Last night's television: Prodigy's passion is far from spent

Alex: A Passion for Life (Channel 4), Micro Men (BBC4), Scrubs (E4)

Sweeping views of golden Cambridge spires against an azure blue sky. An Old Etonian with regulation public-school hair and lurid college scarf sits in a fusty lecture before whizzing, gown flapping in the October breeze, down the Backs on two wheels.

For the first few scenes of Alex: a Passion for Life, you might have been watching any freshers' week documentary. Five minutes in was one of those typical ho-ho-ho-these-poshos-don't-know-how-to-boil-a-kettle scenes, yet with it came a potent reminder of the very atypical nature of this film's subject. "What are these for?" asked the director Paddy Wivell, a touch faux-naively perhaps, pointing at the red cords hanging down from the kitchen ceiling. "Did you pull it? Don't pull it!" panicked Alex, turning away from his tea-making tutorial. "It's my emergency alarm. It says I'm dying."

Alex Stobbs is no ordinary student. In January of last year, the Cutting Edge documentary A Boy Called Alex introduced us to this intensely likeable musical prodigy (not, it has to be said, words you often see together) who thanks to the ravages of cystic fibrosis had to swallow a dinner plate full of pills every day simply to survive. In this sequel, we found him a little more grown up, changed not one jot by his new-found "celebrity" (the original documentary resulted in four marriage proposals, apparently) and embarking on his first term as a choral scholar at King's College. Wivell's film balanced the ordinary details of teenage life – girlfriends, football, Harry Potter – with the extraordinary details of Alex's life – a wardrobe full of medication, twice-weekly care visits from his mother, the constant struggle to keep his weight up by eating eight bags of crisps and 10 Twixes a day (leading to a televisual first in which a dietician rebuked a teenager for not eating enough chocolate) and frequent, devastating, hospitalisations.



This time around, there was less emphasis on Alex's precocity and more on his mortality, thanks in no small part to a magnificent soundtrack of Bach's St Matthew Passion, the work Alex was preparing to conduct at his first professional engagement at Cadogan Hall. "One bad exacerbation could be his last illness," his doctor informed us, grimly. Still, Alex treated his worsening condition with matter-of-fact charm, noting quietly "Oh gosh, look at that!" when blood began to pour out of his feeding tube one morning.



He greeted the epic task of conducting the three-hour, 300-page score with similarly sunny equanimity ("Bloody hell, there's quite a lot to learn!") until, that is, he was given a terse ticking off by his lead violinist. Nothing daunted, the final segment saw him ascend the podium – wan, his neck bobbling above an enormous wonky white dicky bow – to achieve his long-held ambition. Having pulled off the glorious soundscape to deafening applause, he retreated, spluttering painfully, backstage where, too weak to accept the congratulations of his family, he shushed them into cowed silence. At once remarkable and unbearable to watch.



Also set in Cambridge was Micro Men, a stand-alone drama about friends turned rival inventors Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry, who brought about the home computing boom in late Seventies and Eighties Britain, with the ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro respectively. For a piece billed as "affectionately comic", it came across as a particularly unaffectionate, even snarky retelling, poking fun at such oh-so-tasteless period markers as oxtail soup, floppy collars, Duran Duran and Alan Sugar's mid-Eighties bouffant (actually, they can poke away at that) and reducing the two pioneers to little more than typically British eccentrics tinkering in sheds.



As Sinclair, Alexander Armstrong, with an egghead and a stick-on orange beard, resembled a rather irascible garden gnome, speaking with a Blackadder-inflected slithery hiss of a voice ("It looks like it was built by a blind Bulgarian bricklayer!" was one particularly plosive outburst). As Curry, Martin Freeman was, well, Martin Freeman-esque as usual, perhaps with a touch of hangdog Tim from The Office. Leaving aside the fact that there is something fundamentally undramatic about watching people build circuit boards (even if it is against the clock), there's a good story in here somewhere, providing a fascinating snapshot of a pre-PC, pre-internet era. A child of the Eighties, I couldn't help thinking that Sir Clive, the man who brought Hungry Horace to the masses – bad tempered, loopily single-minded and frequently misguided he may have been – deserved a little better.



Finally, welcome back Scrubs, still in fine fettle as it embarks on its eighth season. This time there's a new chief in the shape of Dr Maddox, a brittle arachnophobic of the "treat 'em and street 'em" school, played with aggressive zeal by Courteney Cox, not quite vanquishing the ghost of Monica from Friends. There are new interns, too, of whom the hilariously abrasive Denise (Eliza Coupe) is currently my favourite, her idea of a bedside manner being to snap "your jaundice makes you glow", while looking in the other direction. Otherwise, it's more of the same blend of sentimentality and surrealism – JD still has verbal diarrhoea, his dysfunctional bromance with Turk reaches new levels of weirdness, Elliot is even more horribly self-involved and Dr Cox still can't smile. It's good to have them back.







Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
The party's over: Paul Higgins and Stella Gonet in 'Hope' at the Royal Court

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special

Broadcaster unveils Christmas schedule

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital