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The Independent Culture
Much science fiction is essentially nostalgic. Think of the medieval chivalry of Star Wars - Jedi "Knights" duelling with light-sabres - or the neo-feudal politics of the Dune series. Science: The Final Frontier (BBC2), the most fascinating segment of "Star Trek Night", bought into this nostalgia, with opening titles being spelled out slowly in neon-blue, blinking machine-script, accompanied by a cute bleeping. Computers haven't dealt with text so clumsily since the 1970s: in this case, as in others, technology has gone beyond our aesthetic ideal.

This was also, in part, the message of Science: The Final Frontier. A funny and accessible investigation into whether Star Trek contains plausible science, it offered the amusing sight of eminent physicists arguing over warp drive and time travel - Stephen Hawking enthused on wormholes; Roger Penrose warned against killing your grandfather - as well as revelations that today's boffins are closer to Trek territory than you'd have thought.

Our emcee was Andre Bormanis, an earnest ex-Nasa astrophysicist in tinted specs, whose job is to "tech" every Trek script for scientific consistency. He's on the phone to his immunologist chum about a tricky baby transplant: "OK, so the entire foetal-placental complex needs to be transferred...". Next, he's checking out Cassini, the new Nasa Saturn probe (a curiously lumpen thing in a skin-tight, gold-foil negligee), jotting down details of a new magnetometer.

Given that we cannot predict 24th-century science, it seems odd to try to root it so solidly in 1996. After all, modern astrophysics has nothing to learn from Ptolemaic cosmology, the theory that the Earth is the centre of the universe, which is about as old to us as our science will be to the real Mr Spock. Rather, science fiction is good at beautiful metaphors, good at extrapolating moral problems. (Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, formulated in his 1950s Robot stories, were quickly adopted by researchers in artificial intelligence.) Andre's defining, deflating moment came when he admitted that sometimes he just had to make things up, like the uninspiring "duenetic field".

Much more loveable was Lawrence Krauss, an American physicist who has written a book on the science of Star Trek. His suitably old-fashioned prop was the blackboard, on which he scrawled the lurid phrase "chunky salsa" (that's what the g-forces would turn you into if you accelerated even to half light-speed in a few minutes). He discussed the problem of beaming-you-up, noting that a 100kg person would translate into the energy of "oh, about a thousand 100-megaton nuclear explosions. That's a pretty big bang" - cut wittily to a Star Trek actor cringing with dismay.

Krauss, however, concluded that "Truth is stranger than fiction". The film was marvellously clear on the stars of modern research: a cute humanoid robot called COG, whose inventor pitilessly hammered it as "doomed to failure"; a wild white-and-ginger-bearded Brit who's been teleporting photons; and kids at the CERN particle accelerator who have manufactured 11 atoms of anti-hydrogen. But this last experiment betrayed again the film's nostalgic reflex, and the limits of scientific exegesis on television. Colourful computer graphics showed electrons and protons zooming around the accelerator as 3D sort-of spheres: a poignant clinging to old Newtonian "billiard-ball" physics in the face of the 20th century's resolutely unpicturable quantum affront.

Roger, Roger (BBC1) was threateningly puffed as a pilot for a sitcom set in a London mini-cab office. Written by John Sullivan (Only Fools and Horses) and starring Neil Morrissey, it turned out to be a lazy, tedious exercise, stuffed with knee-jerk ethnic caricatures. It was originally due to be called POB, standing apparently for Punter On Board. Clearly, though, this title had to be changed, for any sentient viewer would immediately have placed a far less favourable interpretation on the initials POB.

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