Television Review

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The Independent Culture
TV CRITICS. The swine. Don't they realise what they're doing? Don't they know how much they can hurt people's feelings? Last night's Clive James on Television (ITV) took on the subject of science fiction. As the show opened, Clive James was sitting there as usual on his squashy TV sofa, as serene and pot-bellied as a Japanese Buddha. "Welcome to the television programme about television programmes," he drawled, the Zen- like paradox somehow adding to the effect of his appearance. And for the next 30 minutes, he did the most terrible, unforgivable thing. He dismissed Blake's Seven. Even worse, he mocked Doctor Who.

Now, I have a soft spot for TV series which are mainly constructed out of Bacofoil. I don't sit inside my wardrobe making "vworp-vworp" noises, and I don't say things like, "Teleport, Cally!" into my wristwatch. Not often, anyway. But watching Clive James poke fun at some of the most intense experiences of my childhood was more than I could bear. Who was he to be snide about the gruesome visage of Scaroth of the Jagaroth? Or to suggest that there was something inherently absurd about The Brain of Morbius? Who were the studio audience to giggle at the Mandrels from the planet Eden? Didn't they realise that they were making tasteless jokes at the expense of people's deeply held beliefs? I know the blasphemy laws don't cover such matters, but I was quite ready to go down to the Head Office of Carlton Communications and stage a protest by publicly burning a copy of May Week Was in June.

Last week, Carlton was fined pounds 2m for faking material in a documentary about a heroin-smuggling ring. They ought to be fined another million at least for the interviews that take place between Clive James and his guests, which they scandalously attempt to pass off as natural conversation. Last night's principal interview was with the comedian Greg Proops, whose connections with the world of TV sci-fi are rather tenuous (he once presented a quiz show about the subject on Channel 4). He seemed to have been asked to appear on the show mainly to rattle through a series of well-rehearsed and well-worn observations about Star Trek. You know, the one about William Shatner's advancing hairline. The one about the polystyrene rocks that appeared every in episode. Those old Vulcan chestnuts, which I suspect are quite familiar even to people who have never seen the show. At least nobody went on about how it was always the guys in the red shirts who were the first to get killed each week.

To balance Proops' cynicism, James also had three cheerful Doctor Who companions sitting in the studio audience: Anneke Wills (who once got injected with serum that turned her into a fish); Nicola Bryant (who once underwent a forcible brain-swap with a giant slug) and Sophie Aldred (who once got trapped in a lift with a hungry preying mantis wearing Victorian evening dress). They all looked remarkably well, considering the experiences they'd been through at the hands, claws and sink plungers of Daleks, Cybermen and power-crazed dictators. And they were also eager to show that they could still scream at a pitch that could burst the ear-drums of a Sontaran. However, even they seemed willing to participate in the doing-down of the rubberized aliens which they'd spent the most high-profile part of their careers running through quarries to escape.

Not that I'm living in a world of self-delusion, you understand. Okay, so the Giant Spiders of Metebelis III did look a bit like something you'd get from the joke shop to scare your little sister. And it now seems quite clear that the fearsome single eye of the Monoid creature was in fact a ping-pong ball with a dot painted on it. In my darkest moments, I'd even admit to myself that Orac in Blake's Seven was just a perspex suitcase with a few fairy lights inside. But you shouldn't ever say that sort of thing. Not out loud. It spoils everything. Perhaps the most traumatic moment came when Greg Proops suggested that people who liked Doctor Who and Blake's Seven were sad individuals who spent too much time on the Internet and didn't have any friends. And if you were as upset by that as me, I suggest we have a serious online chat about it. I'm free most nights.

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