Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THERE'S SOMETHING heartless about the long-running series which mislays its lead characters but ploughs on regardless. Life goes on, and so do life-affirming dramas shot in the telegenic folds and Tudor-timbered nooks of this green and pleasant land. Ballykissangel is about to make its gloopy return to a Sunday night near you, but without the two characters whose illicit romance persuaded everyone to watch it. And here comes Dangerfield (BBC1) minus the eponymous police doctor, who has left behind his name, plus a lingering perfume of cableknit and scruple.

I think we can all agree the change came not a moment too soon, because the show was about to complete its descent into an irreversible narcoleptic slumber. When one of the characters in last night's opening episode kept on asking for sleeping pills, you wanted to prescribe her the last series of Dangerfield. To be consumed weekly.

The new series of Dangerfield springs a surprise: Nigel Havers in decent chap shock. He plays Dr Jonathan Paige, who like Nigel Le Vaillant's outgoing police doctor, is promisingly single and available for romantic plotlines. To that end, the series has acquired a new detective inspector in the form of Jane Gurnett, who offers conclusive proof that refugees from Casualty just can't stay away from medical dramas. She doesn't look or sound anything like a detective inspector, with her long black hair, black trouser suit and swish black coat, but that's not really the point of her.

At the start of each new series of Dangerfield I like to place a bet on how long it will take the good doctor to get out his love potion. Usually he administers a preparatory stimulant to the nearest attractive colleague somewhere in the second episode, before putting her under for most of the rest of the series in episode three. But the dose is cleverly designed to wear off as the series draws to a close, leaving the viewer stranded on what's technically known as a tiffhanger. At the moment they're still on titular terms. He calls her detective inspector; she calls him doctor. But when a copper said to Paige, "Doc, DI wants yer", the subtextual inference rang loud and clear. Of course, she does. If she didn't we may as well stop watching now.

The rotation of personnel in your average long-running drama series is nothing compared to that of your average long-running heavy metal outfit. Rock Family Trees (BBC2) considered the myriad staff changes within Black Sabbath in the 30 years of the band's existence. Most of them involved the revolving door: hard-rocking pseudo-satanists are like migratory birds, and always find their way home. Remarkably, given the amount of alcohol and cocaine consumed by its members in the 1970s, no one has yet been carried out of the band in a box. A newly recruited drummer once fantasised about it when he first got on a plane with the band. "If we crash," he reasoned, "maybe I'll become a semi-legend." The closing biographies remind you that Cozy Powell has indeed died, but not while drumming for Sabbath.

The band's meticulously detailed descent into the hell of wish fulfilment was the perfect match for this series's cheap and cheerful aesthetic, which here mixed interviews with illustrations in the style of penny-dreadful paperback jackets: a soapbox carton spilling cocaine; a syringe on a layer of old 45s; a cluster of dead bats; a pile of offal. (You don't want to know about the bats. Or the offal.)

Late Review (BBC2) returned on Thursday for the first time since Mark Lawson took up helming Front Row on Radio 4. Call me pernickety, but on Tuesday I heard him leading a Front Row assessment of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan and, in precisely the same three-guest format, here he was doing it again. There's no reason to suppose this critical two- timing won't recur. However, there may be some entertainment to be had from comparing the views he expresses on one programme with those on the other. Lawson always goes last in the Late Review, and in the interest of balance, sometimes calibrates his comments to go against the majority opinion. If the panel unanimously loathes a work of art, he finds a way to give it a thumbs up. Thus, what on Tuesday was a miss, might have mutated by Thursday into a hit.

Thomas Sutcliffe is away

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