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The Independent Culture
Such is television's unquenchable thirst for drama that every aspect of policing has been picked at, like a crusty scab, in the hope that it might render signs of ratings-winning life: the psychology unit, the back-up team and the internal complaints division have all recently reported for action. Stand by, then, for Fixed Penalty, a powerful new drama in which, for the first time, we are invited to enter into the dark and dangerous world of those who tread the double yellow line: traffic wardens - the lives, the loves, the intrigue, the tickets.

But, in the meantime we will have to make do with McCallum (ITV), and its invitation to the dark and dangerous world of the police forensic pathology department. As is the way with crime drama - Spender, Morse, Taggart, Chief Inspector Tom Cobley and all - McCallum is an eponymous title, referring to our hero Dr Iain McCallum, played by John Hannah, of Four Weddings And A Funeral, and proving that he has other contributions to make to death beyond reciting WH Auden over the coffin.

If pathologists have been cast in police dramas before, it is usually as shadowy characters in bow ties arriving at cause-of-death conclusions which the star detective will prove, in the course of his brilliant deliberation, to be incorrect. But according to television drama rules and regulations, to sustain 90 minutes, McCallum has to be more than just a man in a paper suit. He must be a maverick. Thus our first introduction to our hero is his arrival at a scene of crime late and on a motorbike. Fulfilling rule two, he is sharp, too, not just with his scalpel, but with his insubordinate one-liners. Rule three finds him loathed by his superiors, and, yes, he is something of a trouser-dropper, getting himself into all sorts of trouble - domestic and criminal - with the silken way he can woo women with (rule six) his charming regional accent.

But it would be unfair to suggest that the pathology was merely a convenient vehicle to transport the bunch of cliches from which McCallum's plot was spun. Indeed the ironies which arose from his job were the best part of the film. The scene, for instance, when he was obliged to perform an autopsy on a woman he had slept with the night before. She was lying under his knife on the slab, where recently she had been lying under him on the bed; he was touching her in the same places where hours earlier the flesh had been warm and was now cold. That scene was - as it were - a cracker.

So, too, was the episode when, as a murder suspect, he was stripped naked, outraged as his body was closely inspected for clues in precisely the way he went about his daily work on other, more compliant, bodies. Moments like these were suffused with sufficient tension - mainly thanks to Hannah's acting - to hint that there might be a series in it.

If not policemen, then doctors. And if not drama, then poke a camera at the real thing and hope for something. In this, Great Ormond Street (BBC1) struck gold. Or rather pus. After much examination of a little boy named Jay to discover why he was persisently succumbing to viral meningitis, a consultant surgeon announced that the only thing to do was to operate on his spine.

Opening up the offending back, the doctor - and the viewing millions - discovered precisely why the poor chap had been so ill. As the boy's membrane was cut, a huge white cyst bloomed up, spitting pus like a virulent Vinnie Jones. "Blimey," said one of the operating theatre team from beneath their surgical masks, "it's like that scene from Alien." It was the most dramatic moment on television all Christmas. And the doctor didn't even arrive at the hospital on a motorbike.

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