Five Daughters, BBC1<br/>Iron Chef UK, Channel 4

A powerful docudrama on the 'Suffolk Strangler's' victims showed them as individuals first, drug addicts second, and sex workers last
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The Independent Culture

What's in a headline? Take the one on the BBC website that announced the production of Five Daughters last year: it may have plugged the three-part series as a "serial killer drama", but in fact this dramatisation of the murders of five women in Ipswich in 2006 couldn't have been less interested in the killer Steve Wright.

If, at the time of the investigation, Wright had been perversely lionised as the "Suffolk Strangler", here he was nothing more than a cipher of doom, a pair of headlights cruising the town's red- light district where he picked up his victims. And, in choosing instead to focus on these victims, writer Stephen Butchard redressed more misleading headlines: those that had referred to the victims as "vice girls", "hookers" or "prostitutes". Here, we were presented with confused young women first, drug addicts second, sex workers last, whose method of feeding their habit neither constituted a career nor had extinguished their dreams of a better life.

In relaying that simple, humanising message, Five Daughters succeeded magnificently. As the narrative baton passed from girl to girl in the days before their deaths, so the drama teetered between hope and despair. There was Anneli Alderton (Jaime Winstone), fresh out of prison, giddy with her ambition to open a hairdressing business. There was Gemma Adams (Aisling Loftus), cajoling her boyfriend into taking her to drug rehab so she could regain her bright eyes and nice-smelling hair. And Annette Nicholls (Eva Birthistle), heard reciting entries from her diary ("I'm not a bad person. I'm not a waste of time, space or oxygen ...") at once defiant and poignantly childish. In these moments, it was possible to be seduced into a false optimism that belied the narrative's awful inevitability. Finally, as each slid off into the night, without sensation, you were left to reflect on docudrama's great worth, and a sense of waste more profound than any documentary could convey.

If there was a complaint, it was that the attention paid to the victims' addiction did not extend to the causes, an allusion to Alderton's reaction to her father's death notwithstanding. Produced, as the drama was, with the co-operation of their families, one could only surmise that this was a matter of sensitivity, the raking over of private domestic histories being more than grief could bear. But in any case this was not a narrative that lacked for meat on its bones, with the personal tragedies counterpointed by the public predicaments of the local police and drug outreach workers, both caught between winning the trust of the girls and dealing with the cat-calls of the media and the Nimby brigade. Altogether, it represented the exalted yin to Secret Diary of a Call Girl's exploitative yang; primetime drama doesn't get better than this.

Nor does cooking get more crackpot than Iron Chef UK. The nadir of the glut of food programming clogging the schedules' arteries, it's been described as a hybrid of Masterchef and Gladiators, though the extraordinarily hyperactive editing means that description must be taken on good faith.

What could be deciphered from Monday's opener involved a set borrowed from an am-dram version of Battlestar Galactica, a grimacing Braveheart extra with two Michelin stars, his four nondescript challengers and an insipid food critic complimenting dishes on being "really gastro-pub". Far too self-consciously campy for its own good, it's worth dipping into just to witness the full horror of guffawing Ken-doll host Olly Smith. Grating enough on Saturday Kitchen, here he comes complete with the most excruciating set of soundbites ("ooh you're making me hungry and I want to eat your words!") this side of an election campaign.

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