Television:A lot of fields, not much danger

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The Independent Culture
WE LOVE hospital drama and police drama, so how about a police surgeon? If only he were a priest and a vet, too, like that drip on The Archers, we'd have the ratings winner of the decade. Still, put in Nigel Le Vaillant from Casualty as a widower with teenage kids, that should do the trick.

And so we have Dangerfield. (BBC1). There was precious little danger, as it happens, but plenty of fields. The show begins with rippling piano and rolling countryside, through which our hero drives in his Range Rover. He drives to the shops, because tha t's what widowers do; he drives to the police station, whose occupants seem incapable of telling the time without him; he drives to his practice, where Joanna (Amanda Redman) has had enough of his moonlighting.

"He ought to be a GP first and foremost and a police surgeon second," she says. Maybe it's because it's the first episode, but the characters on Dangerfield explain what's going on very carefully. The IoS's TV previewer said you could fill in the dialogue yourself. He's right, and you'd probably make a better job of it. You can, however, also fill in the analytical part of this review, being sure to use the words "Alan Yentob", "Dennis Potter", "producer choice" and "NYPD Blue".

But on to the plot: a burglar is brought into custody covered in truncheon-shaped bruises and accuses the arresting officer of GBH. The policeman says he used just one punch, and only because the burglar had hit his female colleague. She tells Dangerfield what happened: "Nigel . . . uh . . . PC Spencer saw him hit me." Was that a hint that the two policepeople are a mite too friendly? If you missed it, never fear. In the next scene Dangerfield asks Nigel what happened. "He was giving Georgie . . . uh . . .

PC Cudworth a good beating."

Several non-events later, the mystery is solved - not by Dangerfield - when the police discover that the bruises were caused by an OAP who belted the burglar with a knobkerrie. Of course! Why didn't we realise that an obscure African cosh would be the key? Probably because it was only shoved in at the end of the episode. By then, I felt like I'd been brained with a knobkerrie myself. Dangerfield is painful, but it still puts you to sleep.

Earlier in the week I expected something tougher on Classic Trucks. The name is perfect. This, it says, is a programme about trucks. And make no mistake, they're classic ones. The opening credits show a young Brando figure climbing aboard his enormous "rig" to a spaghetti-western soundtrack. Time for testosterone, time for Yorkie Bars, time for . . . a bus that chugs through a country village, while dry-as-drought John Peel says: "In 1914, the village of Ingham was connected to the outside world by a bus route." A history of the omnibus followed. As gentle as Dangerfield, perhaps, but more educational.

The first Heroes and Villains film was the disjointed but engrossing "Queen of the Desert" (BBC1). Jennifer Saunders was Lady Hester Stanhope, who, on this evidence, was neither a hero nor a villain, just a nutcase. As William Pitt's niece, she was at the centre of society in 1806. When he died, she headed east to Syria.

A mini-series would be needed to do the story justice. This film hopped around different times faster than Doctor Who in a doughty attempt to include the details. Each member of the supporting cast deserved a separate film, particularly Patrick Barlow's Dr Meryon, laughable and pathetic by turns, and so infatuated with Stanhope that he spends 30 years as her slave in the desert.

The film began seriously - Barlow's old-man make-up excepted - before giving in to some wonderful comedy in the middle section. Rather than playing a serious script for laughs, Saunders turned out to be the most sensible thing in it. Her acting is often trumpeted, but she excelled herself as the confused, frightened woman admitting her virginity to a man 13 years her junior. If the film revealed little of Stanhope's tale, it revealed more of Saunders' talents.

After Heroes and Villains came a passionate discussion about football. You may have missed this, but apparently some French player had kicked a supporter and everyone was making a big deal of it. I kept waiting for Frank Skinner to arrive, presuming thatI was watching Fantasy Football. But no, it was Question Time, and Cantona's outburst was being treated as gravely as the Northern Island question. David Alton MP called it a sign of "the violent society in which we live, where elderly people are afraidto travel on public transport". Oh, come on. How often do international soccer stars use public transport anyway?

Okay, so I'm no football fan, but I was even less of one by the time I'd seen That Clip on 15 news reports. Yes, it was a dramatic piece of soap opera, but should it have topped the Nine O'Clock News? Was the scuffle more impressive than the footage of Grozny? Or of the Auschwitz anniversary, which was the "And finally . . ." item on the ITN and BBC on Wednesday and Thursday, a slot usually reserved for tap-dancing terrapins. The anniversary was a puzzle for the broadcasters. Was it really news? Trevor McDonald called it "the most sombre of all the anniversaries of World War II", but what meaning do 50 years have that 49 years do not?

Each channel accompanied a survivor returning to Auschwitz. On News at Ten, the wind buzzed and popped in the microphone, and water dripped from the wire which framed Ricky Kennedy and his children as they walked into his blackest memory. "What terrible emotions I have about this," he told them, his stilted speech patterns imbuing his words with poetry. "I think we must get out of here."

All news media turn enormous, complex phenomena into human-interest stories. Here the practice was at its most forgivable and effective.

Allison Pearson's return has been unavoidably delayed. Her column will now appear next week.