Last Night's Viewing: Catching a Killer - Crocodile Tears, Channel 4
Dara O Briain's Science Club, BBC2

 

In retrospect, of the many macabre vignettes that arose from the Philpott case, perhaps the very strangest was one that took place by appointment with the media. Mick Philpott, leaning against his wife Mairead, a tissue clutched to his eyes, his shoulders shaking, his face cast down: a plausible simulacrum of a man weighed down by grief.

And yet, throughout his press conference, Mick Philpott shed no tears. He made no appeal for the killer to come forward. He gurned in weird, alarming explosions of anguish between passages of calm. Darshna Soni, who was covering the story for Channel 4 News, remembered it on Catching a Killer – Crocodile Tears last night. "As soon as he left the room for a few seconds, we were all just completely stunned," she said. "We were all thinking: what on earth have we just witnessed?"

You can see why the topic appealed to the documentary's producers. There's something grimly fascinating about watching such displays in retrospect: the rare chance to see a liar at work in full, confident knowledge of his artifice, and the detective game of looking out for hints at the deceit. Whether there's enough in that voyeuristic interest to support an hour-long film is, on this evidence, less clear.

The idea was to use the examples of the Philpott case alongside the murders of Tia Sharp and Shafilea Ahmed to expose what was termed a "change in tactics": a new media-savvy, brand-conscious breed of murderer with a PR strategy to match their plans for the courtroom. With Philpott, that case is easy to make. The endlessly aired clips from Ann Widdecombe's documentary about his household, his surreal appearance on The Jeremy Kyle Show, and the fact that the whole point of his vile, idiotic arson was to cast himself as a hero all contribute to the argument that it makes much more sense to view this man as a product of "Celebrity" than "Welfare" Britain.

The problems came in the other two stories. Even as the voiceover insisted that Stuart Hazell's murder of Tia Sharp aligned with Philpott's case, we watched a man not pursue the limelight but become visibly unsettled whenever he was forced to stand in it. And while there is something undoubtedly disturbing about the footage of Iftikhar Ahmed and his wife, Farzana, hijacking a police press conference to insist that they did not kill their daughter, it must be remembered that – even though the case only concluded this year – those events took place in 2007. Such evidence doesn't really seem to support the case that this is a phenomenon on the rise.

Had the film spent more time talking to experts about the background and rationale for such PR stunts – probing in a bit more detail, for example, the role that lawyers and the police themselves play in the decision to go public – it might have felt more justified. As it was, the rehashed details of these horrible crimes seemed a little off the point. Such manipulative criminal behaviour is transfixing, to be sure. But by the end I was still unconvinced that these people were really so different from the more ordinary sort of killer.

More cheerful fare was on offer on BBC2, where Dara O Briain and an intrepid team of eggheads returned for a second series of his Science Club. With a set heavily inspired by Top Gear and the same jovial presenter who hosts Mock the Week, the agenda here is as clear as it was last time around, and there were moments when the earnestly intended, Christian-rock-style fusion of hilarity and science felt horribly strained. But O Briain is a winning host, smart enough to ask the right questions and normal enough to let the experts answer them, and he had one crucial factor in his favour: the science, all about the way the mind can be controlled, was incredibly interesting. You can't imagine Clarkson pulling it off.

twitter.com/archiebland

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

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.

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style