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
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk