Television review

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The Independent Culture
In that Sixties masterpiece Fantastic Voyage, there is a memorable sequence in which Raquel Welch, at this point miniaturised and scuba diving through someone's veins, is attacked by antibodies - malign, adhesive courgettes which clamp themselves onto her wet suit and slowly begin to squeeze the life out of her. The television schedules are becoming a little reminiscent of that scene these days - as sport killer cells multiply alarmingly in television's blood-stream, slowly crushing alien intruders such as drama or arts programmes. And, as if Wimbledon, Euro 96 and the Test Match weren't quite enough on their own, most channels have been busy adding documentaries to the mix, presumably to succour those viewers who have trouble making it unaided from one marathon slab of live broadcast to the next. Channel 4's Fair Game ended last week, which now makes the channel one of the few safe refuges for the jockstrap-allergic, but BBC2 has already filled the gap with Clash of the Titans, an account of great sporting rivalries.

Last night, the episode recalled the Test series of 1981, an occasion which sounded decidedly familiar after the events of the last week: "The mood of the country was at an all-time low," said the commentator, to footage of rioting in the streets. But the national depression was lifted by the Prozac of sporting triumph (a drug with some worrying psychotic side-effects). Playing a match they were touted to lose (the bookies were taking bets of 500-1 against an England victory), the team pulled off an astonishing reversal - traffic slowed on the motorways as people tuned in to hear the Australian wickets fall and the stock exchange ceased trading as dealers watched the match on screen. This story has been told before quite recently, in a profile of Ian Botham, the hero of the hour, but it was instructive to see it again, now that national character is once more being yoked to the trajectories of a ball. Fifteen years on, several of the participants in those games still bear grudges, are still fighting battles, that looked petulant and immature at the time. The passage of the years has taught them nothing but that they were right all along - whether it was Geoff Boycott's priggish refusal to fraternise with the enemy, or Lillee's unfailing lack of generosity towards his fellow players. The uncompromising will to win may be useful in some circumstances, but it does have its costs.

If the unbroken sport has you fantasising about running away and joining the Foreign Legion, Channel 4 gave a foretaste of what awaits those who pass through the massy portals of Fort de Nogent and sign up for a five- year stretch. Ian Taylor's film followed the progress of Dean Heggie, fresh out of the Marines but already bored by a month of civilian life. On this showing, the Foreign Legion looks to be a little more fastidious than its reputation suggests. Volunteers (it doesn't need to recruit) are vetted for fitness and intelligence before being allowed to proceed (though later scenes suggested that the intelligence test cannot be a very challenging hurdle). And while they will still give you a new identity if you want (protected in the film by those shimmering bathroom windows) there are some kinds of past you can't flee. "No morderer and no guy dangerous," explained one officer, overturning the general assumption that the point of the Legion was to gather together as many guys dangerous as possible.

There was something intriguingly monastic about this induction - the relinquishment of worldly goods, the shearing of the hair, the plainsong chanting and the hope for a new life. But what followed at The Farm, the Legion's basic training camp, was much less novel. "Nobody knows what we're in for," confessed Dean, before they set off. Nobody had watched much television, then, because what followed was entirely predictable to anyone who has seen a military training documentary before - the mental torture of kit inspection, a great deal of bellowing, and a regime calculated to stupefy all powers of independent thought.

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