Television: Thomas Sutcliffe

"The comet of Zindor is in the ascendent," boomed a Desperate Dan look-alike with heavy metal hair and a pair of enormous bat-wing epaulettes. "The cities are ready, the warriors are ready. May honour accompany their victories." This, apparently, was Shen Jadir, the Ice Master - the presiding figure in Ice Warriors (ITV), a kind of low-friction version of Gladiators which notionally takes place in a post-apocalyptic Britain made up of warring city-states. The new ice-age has apparently wiped out all of television's regulatory bodies but both Birmingham and the Isle of Wight have survived as civic entities. Shen Jadir's basso profundo ramblings are occasionally interrupted, in a wonderfully deflating manner, by the DJ Nicky Fox and also by Dani Behr, lightly glossed with metallic make-up and standing somewhat unsteadily on a pair of ice skates. As in Gladiators, teams of ordinary joes and jills compete against each other and against the resident experts, who all have names like Krell the Tormentor and Kaalak the Drifter ("he came from nowhere with his past shrouded in mystery" - and it's not surprising frankly, because if you were reduced to this in between seasons of Aladdin on Ice, you'd want to keep it quiet too). For dads there are killer-bimbos in bondage ice-wear, most notably Tyron the Deceiver and Marax the Vixen.

Thomas the Gobsmacked remembered after a while that all this goes out during Saturday tea-time and that it is just harmless fun for children. Indeed, you even get a little dash of morality to accompany the sci-fi gymkhana - "Success built upon dishonesty is like a city built upon slush" boomed Shen Jadir after one competitor had taken the pre-match intimidation sessions ("we're going to take chunks out of them") a little too literally. But I couldn't help noticing that the games themselves have some difficulty living up to the bombastic menace of their introduction - the intimidating Avalanche Valley, for instance, turns out to be four large wedges of polystyrene waggled in the path of the skaters who, without this additional grace note, would simply be racing round an oval track. As indeed most of the games - ice-rinks having an unavoidable predilection for the horizontal. Fox tries valiantly to pretend that these engagements are more complex; "what will the tactics be?" he asked as four competitors prepared to chase four warriors and seize the banners stuck to their backs. Consensus among the strategic experts in my house was that they would try to go faster than the guys in front.

When Channel Four plays make-believe it is much more grown up, naturally. But Nothing But The Truth (C4) had more in common with Ice Warriors than you might have expected. The gothic magisterial figure here is Widdecombe the Impenetrable ("no man could melt her icy logic") and she presides over a fantasy courtroom debate in which contentious social proposals are put on trial. There are similar doomy brass chords and bits of play- acting; a "court reporter" introduces the programme with a brief information film about the subject in question. Some of this is a bit squirm-inducing - Widdecombe doesn't break for commercials, she announces a brief adjournment - but there is a genuine sense of tactics at work in the way the two barristers attempt to control the terms of the debate. This week the proposition was that Joe Brown, a North London student, should be legally permitted to take Ecstasy. Jerome Lynch, who was opposing the proposition, had decided to use the word "poison" every time the drug was mentioned - a low IQ strategy that came unstuck when his own expert witness announced that "water is a poison, air is a poison". On the other hand he did pull out an effective emotional coup, asking a bereaved mother to watch a video of a silhouetted girl who was herself arguing the case for informed choice. It turned out that she was the women's dead daughter. Such shroud-waving is wearily familiar from debates about drug policy, but the defending barrister sidestepped it with delicacy and made his case well. It was encouraging to find that the jury thought so too - and voted for legalisation by 9 to 3. nnn

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