Television Review

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The Independent Culture
ALLEGEDLY, HOLBY CITY (BBC1) is a spin-off from Casualty; but in what sense is open to debate. It doesn't have the same production team - isn't even made in the same part of Britain - or any of the same stars. True, a girl who went into a coma in last week's Casualty turned up three days later, still completely immobile, in Holby City. And, every so often the viewer gets a distant glimpse of Charlie Fairhead, flitting like some exotic bird across the scenery. But, for the most part, the relationship seems to be a purely notional device for guaranteeing a basic level of ratings - likewise the casting of former soap stars Michael French and Angela Griffin.

Still, it's a creditably smart and efficient piece of engineering, and I probably ought to admit to taking a sneaky, no-brainer pleasure from it. The storylines push the plausibility boat out a little too far, perhaps, and the writers are too ready to stoop to cliche (week two, and already Nick Jordan and the new ward sister are having hissed conversations about how she wouldn't have taken the job if she'd known he was working there). What's interesting, though, is how far the plots revolve around smart-arsed, over-ambitious young doctors being put in their place by people who may not be so clever, but know more about life. Cocky surgical registrar Nick Jordan inadvertently stoked up a row between a terminal patient's children and their stepmother, and was put in his place by the new ward sister. Meanwhile, academically bright Dr Merrick scared a patient witless with ideas about a rare and incurable nervous disorder, before the patient set her straight with homespun wisdom accumulated over a lifetime in hairdressing. Only Mr Meyer, the consultant surgeon, is allowed to get away with being clever; but he is a heartless automaton.

When comparing Holby City with the real-life medical drama of Monday night's Trauma Team (ITV), what strikes you is the degree of convergence between the genres of fiction and documentary. Trauma Team, set in the accident and emergency department of the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, follows what would once have been the conventions of popular drama. It sets up a number of concurrent storylines as the doctors cope with a mixture of domestic and professional traumas. Even the jump-cuts and nauseous lurches into close-up, which would once have given it the stamp of authenticity, have since been appropriated by drama. Here they feel like a pose, a style which has been chosen rather than imposed by working conditions. It didn't help that this week's opening episode began on such a sensational note, with a man who had had his arm bitten off by a tiger and, unscripted, gave the answer "tigers" when asked if he was allergic to anything. By contrast, Holby City seems a very conservative piece of film-making, and far more concerned to show the viewer authentically gruesome surgery. The line between fiction and documentary hasn't vanished yet, but it's fading. That surely can't be healthy.

A similar desire to dress up the facts afflicted Station X (C4), a new four-parter about the code-breaking operations at Bletchley Park. It opened with a reconstruction of the night in 1946 when all Bletchley Park's documentation was burned to prevent the secret getting out. Then, later on, we were treated to odd little dramatised moments - shots of hands moving across tables strewn with tea-cups, the air thick with cigarette smoke - apparently to express the idea of intrigue. As far as the actual mechanics of code- breaking and the Enigma machine went, the programme wimped out a little - its explanations were too brief to make the technicalities penetrable. You wondered if the producers really respected the viewers' intelligence, particularly when the commentary felt it necessary to refer to "the Italian Fascist, Mussolini".

This was compensated for, though, by the codebreakers themselves - elderly, respectable people who looked back with a winning mixture of pride and embarrassment at the bright young things they were. One told how, when an admiral came to congratulate the code-breakers, they spent their time manoeuvring him into leaning against a recently whitewashed wall. And I liked the story of the marine biologist, recruited because his speciality was cryptogams - a primitive life-form - and somebody thought that that was the same as cryptograms. Truly, this was our finest hour.

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