Television Review / When the only thing we have to fear is fear itself

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THE ONLY thing really worth watching over the weekend was the hardest to look at - that great field of broken earth, covered with an endless stubble of exhausted people. Reporters on all channels clutched at straws, sticking close to aid workers and producing the all-too- familiar pietas on screen, the sick and the weary protectively cradled by Western charity. I don't suppose this constitutes a scandal exactly - most reporters were properly holding out a begging bowl and they needed to show that something could be done - but you did wonder occasionally whether our sympathies might be enlisted by some other means than finding a woman from Rochdale or Derry, as if that was the only way to bring a human story home.

Those accounts, of a terror so great that it would lead you to face cholera rather than a return to your home, cast a slightly shaming perspective on the fears explored in Inside Track (ITV), a special report on crime presented by Sue Lawley. She had steady recourse to statistics - not of actual crime figures but of our fear of becoming part of them and, if they're to be believed, they suggest most of us live in a state of dread - of assault, burglary or the abduction of our children. One man, clutching his children to him as if he didn't like the look in the sound man's eye, suggested that, 'You can't drop your guard for a second, because that's when it happens.' Yes, that's when it would happen, by definition, but that doesn't mean it necessarily does happen. You wondered how his children viewed the world from this protective enclosure and then were offered some evidence by another family in which the 10-year-old son wouldn't go into a games store on his own, in case he was stolen away. Inside Track seemed to have effected his release from house arrest by the end of the programme, which was a small advance, but it couldn't achieve much else, caught as it was between sounding complacent or alarmist. They just reminded you that there isn't a lock made that can stop a criminal stealing your peace of mind.

Perhaps we should have less police fiction, with its avidity for brutal crime. Earlier in the evening Wycliffe (ITV) had confronted its Cornish detective (Jack Shepherd, looking drab) with two shootings in two days. He reacted to this murderous surge in his local crime figures with less consternation than a traffic policeman contemplating a double- parked mini. Shootings happen all the time round here, drop your guard for a second and someone's topped another grockle with a silenced pistol. This was in keeping with the programme itself, a passionless affair in which the dramatic honours were taken by the Cornish weather. Wycliffe went through the motions, but not too fast just in case your pulse-rate went up.

It looked good alongside Scavengers though, in which Carlton confirms its reputation for limitless ingenuity in bringing rubbish to the screen. It appears to be aimed at those who find The Crystal Maze intellectually challenging and consists of competitors in fancy- dress being hustled around a futuristic set, supposedly a doomed spaceship stuffed with useful salvage.

Unfortunately, the atmospheric effects of venting steam, electrical arcs and rusting pipework obscure most of the games, so you only have John Leslie's word that something exciting is taking place. Honest chap, I'm sure, but I didn't believe him. The truth came later. As they move from game to game the contestants are menaced by rubber aliens. 'Avian presence detected,' warned the score-keeping android, as they were attacked by a giant turkey. So somebody in the production team has a sense of humour anyway.