One of the most annoying features of current TV is that it assumes a lack of attention. Almost every series begins with a recap (‘last time…’) – and don’t even get me started on the routine spoilers (next time…) which have me lunging for the remote and shouting at the screen. I don’t want to know what’s going to happen next time! I’ll watch it next time! Why would you spoil it for me? But programme makers seem to assume that without these constant recaps and titbits we won’t have the concentration to watch anything. To be fair there are occasions when in a long-running series like Casualty, you might need bringing up to speed on an old story but in other cases they are particularly annoying: a series such as the fly-on-the-wall Ambulance, for example, has at least five minutes of exposition before this week’s episode actually begins.
But whilst I expect a bit of catch-up at the beginning of a programme, I don’t expect repetition in the middle – and the recent documentary about Harold Shipman was a serial offender in this regard. Fascinating though it was, The Shipman Files was a shapeless miniseries with three episodes covering material that could have been done in two, and zipping back and forth for no discernible reason. This made it a frustrating watch, the more so since the subject is an important one. How was a trusted family doctor able to get away with what was basically mass murder? Harold Shipman had his own private concentration camp; he murdered people in their own bedrooms as well as on hospital wards, and like Jimmy Savile he got away with it. A shame, then, that the documentary should be so shapeless and repetitive. I also think there should be a moratorium on calling things ‘a very British’ or ‘a very English’ whatever – what does that even mean?
I think we should be told.