Television Review

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Most serial dramas harbour millennial ambitions, very few actually achieve them. The Bill (ITV) is just about to, but for thematic reasons it chose to celebrate its 999th episode rather than its 1,000th. It did so, as you might confidently have predicted, by throwing a big disaster. The opening lines sounded like a radio play, full of usefully descriptive exclamations from the policemen arriving on the scene - "What the hell's been going on here?" "I can already see a burning car." "Look at that - ruddy great tanker on its side!" Indeed it is, and what is more, the driver is trapped in the cab, the mysterious contents are gushing onto the road, and an acrid miasma hangs over the scene. Sergeant Ackland, evacuate those flats! PC Stamp, get that Tube station closed down, now, and PC Quinnan, you bustle around and shout acronyms at the firemen! As in many such celebrations, excess is all. "That scaffolding looks none too stable to me," mutters the fire chief, just in case toxic chemicals and a fatal crushing have left you peckish for more tribulation. You can understand the temptation here - it is tantalisingly easy to build these layer cakes of catastrophe, so we probably only have budgetary restraints to thank that there wasn't more: "That jumbo looks unusually low, sir." "Never mind the plane-spotting, constable, we have to get these live cables cleared before the wheelchair marathon reaches us!"

As it happened, the disaster was cleared up relatively quickly, after a touch of obligatory light relief (four policemen are hosed down in their uniforms as a precaution against contamination) and some friendly inter- service banter ("Yeah, yeah, very funny - let's hope your house doesn't get burgled"). Then the real plot came into play - a scam in which the dead man is falsely identified by his suspiciously stoical "widow", in an attempt to cover up some dodgy business with unlicensed drivers. You would have thought the police's suspicions might have been alerted by the achingly guilty pause that occurs when the woman asks "Did he... say anything?", but they appear to put it down to trauma and it's only when the paperwork doesn't tally that they work out what has been going on. It was, fittingly enough, an archetypal Bill story - police procedure and human drama neatly crammed into a conscientiously researched gap in the law.

The Human Jungle (C4), which last night looked at our appetite for measured risk, has suffered a little from the fact that we are, by definition, already experts in its subject matter: the psychology of modern urban life. The result is that it often has some difficulty in persuading you that its discoveries aren't merely a statement of the obvious - a difficulty compounded by an "aren't you amazing" approach reminiscent of those back- slapping BUPA adverts. When it works, it is usually because physiology or statistics come to the rescue - it was no great surprise, in last week's programme, to be told that people can navigate around a city they know, but it was intriguing to be told that blood flow to the visual cortex increases when you give somebody directions, hard evidence that we mentally "see" our way to a location. Similarly, the research which showed that if people like a place, they imagine it to be closer to their homes than it actually is, offered a measure of the emotional gridlines on our mental maps. The academic style doesn't always come off, though - last night's programme included the information that "darkness may increase our fear by a factor of six," a line that sounded simply loopy. You had to take it on trust that the measurements had been made with a properly calibrated Fearometer, I guess, but even then, it could do little to make the revelation that most of us are wary of dimly-lit underpasses sound less banal. It is a pity it doesn't always come off, because the series is elegantly and thoughtfully directed - including, last night, a wonderfully vertiginous tracking-shot above a rooftop swimming-pool, which was so good they gave it an encore.

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