Silence in court, here comes the...(yawn)

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The Independent Culture
In his amiably cheeky Huw Wheldon lecture on Monday (BBC 2), Andrew Davies cited Arthur Miller's dictum about the pleasures of the "wholly known" character, mostly to support his complaint about the current scarcity of such creations. So, does Ja mes Kavanagh, the northern QC at the centre of ITV's new drama series, represent an addition to the breed? The answer is no, I think, but the question is somewhat complicated in this case by the fact that he is played by John Thaw, a name that advertises altogether different pleasures. The whole point of Inspector Morse was that he was barely known at all, a moody enigma with some stylish accessories to suggest depth. And, as Davies pointed out, you hire John Thaw to deliver an audience that liked what he did last time.

Since then the commercial value of complexity has risen a little further - Cracker established personal dysfunction as a marketable commodity, even within a stolidly popular form like the detective thriller, and Kavanagh QC (ITV) makes a stab at similar virtues by giving its lead character some family problems. Not very many, frankly, and not distinctly problematic either. Apart from that the thing is a well-polished assembly of cliches - urbane lawyers, office politics, forensic brilliance and the uncertainty of justice in an imperfect world. It's also afflicted with that odd languor that steals over programmes that want to make the money stretch; they've paid a lot for this so there's no question of rushing it. In this respect courtroom drama is useful as it provides the perfect excuse to use lines twice. "We had a row of sorts," says the witness. "A . . . row . . . of . . . sorts," says John Thaw, in tones of menacing rumination - and a little more of that expensive time is nibbled away.

One of the victims of the Ebola filovirus described in Plague Monkeys (ITV) lost three stone in as many days as a result of his uncontrollable diarrhoea. For the more impressionable viewers, I imagine that Network First's bio-hazard documentary may well have achieved a similar intestinal effect. When you hear a doctor saying, "Suddenly you have a threat to the entire human species" and there don't appear to be any buckles attached to his white coat, you sit up and take notice.

The less impressionable viewer, on the other hand, might have taken time out from doom-laden speculation to feel some disquiet about the programme itself, with its laxative combination of science-fiction horror and millenarian threat.

It's conceivable, of course, that our extinction might take the form of a Hollywood thriller, and you would hardly want journalists to keep quiet simply out of embarrassment at the fact. But this account of three outbreaks of a deadly new virus - swiftlyfatal, highly contagious, and almost kitschly Gothic in its effects (the sufferers weep blood) - seemed more intent on alarming than informing its audience. This might not be a good idea; people in panic tend to find their own scapegoats and the candidates in Plague Monkeys, with its shots of Zaire's flyblown markets and its insistence on the ease of modern jet travel, were unfortunately all too obvious.

There were some suggestions that it might not be a good idea to import so many primates without checking their health first (a late Christmas present to the anti-vivisection lobby) and a traveller's hint not to eat smoked monkey, a Zairian delicacy, but part of the force of the programme derived from the fact that the authorities are scared rigid already; one expert revealed that during the Ebola breakout the authorities had been close to putting the entire country into quarantine. In other words, the mood of the thing was not so much "Wake up, the house is on fire", as "If I can't sleep, you're not going to either".

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