Review

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The Independent Culture
The Fragile Heart (C4) begins with a jeans commercial - or possibly an advert for some heavy-duty anti-perspirant. In an ochre desert, a young man is running for a slow-moving goods train, the only sign of civilisation in this vast solitude. There are exciting helicopter shots of arterial billabongs and sudden accelerated zooms towards the vanishing point of the railway tracks. A water bottle tumbles picturesquely down a scree of red rocks. Then Nigel Hawthorne wakes up in a muck sweat and we discover that it is all a dream - a nightmare sequence which, for some time, will be the only sustaining obliqueness in a drama of evening- class explicitness.

Hawthorne plays Edgar Pascoe, a cardiac surgeon of high repute but sclerotic emotions. He is here to represent the cold detachment of modern technological medicine, a theme underlined by his participation in a scheme to market virtual-reality diagnosis to third- world countries (you don't even have to be in the same country as the patient, you see) and by a performance of unusually strident thinness from Hawthorne. Opposed to him is his wife, Lileth, a believer in the curative powers of empathy and communication. You can tell she is meant to be sympathetic because she holds hands with patients, wears cardigans and sits on the carpet in their country house (old timbers and warm lighting) while Edgar is usually seen in the operating theatre or the clinical surroundings of his London flat - all hard edges, acidic colours and neon light.

"If we could get back to a place where we shared things... shared the same ideas... then maybe we could go forward," says Lileth. This sounds more like the instructions for a three-point turn than a plausible emotional exchange and it doesn't work anyway, so Lileth resorts to sign language in an attempt to improve her husband's bedside manner. Climbing astride Edgar she bares her breast, but he won't open his eyes. Have you got it yet or do we have to bring up the Ceefax subtitles? We do? Very well then, here's a scene in which Lileth reads the diary of one of her patients, a doctor of the old school who, it is suggested, is as wise as his white beard is long: "I see now that in following a scientific imperative I have denied all possibility of mystery. Maybe it is that which has made me feel so alone."

Typical of the woolly coercion of the drama is the scene in which Edgar and his colleagues perform a coronary bypass while chatting about the availability of motor insurance. The patient dies (a fatality which exposes some of Edgar's disreputable financial arrangements with a colleague) but are we really supposed to believe the man's chances would have been improved if his surgeons had been talking solemnly about the benefits of aromatherapy or sweating silently in the manner of Dr Kildare? Though things had ramified a little by the end - Edgar is getting chest pains, his daugh- ter is turning into a medical school Lady Macbeth and the Chinese communists are insisting that he secretly treat a top party official - you shouldn't really tune in if you are looking for subtle complexity.

I have been ticked off by some readers for my dusty views on the first episode of Two Fat Ladies (BBC2), so I went back to see whether I had been too dyspeptic. I am afraid it was only minutes before I was feeling acute heartburn again - though I was very nearly won over by the unexpected explanation of how to prepare a cake tin properly. "You really want to get it well greased," said Clarissa Dickson Wright. "Did you see Last Tango in Paris? Something like that." This must be surely be the first time that anal sex and baking tips have been brought together on the small screen and for that pioneering effort I am ready to forgive much. But, even if you accept the authentic quality of the two principal ingredients here, the fact remains that they have been served up in the television equivalent of an instant sauce - thick, synthetic and artificially coloured.

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