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The Independent Culture
Less a drama series; more a karaoke nursery. That was the state of Soldier, Soldier (ITV) by the end of the last run, when bruised-face warblers Robson and Jerome finally flew the coop. Last night's series- opener got back to basics, drafting a clutch of new faces into an episode mostly about tanks.

Challenger and Warrior tanks (but, disappointingly, no Shermans): these were the armoured vehicles in which our fresh new squaddies lurched about, spraying blanks all over the training field. With nominally mud-striped cheeks, they leapt from their vehicles and gazed up admiringly at the paras overhead. Sergeant Chris offered a rude awakening: "My granny could run the 10,000 metres in the time you've taken... Move your bloody arses!"

Meanwhile, the women were discussing babies in the hair salon. Sexual equality in the forces? Not in the King's Own Fusiliers, at any rate. There was a bizarre sub-plot in which Deborah (not pregnant) switched urine samples with her erstwhile friend Cate (pregnant), so that Debs could get a free family house with her soldier boyfriend. Put these scheming minxes out on the battlefield, and the enemy wouldn't stand a chance.

Lieutenant Jeremy Forsythe (Ben Nealon, an exemplarily geometric man who boasts a triangle where his mouth should be) had trouble with his African fiancee, Lilian. She didn't go down well in the clubby leather-armchair ambience of the officers' mess, and was about to call the whole thing off. Luckily, Jeremy's tank fell upside-down into a river and he nearly died. That was enough for Lilian to deliver a stirring hospital bed-side speech about how they were strong enough to combat racism.

It was hard to judge the new characters, as they were mostly yomping through driving rain at night, or dimly chatting up girls in a dimly-lit pub. But James Callis, at least, as young Major Tim Forrester, oozes star quality. Whether breaking up a fight and shouting "Piss off!" with fruity botheredness, or offhandedly saving Jeremy's tank from watery doom, he was the very image of stiff-upper-lip officerdom.

None of which answers the still-urgent question: what is Soldier, Soldier actually for? Perhaps it is secretly funded by the Army: look lads, join us and you won't actually have to kill people - no, messy business that - just zoom around in top technology and get bladdered in the evenings. Or perhaps it is funded by the Treasury to justify budget cuts in the Forces, revealing as it does the pointlessness of Britain retaining such a bloated war machine. Whatever, the audience loves it. And 14 million people can't be wrong.

Still, a person shares 60 per cent of his or her DNA with a banana. And you can easily imagine 14 million bananas being wrong. This factoid popped up in The Chemistry of (Almost) Everything (BBC2), a snazzy new series melding QED with the Open University. Its remit is clearly to rid chemistry of its dandruffy-old-buffer-with-a-Bunsen-burner connotations. A fine job was done: presenter Mike Bullivant, a groovy cove in a grey sweatshirt, ripped up a periodic table and stuck a lone letter C in our faces, having arrived via impeccable logic at the conclusion that carbon must be the element most essential to life.

This first film concentrated on "creation", but since this is not America, the new wave of depressingly named "creation scientists" were not even offered a microphone. Instead, we were shown the genius of Stanley Miller's 1956 lab experiment, where he simulated lightning striking the primeval slime, and thereby synthesized nine amino acids. Buried in this black- and-white footage was a further intimation, after last week's enjoyable programme on Star Trek physics, that science imitates art. Because Miller surely must have got the idea from all those early Frankenstein movies.

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