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
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker