August 29, 2008

Television Review: Bobby’s Your Man for Quack-Hunting

By Paul Whitelaw

SuperDoctors, BBC1

The Wrong Door, BBC3

IN THE chattering courtyard of TV boffins, Professor Robert Winston is the true reigning monarch. With his inquisitive moustache and thoughtful manner, his involvement with any medical science series - from Child Of Our Time to The Human Body - is a virtual guarantee of rigorous quality.

One of his most appealing characteristics (apart from that great moustache) is the way in which he explores matters medical as objectively as possible. Medical science and the human body are magnificent things, he perpetually proclaims, but that doesn't mean the former always knows exactly how to deal with the latter.

Take SuperDoctors, for instance, in which he cast a commendably sceptical eye over the murky world of so-called miracle cures. Surfing the internet, he was dismayed to discover clinics offering outrageously inaccurate claims regarding the effectiveness of their stem cell operations. If these quacks are to be believed, their treatments can curing virtually every disease known.

Winston then visited a family who gave exorbitant amounts of money to doctors in Argentina and the Dominican Republic who claimed they could cure their brain-damaged son. He died before making any noticeable improvement. After showing his MRI scans to a UK neurologist, Winston was shocked to find that the stem cell surgery may have quickened the boy's demise.

In an attempt to ascertain whether there is any evidence to suggest that such surgery can heal patients suffering from heart disease, Winston followed the medical trials of two seriously ill British men. Septuagenarian Alec, who could barely walk more than 20 yards without collapsing, travelled to Germany to receive expensive treatment from a surgeon who bamboozled him - and, worryingly, Winston himself - with medical waffle.

A few weeks later, Alec claimed unconvincingly that he felt a bit better, but tests proved that he hadn't made any progress whatsoever. Intrigued by this apparent placebo effect, Winston spent time with the similarly afflicted David, who volunteered to take part in a double-blind placebo test in which half the patients were injected with stem cells, the other just with salt water. David and his doctors won't discover the results of this experiment for at least another two years, such is the difficulty of ascertaining the exact effectiveness of such research.

This was a genuinely useful and informative programme offering balanced insight into an area of medical science about which little is known, and therefore dangerously vulnerable to exploitation.

Another half-baked sketch show? Oh BBC3, you spoil us! The only thing that separates The Wrong Door from the rest is its heavy reliance on CGI. It seems that the programme-makers are only using this technology simply because they can afford to do so. It certainly doesn't add anything to the agonisingly poor material.

Two recurring sketches featuring, respectively, a dinosaur and an enormous robot, both revolved around the same lazy premise of an incongruous creature obliviously wreaking havoc.

Another interminable sequence, in which a dance-step simulator led a girl out of her house and all around town, contained no traces of comedy whatsoever. It was quite staggering in a way. I could go on, but I can't bear to prolong my agony by recalling any more.

For the hacks responsible for this drivel, imagine this message written in unnecessarily ostentatious CGI lettering: "Stop trying to be so cutting-edge, you idiots, just try writing something funny."

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