Poker-faced and playing snooker

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The Independent Culture
Once again the Snooker World Championships delivered the spectacle of human muscle tutored into a mechanical perfection. I don't mean all that stuff with the balls, though admittedly that's compelling enough - a beautiful Newtonian dance of vectors and transferred momentum. But the really gripping bit is the cutaway to the non-player - obliged to sit there without a twitch as his opponent wipes the table clean. Where do you learn the sort of self-control that allows you to sit as expressionless as a line-judge, just after you've bunny-hopped the white ball over a sitting-duck colour?

At the amateur level, the instinctive response to such a moment is very different: first you utter one of those contained, pressure-cooker screams - the sort that you give when you've just got the baby to sleep and step back on to a piece of Lego; then you beat your forehead sharply on the table edge and then you return to your chair muttering obscenities under your breath.

Not for Nigel Bond: if points were awarded for the unflickering endurance of pain he would have scooped the Championship easily. None of the others can touch him; Jimmy White sweats pallidly, like a man desperately calculating whether he has time to reach the toilet bowl, and even stone-faced Hendry winces now and then. Bond has some natural advantages, it's true; he has the sort of face you normally find being trailed by horses with black plumes. It's bred to the bone for long-faced looks. He also had rather more opportunity to practice his skills than his opponent, who was preoccupied with the more humdrum business of placing balls into holes. Even so, it was a marvellous performance, dazzlingly numb, sponsored by Novocaine. Someone at the BBC must agree that this is where the real drama lies; the traditional wrap up montage at the end - where the director cuts the memorable moments from the competition into a sporting pop video - was almost entirely taken up with facial inexpressivity, a celebration of snooker-faced restraint.

"We are now controlling the transmission," says the doomy voice at the beginning of The Outer Limits (BBC2), which might have been scary in the Sixties but now sounds like a statement of the obvious. Of course you are; that's why, as soon as The X-Files has disappeared into low-earth orbit, we get a schedule clone, another series offering sci-fi spookiness. Quite enjoyable, though, and a bit more thoughtful than The X-Files, which was always imaginatively incontinent in its plotting.

Last night's story concerned two brothers, competing for control of Metadyne Pharmaceuticals. Brother One (geeky, bespectacled, seeker after truth) is doing cutting edge research into recombinant DNA while Brother Two (sleek, predatory, seeker after money) is trying to take over the company. It strikes you that the principle genetic mystery is how these two were produced by the same set of parents, but the story has other concerns.

Sometimes it's hilarious - "We were trying to insert a gene into the Deighton C agent that would encourage cells to regenerate damaged tissue almost instantly," says Geek, explaining how he's invented the elixir of life. "Give that to me in 25 words or less," snaps back Sleek, making you a bit dubious about his boasted mastery of figures. But the episode also sprang some surprises with ideas rather than jump-cuts. You expect the villain to destroy the cure-all vaccine because of the future threat to profits; in fact he points out that birth without death would have catastrophic consequences for human ecology. The science is plausible nonsense, but it's rattled off fast enough so you wouldn't necessarily notice, and everything ends badly in the best possible way - Geek lives and Sleek, who's recklessly taken the new drug before it's been tested, is punished by a painful death through hair-loss.