LAST NIGHT: Review of "The Vanishing Man"

The somewhat open ending of The Vanishing Man (ITV) suggests that last night's comedy thriller was intended as a pilot. One can only hope that it proves more competent than the one played by Neil Morrissey, a man who climbs into his twin-engined plane without a pre-flight inspection, and then stows a set of golf-clubs in the front seat, where they are virtually guaranteed to rearrange his instrument panel at the first quiver of turbulence. He can't even claim ignorance as a mitigating factor: "I was carrying golf clubs on the plane," he says wearily, after being jailed for plutonium smuggling. "The metal sometimes interferes with the compass." His lawyer, stunned by this explanation for a radar-dodging approach back to England, summarises his predicament: "If I don't believe you, how can I make a court believe you?" And if she doesn't believe him, where does that leave us, grappling by now with an armful of improbabilities?

We haven't even got to the bit where he starts to turn see-through after being interfered with by a shadowy scientific organisation known as Gyges. By then, though, our nagging friends the Plausibles have been shown gibbering to the door, and you will either have switched off or settled back to enjoy the special effects. These are rather good, modern computers being far more effective at creating the impression of invisible presence than a length of fishing line with a teacup dangling on the end. Truly pedantic viewers will still find something to niggle at - Morrissey's body, for example, has a conveniently variable index of refraction, sometimes displaying an outline gleam of distortion (when knowing his position in the room will add a little frisson for the audience), at other times offering not the slightest barrier to passing light rays (when a magical levitation will give us more pleasure).

A recent literary version of this storyline handled the matter with something close to rigour (once you'd swallowed the central conceit), noting that until food was digested, it hovered in mid-air as a disgusting cud, and also generating tension from the fact that it is relatively easy for modern technology to detect an invisible man - fluorescent powders, infra- red sights, ultra-sonic beams were all deployed to make things tough for the notionally imperceptible hero. The Vanishing Man is altogether less sophisticated in its treatment, settling instead for the charm of a protagonist who can knock baddies on the head just when they think they have things under control, and then unpredictably reappear in the nude for a bit of comic relief. In its rather innocent glee at such devices and its taste for comic banter, it reminded me most strongly of Randall and Hopkirk Deceased, a bizarre Seventies series in which the detective was assisted by the ghostly presence of his late colleague, who registered his moribund status by wearing a gleaming white suit. If they do make the series, they should schedule it for Saturday tea-time, when its natural audience will be able to enjoy it.

Army of Innocents, BBC1's documentary about National Service, rather threw away a rich and obliquely topical subject. It didn't help that the makers had decided to dramatise the experience of basic training - the reconstructed NCO being, for simple reasons of transmissibility, a mere shadow of the original obscene horror. The sight of an elderly man getting teary-eyed at the memory of kit inspection conveyed the atrocious shock of those first few weeks far more effectively than an actor bellowing mild insults.

Conscription would probably still be educational today - forcing different social types into an instructive intimacy - but back in the Fifties, before television had made us known to ourselves, the experience was frequently nothing short of revelatory; John Peel recalled hearing his first Geordie accent and assuming that the speaker was a Hungarian refugee. Peel joined the slim majority who gave an approving verdict on the experience, but was at pains to distance himself from the simple pieties of the Bring Back brigade. What had he learned from National Service? "Petty theft and evasion," he concluded cheerfully.

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick