REVIEW : There's nowt a stint down a hole won't cure

Like the last episode of Casualty, the first of the new series of Peak Practice (ITV) found itself down a hole.

Kevin Whately, dressed in acres of orange rubberwear, was up to his neck in mire, stuck down a pot-hole into which he had descended as part of the team sent in to rescue a school party in difficulty. He was not enjoying the experience: you could see thisfrom the blank look of claustrophobia that came over his face halfway through the rescue. It was a look that we had not seen since he was last stuck in the back of Inspector Morse's Jaguar being forced to listen to Cosi Fan Tutte.

In Peak Practice, Whately has transmogrified from being Morse's general dogsbody into a Derbyshire general practitioner. You might wonder what the point of sending a GP down a pot-hole on an emergency rescue mission is, since all he will be capable of doing when confronted by an injured party is prescribe a couple of Prozac and make an appointment with the specialist for six months time. But this is not reality, this is television doctor drama. And, faced with the camcorder-wielding true-life of programmes such as 999 or Blues and Twos, this is the kind of hole these medical series are forced into.

The reality of the GP's life - whingeing about fund-holding, signing petitions to keep the local hospital open, sticking pins in effigies of Virginia Bottomley - is simply too dull to launch a successful bid in the ratings internal market. So off Whatelygoes, into his hole.

This was no simple hole he found himself in, however. This was a plot-resolution hole, a place where all sorts of loose strands go to be tied. Thus Amanda Burton, as Whately's wife and partner, was seen at the beginning of the episode trying to persuade a depressed patient that what she really needed was counselling, not drugs. And, lo and behold, it was this woman's daughter who was stuck down the hole. And guess what, the woman cheers up no end after the rescue. That's easy then: no more Valium, just prescribe 24 hours down a pot-hole.

Burton herself (a rarity, incidentally - a woman who got out of Brookside alive) does not get to go down any holes. Her role, being a woman, is to look winsome and lovely as she stares out of her rain-lashed window wondering where her brave better half is. She does this filmed in a focus so soft it gives her every appearance the look of a coffee commercial: 999 meets Gold Blend, the future of medical drama.

According to one of the dozens of talking heads in Visions of Heaven and Hell (C4), the way things are going, most of us will not need a GP in 50 years time. Then, genetically programmed from the womb, mankind will be stronger, fitter, longer living and healthier.

On the other hand, we might well be the pawns of some madman who gets his hands on the technology and uses it for his own master-race-building purposes. It depends which talking head you believed. But since all of them were filmed from below by a camera that refused to keep still and were accompanied by a constant and relentless new-age backtrack, it was difficult to take any of them seriously (except, I should say, Tom Wilkie, the man from the Independent).

The programme was not nervous about its ambition as it attempted to discover what the future would be like. As it spanned everything from the Internet to the gene pool, you wondered what it had left itself to explore in forthcoming episodes.

Wherever it went in the technology universe, however, it uncovered a single unifying truth. The future is being decided by softly spoken Americans with beards. Faced with that prospect, most of us would prefer to repair to the nearest pot-hole.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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