Television: Last night

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The Independent Culture
It's always difficult putting intelligence on screen - particularly at primetime. If one of your characters is a brilliant neurologist, for example, on the very verge of a cure for Alzheimer's, his lectures to neurology students must nevertheless be pitched at the intellectual level of an oven-chip commercial. You were offered just such a scene in Bliss (ITV) (a daringly counter-intuitive title for this depressing science- thriller series); Dr Frank Fiedler is explaining to his students that 2,000 years elapsed between the invention of paper and the creation of the first paper airplane. Apparently, this indicates how difficult it is for us to step outside our inherited mind-sets, though it might equally suggest that the Chinese had better things to do with their invention or that the scriptwriter has been reading Edward de Bono recently.

Naturally, Professor Fiedler turns out to be a bad hat. Determined that death shall not thwart him (he has cancer and fears he will not live long enough to complete his research), he takes time out to work on a nifty memory-transfer scheme, using his devoted students as guinea-pigs. All it requires, apparently, is one of those machines that goes "blip blip blip blip" and a few wires plasted to the temples. Unfortunately for Professor Fiedler, this exceptionally selfless group of young people has also volunteered for Dr Bliss's malaria vaccine trial, and, when they start to die in mysterious circumstances, he is provoked to investigate by the threat to his own project. Wouldn't you know it, there turn out to be teething problems with the memory gadget, so that when you order up the native knowledge of Russian, you can't be sure that you won't get centuries of Slavic gloom as a side order and promptly top yourself.

Bliss himself (played by Simon Shepherd) appears to have been modelled on Dangerfield - he's recently widowed, has a very attractive colleague who is conspicuous clinch-fodder, as well as two independent-minded daughters who come second to his mobile phone. He's also a bit dim, believing that the best way to bring round a sceptical member of the ethics committee is by beginning his sentence "If you understood the first thing about drug-trial protocols..." I spent some time, myself, wondering what the ethics committee would make of the fact that he can find out whether the participants in his trial are being given the vaccine or the placebo simply by tapping a few keys on his office computer, but then I decided that my time would be more productively occupied in making paper planes.

Airport, BBC1's actuality soap about Heathrow returned with a decidedly underpowered episode in which the most dramatic incident concerned the raising of the Latvian flag outside the Royal Suite - Would it arrive in time from the Embassy? How would Derek and Roy react when the attachment loops came unstitched? The incident was the sort of thing that you would hesitate to mention during a coffee-break, in case people thought you didn't get out enough, but here it had to support a third of the programme and so was presented as if only a safety pin stood between us and war. The only relief was Jeremy at the Aeroflot check-in desk, a jolly man who had to maintain a balance between Western flight regulations and the Russian belief that there is a way around every obstacle if you talk for long enough. Fifteen Russian air-crew, returning home with a pyramid of excess baggage, attempted to sweeten him with a model airplane. If I'd been Jeremy, I would have rerouted their bags to Addis Ababa for this derisory bribe, but he seemed to take it in good part. Then it was back to the flag, fluttering just in time for the arrival of the Latvian President. Phew! When it was announced, over the final credits, that Derek and Roy had received a silver award for their initiative, you realised that you had just spent the last half hour with the in-house newspaper of the British Airports Authority.

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