TELEVISION
Well, it turns out that the self- referential TV critic within a TV critic wasn't quite dead after all (as I mistakenly hinted last week). Three and a half centuries later she could still be found (now just a disembodied head lolling in a basin) watching the works of Dennis Potter on TV. She exists in a totalitarian society in which there is nothing but Dennis Potter on TV, it having been decided at some point in the late 20th century that he was the only person who had ever written well for the medium and the only person who ever would.

Over the centuries the TV critic, or what's left of her, has become increasingly irate, but she cannot be heard by her attendants through all the liquid nitrogen. Her complaint is that Potter and all his minions got the word "cryogenics" wrong. He meant "cryonics"! Cryogenics is just a matter of putting the high electrical conductivity of frozen materials to industrial and scientific use. She fondly recalls soft, languishing, blue-remembered days spent in the local library (before she became a TV critic) reading Cold Facts Quarterly, the top cryogenics journal of the age, on the subject of gas vapour emission control systems, technical fibre products and helium condensers. Her only hope now of a refuge from Potter is if her own frozen noggin, already hitched hideously to various wires, is some day re-utilised as a light bulb ...

There's a sedentary quality to Cold Lazarus (C4/BBC1), and not just because the lab assistants zoom about, glued to their silly chairs. The plot is weighed down by references to Karaoke (which would only work if we were actually fond of any of the Karaoke characters), and by its own arrogant attitude to the future. Potter's dystopia makes the usual Panglossian assumption that no world could actually be better than the one we've got now, and the future is bound to be bleak. Here, in a cross between Fahrenheit 451 and Thunderbirds, a charmless global nation based on spying, repression, violence and movie moguls, is carelessly ruled over by Potter's simplistic personification of evil, the ageing but still libidinous Martina Masdon (Diane Ladd). She wants to cut off funding for research into Daniel Feeld's hibernating head. The sooner the better, I'd say! Can those scientists really find anything of interest in watching gobs of Daniel's dismal memories bulging out of the screen? As if to compensate for its own emptiness, the first episode rushed along at such a pace it was almost impossible to know what was going on.

Attempts at sardonic humour fell lifelessly to the floor all over the place. The future may include the slang phrase "ants crawling up your orifice", and a game called "Schmuck-dies", but so what? And the tycoons may all be female, with male bimbos at their side, attracted by power and corrupted by the occasional illegal substance, such as a cigarette ... The only joke that really worked was the elevation of the tune from the Martini ad to the status of classical music. But somehow Potter's pessimism seems utterly meaningless when updated to the year 2368.

It's light-years away from Doctor Who (BBC1) in entertainment value. I used to avoid Doctor Who, all tin foil and arch looks. In his latest incarnation, slick American-style TV sci-fi, all the irony is gone. None the less, it's fast-paced, comprehensible and colourful enough to keep you occupied. Dr Who turns up in San Francisco in 1999, where his Englishness is of course as weird as his timelessness. He also has two hearts, which leads to mishap when a cardiologist sets to work on him. Luckily, his previous life was almost over anyway, and he comes back as the rather good-looking Paul McGann (not the McGann who does the ironing in The Upper Hand but another one, I was relieved to note), humming Puccini.

The cardiologist is wearing a turquoise ball-gown and has a curl in the middle of her forehead, both good hints that she is not just a well-respected career woman but capable of becoming Dr Who's much inferior female cohort, whose skills come down in the end to whether or not she can set an alarm clock. The sub-plot is about humbling her: she may know something about heart surgery, but she's clueless about time-travel and basically belongs on the back of a motorbike. The earth is about to be sucked through the Eye of Harmony (matter is already becoming gelatinous), and she's thinking about champagne, or waiting to be kissed intergalactically! "Great! I finally meet the right guy and he's from another planet," she laments. Even in 1999, all women really want is marriage.

But when the wife of the ambulance man wakes up in the middle of the night and invites him to have sex, he kills her. Pretty normal marital behaviour, you might say, but in fact he's been taken over by a classic Freudian horror movie device, a vaginal goo with phallic properties. First it oozed along the ground and into pockets. Then it rose up, snakelike, and hurtled down the man's throat as he slept. It's the latest mode of transport employed by Dr Who's arch-enemy, the Master, its amorphousness reflecting his own sexual ambivalence. He's a mixture of Arthurian villain and your common-or-garden paedophile, quite taken with Lee, his helper, whom he calls "the Asian child", yet also ready to kiss the cardiologist when necessary to make her "more human". In anger he spits burning slime.

Dr Who offers comparatively feeble jelly babies and prophecies, but they seem to earn him affection across the universe. Like many reincarnated types, Dr Who claims to have known famous Europeans of past centuries, but he's teasingly patronising about the human race in general: "I love humans - always seeing patterns in things that aren't there." Well, he's only human on his mother's side, so it doesn't really count. Mr Spock was just the same.

Head-hunter Dave gets three hours' sleep a night. In this respect he feels he resembles Albert Einstein, and other "people who make a difference" by getting little sleep. He's working faster than any of his employees, who have no idea what they're meant to be doing. In fact, Dave might make more difference to the world around him if he just slowed down a bit (it might also help his lisp). According to Human Jungle (C4), though, we all sleep less than we did 20 years ago, people in cities walk twice as fast as people in small villages (the ones that haven't been run over by city-dwellers in fast cars, that is), and we are all in a continual state of "arousal". News to me.

Do elephants weep? Elephant Men (C4) tackled with excessive optimism the struggle to find solutions to the problem of rampaging elephants in north-east India. What formerly provided a happy environment for hungry wild elephants is now land cleared for rice fields. Ganesh- worship protects the elephants from outright slaughter, but enslavement is apparently permissible. Trained Uncle Tom elephants are used to capture wild ones and shove them into stockades, where they remain for up to two months. They're released only when tame and in chains, an achievement deemed by this dubious programme a sign of the "ancient partnership" between humans and elephants in India. Some partnership. Have they ever considered fencing? It was hard to see how the rice fields were in any way protected by a man forcing a baby elephant to sit. It sat - with tears falling from its eyes.

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