TELEVISION / A bucketful of sugar

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THE public never tires of Jane Seymour's 'fairytale' weddings. She recently threw her fourth - peach gown by David Emanuel, perfume by Le Jardin, husband courtesy of the Keach clan - and the gifts still flooded in. It was 'the happiest day' of her life all over again. But what trinket could top Seymour's career-saving Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman?

Following the precepts established by the star's immortal contribution to world literature - the seminal Jane Seymour's Guide to Romantic Living - the pilot film for Dr Quinn (ITV) was simplicity itself. Picture this: Boston, the 1860s. Seymour, eyebrows plucked to within a quarter-inch of their lives, has defied convention to qualify as a surgeon. The producers fondly imagine that this brave denial of an oppressive and sexist society automatically made the actress a feminist heroine. Others less infatuated can't help conjuring up the terrifying image of Seymour roaming Nob Hill, knife and certificate in manicured hand, operating beyond the powers of the law.

Then Jane's worshipped medico Pa ups and dies, without so much as a line of dialogue to mark his departure. His patients - you had a suspicion this might happen - decide they don't want a female elbow deep in their innards, thank you very much. Even Seymour's mother, a pitiful example of cultural conditioning - 'Your father indulged you in a fantasy]' - expresses horror at her daughter's determination to, er, carve a career. However, she is willing to indulge Jane's anachronistic devotion to eye shadow, blusher, mascara and lip gloss without a word of reproach (rarely has mourning so become an Electra complex).

Jane answers a newspaper ad and heads for the frontier, where, by an infinitely convoluted set of circumstances, it becomes clear the townsfolk have been expecting - you had a suspicion this might happen - a man. 'No one around here has ever heard of a lady doctor]' snorts the local Reverend. 'There's always a first time,' Seymour seethes. Still, she is soon employing a Waltonesque voice-over to confide, 'The prevailing attitude to women doctors was no better in Colorado Springs than in Boston', a truth made memorable by her audacity in taking issue with a cavalry officer's racist comments about Red Indians (he is for killing 'em, she isn't).

If this sounds like Little House on the Prairie Reads the Female Eunuch and Votes Democrat, why, that's because it is. Right down to the obligatory sisterly bonding between Seymour and independent widow Diane Ladd. It's also American TV at its commercial worst and most compulsive, safely retrospective and therefore allowed to be topically liberal. Taken as prescribed, Dr Quinn's easy-to-swallow medicine could yet prove addictive.