TV Review of Network First
It sketched in the background to genetic research and the possible medical applications, as well as the ethical disquiets these advances arouse. In its structure, there was no question that it had taken on an advocate's role - it swiftly introduced the sort of children who might benefit from improved gene therapy (sick children being a notoriously resistance-crunching tactic) and it even offered a benign sylvan alternative to those visions of brigades of Saddam Husseins marching in lockstep across the land. A group of bereaved parents were planting a memorial wood, each sapling representing a dead child and each sapling cloned from the Great Oak in Sherwood Forest. Not all of the reassurances offered were entirely successful - Robert Winston, for example, brushed away fears that insurance companies might use genetic testing to create a society of genetic haves and have- nots: "To my mind", he said, "that's pretty fatuous, because it doesn't show a good understanding of how genes actually work." But whoever said insurance companies had to behave reasonably? Given that they already discriminate on the basis of postal codes, it seems unlikely that they would draw the line at biological ones; and it would be scant consolation in such circumstances to know that they were acting fatuously.
On the whole, though, Network First worked to placate unreasonable fears. As if to press home its point, after some concessions to the anxious in the final third of the programme, it concluded with the sight of two small boys suffering from MPS, a genetic disorder which results in stunted growth, brain damage and premature death. There could hardly have been a more vivid demonstration of the perversity of giving more argumentative weight to imaginary monsters than the deforming sadness of real diseases. The hopes of the doctors in the programme, even when expressed with some caution, brought home to you the fact that we are living right now in the future's unregretted past, a time to which people may well look back and say, "Thank God I didn't live then - before gene therapy was perfected."
All the more strange, then, that the film should resort so often to established television shorthand for scientific dread. It began with a sheep anaesthetised on an operating table, and supported that vaguely disquieting surrealism with an X Files soundtrack, a familiar combination of menacing chimes and icy sostenuto. As the film proceeded, research was consistently represented by the visual vocabulary of the mad scientist's lab - frothing beakers spilling out a sinister mist, the inhuman robotic motions of automated equipment, even, most striking of all, a carefully modernised version of the levitating spark indispensable to Thirties horror movies. As the voiceover intoned the fateful words "The moment when life is created", you cut suddenly from microscopic film of a human egg to a flashing oscilloscope. The soundtrack fizzed with the sound of an electrical arc.
This was not a detail the film-makers had stumbled across in their travels - oscilloscopes don't make such a noise unless you make them and, in any case, it's hard to imagine one being employed in the procedure being filmed. This image had been created quite specifically to say "Frankenstein" without actually having to voice the word. While the spoken text of the programme was in effect telling you to calm down, the visual images were prying loose buried associations of superstition, the primitive sense of transgression so often evoked by advances in knowledge. Perhaps this is now assumed to be the only currency with which the general public can be bribed to watch a work of scientific exposition.
tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 3 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 4 Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting
- 5 Man hospitalised with pneumonia after downing eggnog at office Christmas party
Christmas Day TV guide 2014: What to watch from Strictly Come Dancing to the story of Frozen
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Felicity Jones on being Stephen Hawking's wife in The Theory of Everything: 'I didn't want her to be a saint'
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader