Yesterday's TV - Decade of Doctors, Doctors, Missing

Detectives draw a blank
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The Independent Culture

For those in regular, nine-to-five employment, daytime TV is another country – a foreign but strangely familiar landscape whose most regular visitors are presumably students, job-seekers, shift workers, housewives and retirees. Professional TV critics rarely bother to stop over and take in the sights, although noticing that BBC Publicity was flagging up a second series of the daytime drama Missing as "critically acclaimed" made me think that it was time to renew my passport. That and the 10th anniversary of Doctors, a daytime drama that regularly gets nominated for Baftas, and last year won three British Soap Awards.

"Critically acclaimed" is a description of Missing I should perhaps have taken with a pinch of salt since the same press notes describe Pauline Quirke's character, DS Mary Jane Croft, as "charismatic", when frankly I've seen more charismatic mattresses. With a voice that rarely gets out of second gear, and an acting style that could be described as relaxed, Quirke is one among a number of seasoned telly faces appearing in this show – and it seems only fitting that a drama employing Quirke, as well as Gillian Taylforth and Mark Wingett from The Bill, should be set in a missing-persons unit.

Without a Trace it wasn't, and I struggled to interest myself in why electrician Nev had disappeared on his stag night. The whole thing didn't seem so much thin as threadbare, and after this one-off visit I don't feel able to add to the "critical acclaim". I was much more impressed by Doctors, a drama that seems to have made a virtue of its restricted budget and fast turnover to come up with unfussy, economical storytelling that a could teach a thing or two to its richer, but increasingly far-fetched prime-time cousins. The acting was good too, and the police interrogation scenes in yesterday's episode were far more convincing than those in EastEnders' recent Archie Mitchell whodunit.

This was actually the second part of a double-episode called "Fear of the Dark", but joining it at half-time, "In the Dark" might have been a better title. One of the characters was an old woman, Alice, who had some form of forgetful dementia, and for anyone fearing that one day that they may become have the same condition, here is a good brain-training exercise: try joining a long-running soap or drama for the very first time, and working out who is who, and what their back story is.

Either by dint of my superior powers of deduction, or because the scriptwriters had been busy making sure that they didn't lose any of their slower viewers, I soon worked out that there was a psychopathic conman on the loose, pretending to be a locum GP, and, having inveigled his way into Alice's home, was now busy sizing up her valuables. A doughty sort from the generation who saw off Hitler, Alice eventually twigged that the phoney locum was up to no good and, demonstrating an enviable back-swing, broke his hand with a fairway iron.

Doctors was handily followed by Decade of Doctors, a new series of five- minute documentaries celebrating the 10th anniversary of a show that now pumps out an impressive 234 episodes a year. Diane Keen (1,285 episodes) narrated the programme, while Christopher Timothy (955 episodes) appeared to tell us how grateful he was for a regular role because, after All Creatures Great and Small, "I couldn't get arrested". But if these actors seemed like a throwback to an earlier era of British TV, one of the executive producers also made the point that in its unfussy naturalistic way, Doctors is in the fine tradition of Play for Today. I might have mocked such a claim once, but not now.

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