Morse turns a dull university town into something sinister, and the only possible reaction is glee; He should never go on dates. All his sex appeal emanates from being on the case, not sipping wine
O FRABJOUS day! A bunch of pervs in Park Town, evil doings in Wytham Wood, and all of Oxford rife with villainy, from the antiquarian bookshops to the Woodstock roundabout: Morse was back. He has a way of turning a dull university town into something remarkably sinister, and the only possible reaction is glee. As the one- off Inspector Morse (ITV) demonstrated, without him Oxford's true character might never be revealed. Morse had been away sunning himself in Beirut, according to Lewis. Bayreuth, corrected Morse. At any rate, in his absence the police force had gone to pot.

The divisions between Morse and Lewis were deeper than ever, in fact caricatured. Beneath his gruff demeanour Morse is a great mind, while Lewis is all dog's body - at his best (and much safer) when trailing around under Morse's command. Left to his own devices, he only got himself into a life-threatening situation from which Morse had to save him. Quick as a flash, Lewis quoted Kipling, without knowing it was Kipling. And so it goes: cultural snobbery of a particularly Oxonian nature.

Minor villains in Inspector Morse are obvious: they maltreat their nearest and dearest and get a charge out of tacking girlie pictures to the wall. The real baddies are more likeable. This time, it was a serene and pretty lass who emerged from the forest swinging a pail. She shot her husband, just for mentioning pregnancy. And all because - yes, you guessed it - she was sexually abused as a child.

Morse was still sporting his Kavanagh QC hair-do, with a very tidy and unpleasant curl to it at the back. His face is less predictable. I waver between wondering why everyone finds him so scrumptious, and finding him so myself. It's his melancholy which is the perverse turn-on. In real life it would get you down, but on TV it's magnetic. As usual, we were tantalised a little by the prospect of some romance for him. Shunning the inevitable female pathologist (Colin Dexter seems obsessed with the idea of presentable young women performing autopsies), Morse took to an ageing, bookish type. In fact, she was an actual bookseller, which could have come in handy for such an erudite fellow. But Morse should never go on dates. The sex appeal emanates from Morse on the case, not Morse sipping wine and trying to forget about work (hence the flop of A Year in Provence). But it was all for nought anyway, since she turned out to be sordidly involved with her own brother-in-law, a sex-starved college bursar. "Poor Alan" had been forced to resort to all sorts of seedy sexual activity because his wife went loopy after their daughter was killed by a hit-and-run driver. It's quite hard to decide who was forgotten soonest by the plot, the wife or the daughter, while we were encouraged to concentrate on Alan and his "needs".

A very different approach is taken to a woman suffering from sexual deprivation. Such discomfort provoked no pity from the makers of Secret Lives: Marie Stopes (C4). She was fairly insatiable - in her journal of "sexual excitement in solitude" she recorded innumerable spontaneous orgasms enjoyed when asleep (but perhaps she faked a few). Ironically, the difficulties she encountered in obtaining the sexual gratification and freedom she so famously wrote about were ridiculed here, and the fact that both husbands failed to keep up, so to speak, was blamed on Stopes. She was "too monolithic", and "castrated men because she was such a powerful woman" according to acquaintances. Female sexuality is so enfeebling to men, it's a wonder masculinity was ever associated with strength. Except, of course, that the withholding of sexual favours is a great way of undermining a woman's confidence and thus regaining the upper hand. Stopes doesn't seem to have really enjoyed herself until old age, when she took a succession of much younger lovers.

She did treat her husbands harshly, and seems to have regarded the upbringing of her beloved son as some sort of scientific experiment, which involved dressing him in peculiar woollen garments - but we've all done that. The real "secret" about Stopes was her interest in eugenics. Birth control was a godsend, but her reasons for promoting it were less admirable. The "wrong people" were breeding, in her view, and thereby causing the human race to degenerate. She even suggested that less worthy procreators be sterilised. A month before war broke out, she was sending a copy of her love poems to Hitler. And when her son decided on a bride, Stopes wrote in protest: "Mary has an inherited physical defect and should never bear children." The defect? Mary wore glasses.

"Are you half-witted, lad?" asked Alex Hall, the no-nonsense hostess of a late-night radio programme in Bradford called The Pulse. Midnight Callers (ITV), with clips of Alex in the studio either scolding or offering advice, atmospheric shots of Bradford at night, and follow-up interviews with some of the callers, brought a whole sleeping city to life. But one of the callers was still asleep: Julie is next. Hello Julie. Pardon? Is that Julie? Yes it is. Hello Julie. Hi. Hi. Hi. Yes, hi again. Who are you? This is the Pulse phone-in. Oh, right. I've forgot what I called in about now. You called in to discuss domestic violence. What was the argument about? We weren't having an argument. Right, so what was the query? There wasn't one. You called us, to talk about domestic violence. Have you been the victim of it? Oh yes, I have. How did it happen? Well, I got beaten up! And why did you get beaten up? (This seemed an unnecessary question, since Alex was by now ready to kill the poor woman herself.) Probably because I said the wrong thing.

Alfred Molina displayed every possible nuance of exasperation in Nervous Energy (BBC2), as well as a good imitation of an Alan Alda-ish American accent and manner. He played Ira, a R4 programme presenter whose partner, Tom (Cal Macaninch), is dying of Aids. Here the cultural snobbery was confined to homosexuals, and all the heterosexuals were philistines. There were times when Howard Schuman's play made the pair seem less in love than in combat - against the world, not the disease, their intimate moments delayed by self-pitying diatribes against disloyalty and homophobic intolerance. But it was essentially a braver, more honest Love Story, transformed by mundane detail which noted the torture of watching a loved one die without losing its humorous edge.

Tom, subject to manic energy spurts which cause him to go shopping a lot, decides to return to Glasgow for a little family reunion. They're already displeased by his homosexuality - but the sight of him prancing about the kitchen in nothing but soap suds cooking a mushroom risotto is too much. His nakedness is both goofy and poignant, since it's his body that's let him down. He returns to London a wreck. But at least he's discovered his father has been reading up on the disease, in the Lancet. This is how some people show affection.

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