Robert Hanks' Television Review

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The Independent Culture
WHEN The Moral Maze tried to make the jump from radio to television, it fell flat on its face. But that hasn't stopped television producers looking to it for inspiration, perhaps inspired by the knowledge that Ian McEwan won the Booker with a novel apparently concocted entirely from left-over Moral Maze dialogue. Now they have come up with Life Support (BBC1), a drama series about a medical ethicist evidently inspired by, but rather prettier than, The Moral Maze's Dr David Cook. I suppose we should be thankful that, so far, we've managed to avoid television dramas inspired by The Moral Maze's Dr David Starkey.

Aisling O'Sullivan plays Dr Katherine Doone, "the one woman who can stop the doctors playing God". She works at a hospital in Glasgow, presumably just around the corner from the one that was the setting for Psychos. Like Dr Danny in that series, she is a maverick whose dedication to her job has alienated her from her colleagues and wrecked her personal life. She is up against Dr Kamran Black (played by Art Malik), an arrogant, womanising consultant who thinks ethics is a silly game, and that life and death are matters best left to doctors.

Their opposing views were brought into sharp focus last night when a man was brought in with a broken neck and severe brain damage. The doctors wanted to pull the plug, the boy's mother would not hear of it, and his girlfriend, a nurse at the hospital, dragged Dr Doone into the argument. The one thing that stopped this case appearing hopelessly over-determined was Barbara Rafferty's battily serene performance as the mother, deaf to all the doctors' grave words, smiling ecstatically at the idea of waiting on her boy hand and foot forever.

The script's tendency towards caricature was also visible in the character of Dr Doone's just-chucked boyfriend, who, on the one hand, was intent on persuading her to start a family, but, on the other, so put off by the sight on a TV wildlife documentary of a seal giving birth that he had to give the rest of his supper to the cat. The writer Ashley Pharoah offered some sharp, unpredictable moments, such as the teasing opening scene with its false promise/threat of lesbian sex; but on the whole, the people are too much the puppets of the issues. Consciously or not, the first episode appeared to be conveying the message that doctors should never try to play god: they should leave it up to the scriptwriters.

Still, if the doctors do want to play god, we can always pack them off to the Moon, where the low gravity will mean, as we learned in What Shall We Do With the Moon? (C4), that they will be able to walk on water. The gist of this programme was that colonisation of the Moon is now technically possible, and could soon become economically viable. Within 30 years, it was suggested, there will be a well-established industrial colony on the Moon, with thousands of inhabitants and a thriving tourist industry - like Vegas, a boom-town in the middle of a desert. Amid all the fuss about the moon-landings in recent weeks, this was the most dispiriting idea yet. It made me think that when the Americans abandoned the Apollo programme, they were showing that they knew when to leave well alone.

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