Last Night's TV - Britain's Greatest Codebreaker, Channel 4; The Boarding School Bomber, BBC3


There's always a question, with drama-documentary, as to which is the crutch and which the invalid.

Is this a play that needed a prop, in other words, or a documentary that felt unable to stand on its own two feet? In Britain's Greatest Codebreaker, a tribute to the mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing, the documentary material far outweighed the dramatised sequences, but you were still left with a sense that what it really wanted to be was a play; a clever, Michael Frayn sort of affair, in which the intellectual biography was raided for metaphors for the life. In fact, it got a little heavy-handed with that desire: "You want my dreams because you say that dreams are a cipher and you say that you are able to render them into plain text and find in them the content that I secretly wish to convey to you," said Turing to his Dr Greenbaum. Later, he glumly concluded that he might be uncrackable: "I've tried to decode myself, but I can't get outside myself to do it." Dr Greenbaum, meanwhile, a lot more garrulous than you might expect from an old-school Freudian, did his bit in return, discussing Turing's ideas about artificial intelligence. "How can it be called thinking if it's drained of all this fragile broken-heartedness," he asked, suggesting that it isn't logic that makes us human but its opposite.

These scenes were quite nicely played by Ed Stoppard as Turing and Henry Goodman as Greenbaum. And they carried a fair amount of information about Turing's sentimental life, including his idealised devotion to a boyhood friend called Christopher Morcom and the criminal charge that eventually ruined his life. But they couldn't entirely be trusted to convey the real message of the programme, which was that we – as inhabitants of a computer-dependent world – owe Turing everything. For that we needed testifying experts, including Steve Wozniak (who founded Apple with Steve Jobs) and Turing's biographer David Leavitt. Without Turing's ground-breaking paper, "On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem", they implied, no iPad, no smartphone, no internet, nothing.

I'm not sure how true that is. Was the computer one of those inevitable inventions, towards which human knowledge was inexorably driving? Or was it a fork in the road we might have sailed past if Turing hadn't spotted the turning? Either way, his genius and originality were undeniable, and the cruelty with which he was eventually treated decidedly shaming. After a pick-up had robbed his house, Turing guilelessly reported the matter to the police, who turned out to be far more interested in buggery than burglary. He was eventually offered the choice between a prison sentence and a crude form of chemical castration and fatally opted for the latter. Depressed by the effects on his body, and continuing harassment by the police, he's believed to have committed suicide by eating a cyanide-doped apple (Snow White was one of his favourite films). In 2009, Gordon Brown apologised on behalf of the British government: "We're sorry. You deserved so much better." It was a hazardous quote on which to end a biographical documentary, but, despite the film's shortcomings, I think they just about got away with it.

When Andrew Ibrahim's mother got a telephone call from him to say that he'd converted to Islam her first reaction was "Oh God, not again... another fad." Andrew, now Isa, had already been through skateboarding, alcohol and heroin, but religion proved the most dangerous fad – a gateway drug to the jihadi extremism that eventually led him to plan a bomb attack on a Bristol shopping centre. The Boarding School Bomber was a bit like Four Lions without laughter to ease the discomfort – a sad account of a troubled teenager looking for somewhere to belong, and saddest of all when his mother was on screen. He never got to set off his bomb, but he'd blown up her life.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine