Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Money well spent

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Science, you may have noticed, has been getting a bad press of late. Scientists losing raw data, scientists withholding data, scientists cherry-picking data, scientists torturing the evidence till it says what they want it to say, scientists acting more like political activists than scientists. And, of all the world's media institutions, none has been quite so shameless in justifying, excusing or covering up this appalling behaviour than that supposed bastion of neutrality and authority, the BBC.

Still, the BBC can't get everything wrong all the time, and its new series The Story of Science is a case in point. Within five minutes, the presenter Michael Mosley was at the court of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II in 16th-century Prague, praising what he considered one of the most important advances in the entire history of science:

Tycho Brahe's painstaking astronomical observations, which ushered in an era of science based not merely on speculation, but also on scrupulously recorded data.

Tycho Brahe was a fascinating character:

a Danish nobleman who wore a false nose because his real one had been chopped off in a youthful duel, who kept a clairvoyant dwarf and a pet moose that died after falling drunk downstairs, and who became the father of modern astronomy.

But, then, so too is Michael Mosley. After two years as a banker, he studied medicine at the Royal Free with a view to becoming a psychiatrist, decided he didn't want to do that either and ended up joining the BBC instead. The programme that made his name was a Horizon documentary about the proposed link between Helicobacter pylori and gastric ulcers. Afterwards, he received 20,000 letters from people whose supposedly incurable pain had disappeared after taking antibiotics. He was named Medical Journalist of the Year, and the programme was later named by doctors as the one that had done more than any other to change their prescribing habits.

Weird, but though he's been doing this stuff since the mid-Eighties - including a stint as The One Show's in-house medical expert - I can't honestly say I've really noticed him before. This, I think, speaks volumes for his naturalness as a presenter.

Almost everyone in the TV doc game has an annoying tic: Dan Cruickshank's breathlessness, Robert Winston's moustacheiness, David Starkey's cattiness, Simon Schama's old-womanliness, Michael Palin's insufferable niceness, Dan Snow's slightly-thick-oarsman heartiness, Tristram Hunt's rhyming slanginess; you could play this game for hours. Mosley, though, really doesn't. He's a bit lax with his glottal stops, my wife noticed, but other than that his performance is as precision-ground as one of those Venetian glass lenses Galileo personally made with a cannonball to use in his telescope.

Which is a lot more strained an analogy than you'd ever get from Mosley. Really, he's the business: emphatic hand gestures employed at exactly the right moments but never otherwise; strong, punchy scripts; evident understanding of the science; delivery cheery and amused, but not 'Hello, I'm doing a science programme which I fear may bore you so to compensate I'm going to talk like I'm Geoffrey from Rainbow'; understated summer suits with nice pink shirts; even his sunglasses struck exactly the right balance between cool and unobtrusive.

Better still, almost, are all the walk-on extras he's managed to accumulate. I'm thinking not just of the foxy young woman his team persuaded to sit pretending to read a copy of Galileo's Starry Messenger at the edge of the shot in the Italian piazza, but of characters like the genial, Harry Potterstyle old prof with the fluffy white hair he got at the beginning to show him how to use Tycho's Quadrant. Or the similarly eccentric one with the panama hat who'd dedicated 20 years of his life to recreating a mechanical device discovered in a 2,000-year-old Greek shipwreck, which the ancients had used to calculate the motion of the planets.

Clearly, a lot of money has gone into the making of this series, as it flits from Prague to Florence to Venice to Delphi to the Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, California, every location so lushly shot you think, 'God, that looks fantastic! I'd love to go there!' till you remember you have already, only the light wasn't so good and unlike the BBC you hadn't had the whole area cleared beforehand of teeming tourists.

But it's definitely one of those cases where the licence fee has been well spent.

Finally, some thoughts on the new Doctor Who. I wasn't convinced by the episode involving Winston Churchill and a Dalek - too, too silly and Churchill wouldn't have been wearing a bow tie in his bunker, he would surely have been wearing a siren suit - but the new Doctor Matt Smith and his almost too-sexy assistant Karen Gillan are off to a generally splendid start. Already, I can spot two huge improvements over his predecessor David Tennant. First, he doesn't twinkle and mug in the nearly the same 'Ooh-get-me-I'm-playing-the-Doctor and-aren't-I-great-and-isn't-this-the-best job-in-the-world?' way. Second, you don't have to think every time you look at him, 'That man ACTUALLY thinks the country would be better off run by Ed Balls, Harriet Harman, Gordon Brown, the Miliband brothers, Peter Mandelson and Charlie Whelan.'

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  • APA 6th ed.: Delingpole, James (May 2010). Money well spent. The Spectator p. 48.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Delingpole, James. "Money well spent." The Spectator [add city] May 2010, 48. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Delingpole, James. "Money well spent." The Spectator, edition, sec., May 2010
  • Turabian: Delingpole, James. "Money well spent." The Spectator, May 2010, section, 48 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Money well spent | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Money_well_spent | work=The Spectator | pages=48 | date=May 2010 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=6 June 2020 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Money well spent | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Money_well_spent | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=6 June 2020}}</ref>