Television Review

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The Independent Culture
I'D ALWAYS assumed that Peak Practice (ITV) got its name from being set in the Peak District. After last night, though, I realise that it has more to do with the constant scramble for the heights of melodrama. The new series of the GP drama got off to an emotionally overwrought start, confronting the viewer not only with a case of childhood leukaemia, but also Dr Attwood (Gary Mavers) having to do the old have-to-cut-off-your- leg-to-save-your-life routine for his rally co-driver and best friend. It was all terribly exciting, the more so because of the way Dr Attwood and newcomer Dr Graham (Haydn Gwynne) kept shouting "Just do it!" at any hapless paramedic or nurse who happened to be passing.

This was, I felt, one of the programme's few mistakes, most viewers having a generally sympathetic attitude towards nurses and paramedics. Elsewhere, though, it didn't put a foot wrong, with its cast of noble doctors brushing aside personal and bureaucratic considerations to save lives, jobsworth hospital managers getting in their way, and self- torturing males shutting in their feelings and having to be told by sympathetic females that it was all right to be afraid and you had to learn to forgive yourself. In fact, Laura Phillips, who wrote last night's episode, seems to have a fairly scathing view of the male psyche: at one point, Dr Attwood, preparing to drive in his first rally, told another driver that he was a GP, and got the sneering response that rallying was a bit more exciting than giving pills to little old grannies. The implication behind this taunt seemed to be that real men don't do general practice - a thought that probably doesn't cross the minds of even really stupid, butch men.

Helping males to get in touch with their feelings is, I would guess, part of the aim of Classic Aircraft (C4). The message you got from John Peel's reassuring tones was that it's all right to feel that way about large, noisy machines - a notion confirmed by the ex-pilots who turned up to lavish affection on the planes they once flew. Yet as this week's edition was devoted to Second World War bombers, the viewer's own feelings were probably a little more ambivalent than usual: the Boeing B-29, for instance, the largest aircraft flown in WWII ("Like flying a house," according to a pilot), was responsible for 180,000 deaths in a single night over Tokyo. A Mosquito pilot described the triumphant "precision bombing" raid on Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen, a triumph soured by the total destruction of the school next door and all its pupils.

But there was something undeniably touching in the obsessional enthusiasm of the Panton brothers, a pair of Lincolnshire chicken farmers who keep a gleaming Lancaster among the poultry. A memorial to their older brother, who died in one, and to their own boyhoods, haunted by the plane's heavy drone. And then there was the Fairey Swordfish, a bi-plane which moved so slowly that its only way of evading attack was to dive straight at the sea in the hope that any pursuing aircraft would coast past it and smack into the surface. This is about the closest an aeroplane can come to being cuddly; and you noticed that its ex-pilots seemed more cheerful than the rest.

Great Railway Journeys (BBC2) came chugging back into town with all the panache of a Virgin diesel. Ian Hislop travelled west from Calcutta, across India to Rajasthan and the Thar desert. Along the way he posed, Diana- like, in front of the Taj Mahal, checked out some relics of the Raj, haggled with a few salesmen, and looked shame-faced and a little alarmed when accosted by a one-legged child beggar. Meanwhile, the camera offered tableaux of medieval poverty and modernity, with peasants hoeing mud while a train passed in the background. Hislop did manage to fit in a quip about Jeffrey Archer and some questions to an Indian lawyer about defamation law, otherwise, his presence seemed largely irrelevant.

But if the film only saw India in tourist terms, India is probably content with that. Meeting the Maharajah of Jaipur, who is also the head of the Rajasthan tourist board, Hislop remarked on how tourist-friendly the region is, with its maharajah's palaces and all. "And poor people and local peasants... even they contribute a lot. They're very colourful." Must be nice, while you're hoeing away at your mud patch, to know you're contributing to the local colour.

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