Television (Review): Beam me up, Dr Jim, before I boldly go

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The Independent Culture
LAST NIGHT, Everyman (BBC 1) offered you a psychologist wielding a placard headed, 'All I need to know about life I learned from Star Trek' - a poster which assembles a number of Trekkie aphorisms, such as 'Tribbles hate Klingons' and 'Don't put all your ranking officers in one shuttlecraft'. Dr Jim Goodwin was taking a patient through the finer points of 'boldly going' when you first saw this therapeutic tool, but he must be fond of the can-do spirit of, 'If it can't be fixed - just ask Scotty'. For Dr Goodwin is an engineer of the human soul, a believer in the cure-all powers of the antidepressant Prozac. Not so much engineer, actually, as Kwik-Fit fitter - all his patients receive the same diagnosis and the same treatment, some within minutes of walking through the door.

With a leading character like this, the film-maker doesn't need to do much more than stay in focus, but Paul Sapin had done more anyway, approaching the film's serious concerns with a sly and playful eye. At the beginning, his camera floated over a high ridge to discover a toytown community nestling in the valley below - a dreamy, Shangri-La shot underscored by the slow schmooze of Sinatra. The David Lynch feel was emphasised by the woozy glide of the tracking shots and the polyester chirpiness of the local DJ's; 'you're listening to Wenatchee's alternative to Prozac', said one, 'So take a dose, the doctor is in]' On a nearby rooftop an animated Red Indian rolled its eyes with synthetic glee.

But none of this disrupted the larger issue, the question of whether Dr Goodwin's advocacy of chemical serenity constitutes malpractice or a voice crying in the wilderness. He thinks he's an apostle, confronting a terror that it might, after all, be that easy. Others think he's unethical, peddling a simplistic escape from the very essence of our mundane life. His patients support him with an over-bright zeal, the tremulous radiance of a bulb that is about to blow.

Personally, I thought Dr Goodwin had all the attributes of the cast-iron huckster, from the home-grown jargon ('you've been 'musterbating' Sandy', he admonished one of his patients) to the glassy conviction with which he puts his case. For those depressed by his vision of a brave new world, Sapin included an antidote - the simple nous of a farmer in the local barber's shop. 'I tried one of those Valiums on ma dog once . . .', he said. 'Guess I could try Prozac on my cat now, it's gettin' kinda testy'.

The Dead (BBC 2), a commemoration of those killed during 25 years of the Troubles, brought home the fact that Prozac might not make you a happier person, just a more indifferent one. The bereaved here had good cause to feel misery, but their grief gave some continuity to those they had lost. Their hearts had been broken but what sort of life could you lead with an anaesthetised heart?

I was unsure about the principle device used in Peter Dale's film, the unfurling of a plain black-bordered banner to mark the site where a death had occurred; it seemed an intrusion of design where it wasn't needed, a display of aesthetic good taste when all you wanted was moral decorum. But his film was brave, even slightly perturbing, in not shrinking from the fact that among the fallen there are some who did the pushing. It included killers like Dominic McGlinchey in its long litany of the killed and it reminded you that 'own- goals', in that vindictive tag, have mothers too. This wasn't a shallow argument that the death of a murderer is just as terrible as the death of a young girl or a policeman - but it brought home the fact that those left behind are united in grief, if nothing else.