Review

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The Independent Culture
Peak Practice, ITV's long-running medicated soap, is described in the final credits as being "based on an idea by Lucy Gannon". This prompts some experimental questions. What is the half-life of an idea, for example, and when it decays what does it actually turn into? A bad habit would be the best working hypothesis - prejudicial, I know, but certainly borne out by initial observations. Last night's episode, for example, contained a canonical example of one of the genre's most dependable rituals - that of momentary misdiagnosis. This might sound unappealing in the abstract but when you break the narrative down into its component parts it becomes possible to admire the perfectly machined way in which it meshes with other essential cogs of the medical drama. First of all there are Symptoms Ignored, a calculated balance between the simulated indifference of the actors and the manic vigilance of the camerawork. Paul, youthful Derby fan, is first seen coughing in a christening. Blood is trickling from his nostrils, too, but his father plays his part perfectly: "Don't fuss over him, Linda, it's just a nosebleed" (as dedicated viewers will know "it's just a ..." is a three-word code for the imminent arrival of a terminal illness). Such denial is always quickly succeeded by dramatic contradiction, but seldom quite so compactly as in last night's episode. As Dr Shearer stands drenched at the front door, having just announced to the startled parents that their son might have leukaemia, the mother is still resistant. "There's nothing wrong with him," she says with understandable irritation, having been dragged away from a very enjoyable episode of Children's Hospital for this hysterical intrusion. Her words are immediately followed by a drawn-out scream of "Muuuum!", as the chesty Paul falls through the coal-house roof, thus laying himself up for a bonus bout of pneumonia. But the beauty of the device does not stop with its useful prolongation of the story (all the to-ing and fro-ing helps to fill the air-time): it also provides an opportunity for another dependable pleasure of doctor drama - that of Medical Self-flagellation. I wonder myself whether busy GPs would mope around with such rueful volubility after failing to spot the warning signs of lymphoblastic leukaemia. At the very least you would have thought their insurers would have discouraged them from doorstep confessions of culpability. But feeling bad about having failed to do good is part of the ritual. It allows for Collegiate Consolation ("Don't beat yourself up about it") but, most importantly, it is the traditional prelude to the scene in which the errant professional goes beyond the call of duty to repair the damage. Dr Shearer quietly arranges a job-share scheme, neatly solving the family's logistical problem while also salving the father's wounded masculine pride. Then, just in case the 50:50 prognosis for 11-year-old Paul has left a slightly sour taste in your mouth, Dr Shearer obligingly falls over into a cowpat, laughing uproariously all the while - one of those heart-warming mishaps which bond a family closer together. Just think, all that on the National Health.

"Born to be Small", a Network First (ITV) film about dwarves, was partly a meditation on the ambiguous meaning of the word "little". Denise Coppean, 3ft 10in tall, understandably does not like it when whisperers in the local supermarket point out the "little lady", even though she is happy to describe her home, with its knee-high worktops and lowered light switches, as "our little house". Presumably it is the tone of possessive condescension she objects to - little things being habitually associated with the harmless and the patable.

Roger Finnigan's film, which could very easily have looked merely prurient, had the virtue of patience, following its subjects for long enough to see real changes taking place in their lives. Most moving was the story of Dawn and Steve Oxley, normal-height parents who had given birth to a son with achondroplasia - and who could be seen first grieving for their dead hopes as parents and then learning that they might have a life after all.

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