffel silver!" – came thick and fast. You needed a dictionary to keep up with his backchat. Fossicking, verb: hunting for gold through piles of waste; what Boris does when looking for family portraits.
Jade Goody would be a good subject for the series. In the meantime, her diagnosis of cancer while appearing live on India's Big Brother ("Bigg Boss") has generally been thought to be a bit too real for reality TV. In fact, the footage of her receiving the bad news, which I watched on YouTube, is rather touching. At first she sniffs bravely and won't tell her fellow housemates what's wrong; their reactions are sweetly supportive. It's painful to watch but you can learn from it. If reality TV is going to be more than fake, crass entertainment you have to let the truth in, not keep it out. Looking away is easier than looking. That said, it was a bit chilling, when, as Jade whimpered, a little caption popped up reading "To save Sanjay, dial...". Life changes; the game show trundles on oblivious.
We finish with clips of the departed: stars who have recently moved from our screens to above and beyond. Let David Soul, this week's Maestro reject, play us out – cue the clip of him conducting Barber's Adagio for Strings gropingly, like a drunk trying to find a door handle. As the music swells, we see Wellard, EastEnders's resident dog of eight years, being put to sleep. Patsy Palmer and family emote huge quantities of snot. Patsy wipes it on her sleeve. She ain't changed. Next in the montage come Richard and Judy, waving goodbye for ever from their sofa as their Channel 4 reign ends. A compilation of Richard Madeley's gaffes begins. There is not time and world enough to play them. Dust covers the lens.
Arts & Ents blogs
Thirteen-year-old Conor awakes in bed one night to discover that the yew tree outside his house has ...
It’s hard not to feel sorry for doe-eyed Andy. He spends months pining after Louise, has huge nostr...
Fragility of life looms large over an episode that closes with the scarring on Julie's stomach. Whil...
- 1 Freedom fighters? Cannibals? The truth about Syria’s rebels
- 2 Breaking the Silence: In the reality of occupation, there are no Palestinian civilians – only potential terrorists
- 3 Special Report: US troops are stationed in Japan to protect the nation. But to sex workers in Okinawa, they bring fear, not security
- 4 Vice pulls 'breathtakingly tasteless' fashion shoot glorifying the suicides of famous female authors from Sylvia Plath to Virginia Woolf
- 5 Iran to send 4,000 troops to aid President Assad forces in Syria