Last Night's TV: Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery BBC4
Trawlermen, BBC1

Head masters with esprit de gore

Surgery remains the most gloriously B-movie of medical specialities, a field in which the phrase "cutting-edge science" repudiates the usually bloodless nature of the cliché. Other fields of medicine get more abstract and intangible, more distanced from their crude origins, but, for all the machinery and all the advances, this one still has to get its hands sticky, dabbling around in the gore. In the first part of Blood and Guts: a History of Surgery, Michael Mosley suggested that he would describe the historical transition of surgery from "butchery to brilliance". In fact, he engrossingly demonstrated that separating the two isn't easy when it comes to surgical advance. No feast without cruelty, and no brilliance without butchery, either, you might be inclined to argue.

Take Kathryn, for example, a 28-year-old florist who'd been having problems with epilepsy and now found herself pinned to an operating table while a team of brain surgeons prised the dome of her skull off like the top of a hard-boiled egg. Inside sat something that looked like an unusually gelatinous summer pudding: the outer coating of Kathryn's brain. And while she chattered to the nurse, her surgeon zapped her grey matter to make sure that he didn't remove anything functional when he came to remove the growth that was causing the trouble. There was a time when this procedure would probably have proved fatal. "Just getting in usually exsanguinated the patient," explained a medical historian, a polite way of saying that the incision would power-spray the surgeon with blood. But then an American called Harvey Cushing decided he'd have a crack at improving the mortality rates and worked out a way to peel people's heads without losing all the juice.

By all accounts, Cushing wasn't really a fun guy at a party, unless you wanted to talk about his collection of brain samples, but then a streak of ghoulish hobbyist enthusiasm connected several of the surgical pioneers encountered here. The most unnerving of them was Dr Walter Freeman, the American doctor who developed the frontal lobotomy, and then peddled it as a mental cure-all. Seeking to speed up the operation, he refined the technique of the transorbital lobotomy, which essentially consisted of hammering an ice-pick in through the eye socket and waggling it around in a hopeful way. This terrifying procedure was even performed on Howard, a 12-year-old boy who'd been acting up with his new stepmother, each stage of the operation recorded in photographs that should have successfully swabbed up that small percentage of the audience that hadn't yet fainted or brought up its supper.

Amazingly, the patient still survived, and, in a genuinely intriguing moment, Mosley took him off to an MRI scanner to see what damage had been done, the first time one of Freeman's many lobotomy patients had ever been investigated in this way. The scan revealed two gaping black holes in Howard's frontal lobes, the last place you'd want to damage if you were hoping to improve someone's self-control. Howard inspected his vandalised brain with an understandably pensive air, the thoughts in his mind somehow successfully skirting the craters left behind by medical hubris.

As if to counterbalance this grisly tale, Mosley kept returning to Kathryn on the operating table, living evidence that surgery could be benign as well as malignant in its effects. Or, rather, that dubious experimentation may lead to indubitable benefits. Jose Delgado, the neuroscientist who'd wired up a fighting bull so that he could switch its aggression on and off at will struck me as being worryingly flamboyant for a scientist, but without his work you probably wouldn't have the achievement the programme concluded with: a Parkinson's patient whose symptoms had been alleviated with a built-in battery pack and deep-brain electrodes. Mosley makes an engaging presenter, and gamely scrambled his own brain signals with a powerful magnet at one point to show how no amount of concentration can overcome electrical interference with the jelly computer we call our brain. But if you're at all squeamish, make sure you've got somewhere soft to land before you switch on.

In Trawlermen, back for a third series of pitching wildly from side to side, John D Buchan, wedged securely into a corner of the Ocean Venture's wheelhouse, explained that he hoped one day to match his father's prowess as a fisherman. The only problem right now was what he called "this Mother Nature carry-oan", a somewhat understated description of a storm that would have had most of us whimpering below decks somewhere, praying for a speedy end. Meanwhile, on the Arcane, Charlie McBride was having an even worse day at work. He's got six months to pay a £400,000 fine for selling fish outside his quota, but within 48 hours he was down another £30,000 after losing a fishing net and having his hydraulic system collapse. If you've been grumbling about the weather recently or worrying about the credit crunch, this series should restore a little perspective.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Arts and Entertainment
The Vienna State Opera
opera
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'
musicLilly Wood and Robin Schulz bag number one single
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.

    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories