HOW good to have a serious TV documentary that considered basic
theological questions: what constitutes humanity, the nature of
life itself, the responsibility of the Creator to his creation. And
what a pregnant commentary on our world that such questions should
be raised in a programme about popular fantasy films:
Tomorrow's Worlds: The unearthly history of science
fiction (BBC2, Saturday).
It is a series presented by Dominic Sandbrook, and helpfully
nailed the idea that the high-falutin' theorising about the deeper
meaning of science-fiction films is not just the construct of the
Senior Common Room seeking respectable justification for its
favourite form of relaxation. The directors, writer, and actors all
insisted that such basic issues were at the forefront of their
It started and ended with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,
the crucial text in the exploration of what it might mean for
mankind to play God and create a living being. What Sandbrook well
emphasised was the extent to which this was a serious moral work.
The tour took in Boris Karloff, Asimov, Star Wars, The
Terminator, Blade Runner, Battleship
Galactica, Doctor Who, RoboCop, and The
It charted our confused attitute to technology and robotics:
what happens if technology is not just stronger than we are, but
smarter? To what extent are we cleverly programmed machines? What
it failed to address was the basic philosophical question whether
it is possible to create a machine that is genuinely intelligent
rather than just an immensely sophisticated tool. I understand
that, for a range of vital formal reasons, it is not. Not yet.
Flesh genuinely did creep in BBC1's ghost story Remember
Me, whose concluding episode was screened on Sunday. This is
as good an example of the genre as I can remember, weaving
realistic drama with supernatural goings-on, employing ordinary
phenomena - a dripping tap, a child's swing - in just enough the
wrong time and place to be seriously scary.
It benefited from actors such as Michael Palin and Sheila
Hancock, who for once had a decent script and scenario to work on.
Brilliant photography revealed the brooding menace inherent in the
Yorkshire Moors and Scarborough; and it was good to have as heroine
a young care assistant rather than the more glamorous professions
The denouement was, as is customary, less satisfactory than the
build-up. A tricky change of gear is required to wrap everything up
so that both dramatic and supernatural strands are honoured, and
this did not quite hit the nail.
There were acts of God aplenty in Thursday of last week's
The Railway: First Great Western (Channel 4). Last
winter's storms were not just bad, they were the worst in the
history of the railway. Their forecasting system displayed a black
warning, which they had never seen before. What it meant was that
Cornwall was cut off, and only 20 per cent of trains were
Some passengers thought the disruption inexcusable; the film
encouraged wholehearted sympathy for the heroic railway staff.