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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices