Today's Television

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I don't get lost on the Underground anymore," says Richard, describing himself to some unseen interviewer in the opening sequence of Neverwhere (BBC2). Don't speak too soon Richard, for a bloody visitant from another world is about to fall in front of your feet, disrupting your pushy fiancee's plans for a networking dinner and plunging you into a labyrinth of service tunnels and dry ice. I beg your pardon - that should have read "a dark chthonic inversion of superficial reality".

I suspect that my own organ of fantasy has long since atrophied through underuse. If a character in an ostensibly realistic novel suddenly starts to fly across the room, then, in my case, the novel usually follows suit. This prejudice isn't impervious - I like The Wizard of Oz a lot and Orfeo is one of my favourite operas - but, on the whole, I would argue that creators who think the world is too dull without some fantastical additions have missed the point - or knowingly evaded it. This holds good for playtime, too - if a cracking game of Dungeons and Dragons is what you're after, then I'm not your three- horned troll-slayer.

Which is a long-winded way of disqualifying myself from a review of Neil Gaiman's live-action graphic novel, brought to the small screen by Lenny Henry's production company. What it's got, I don't want - from the junk- yard medievalism that appears obligatory in such things (the underworld is divided into baronies and fiefdoms), to the costume-party assembly of characters. When the Marquis de Carabas, a haughty black dandy, appears, or Old Bailey, a roof-dwelling rook-dealer in a feather overcoat, they make me think of toys, not mythical archetypes - of plastic figures, complete with tiny accessories doom-ed to clatter up a vacuum nozzle.

For people who do want this sort of thing - who want to collect the whole set - Neverwhere may well prove intoxicating, with its invention of an alternative London, accessible through the manholes of the real city. More discriminating fans may quibble at the visual thinness of the video image or at performances which suggest that some of these people survive on a diet of ham-slices, discarded by up-world sandwich bars. They might wonder, too, about the inconsistencies of Gaiman's universe - which permits his distressed heroine a cute incompetence with up-world etiquette, but doesn't disqualify her from casual acquaintance with such street-level phrases as "Give me a break". On the other hand, Neverwhere supplies in copious measure what makes graphic novels so successful - solemn opacities, dialogue of arch (and occasionally erroneous) verbosity and plenty of bad puns. The saving graces, if you are obliged to watch, are the comedy baddies, Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar, specialists in "tutelary dentistry". I think they actually mean "tutorial", but you get the idea.

Of course, the market leader in this field is The X Files (BBC1), which ended a seven-month cliff-hanger by revealing that Mulder had not been incinerated in a boxcar (you could have knocked me down with a buzzard feather bracelet), but had escaped, to be nursed back to health by the immemorial wisdom of his Native American friends (sweat lodges, astral travel, commerce with the dead - the whole pharmacopoeia). The last time I wrote about The X Files, I got almost everything wrong, a revelation of ignorance that did not go unpunished by its loyal fans. So I think I'm disqualified from reviewing this one, too, quite apart from the fact that I can't begin to comprehend the allure of its mash of bogus religiosity and anti-rational bigotry. In Scully, loyal but sceptical, The X Files had a notional hand-brake on the headlong rush to credulity, but, this week, the hand-brake found a microchip in her neck and slipped off the ratchet. I used to think that this stuff was just harmless fun, but I'm not so sure anymore - I think it might be a government conspiracy designed to turn the voters into unquestioning zombies - or rather zombies who ask all the wrong questions.