Daytime TV: Prime-time viewing

Gary Day enjoys Marcus du Sautoy's mathematical fervour but finds tragedy and tears in the East End

April 9, 2009

If the first Neanderthal had bought a lottery ticket, he or she would have to wait until now before winning the jackpot" (Horizon, BBC Two, Tuesday 31 March, 9pm). In that one sentence, Marcus du Sautoy dashed Alan Davies' hopes of ever having enough money to free himself from the torment of QI where, each week, Stephen Fry entertains his guests, but mostly himself, by being frightfully clever.

Alan was not very good at maths at school. "Show me what you can remember," urged Marcus, who got an A in the subject at the tender age of 14, before going on to publish papers, many of which seem to have the words "zeta function" somewhere in the title. (Stephen Fry, please explain.) Marcus quickly grew impatient as Alan struggled with a multiplication sum. "Forget all that," he advised. "That's just the grammar of maths, I'm going to show you the Shakespeare side of the subject."

So why did we find ourselves at the Emirates stadium, home of the Arsenal? Because football, like poetry, has both number and shape. The Gunners' success depends on their ability to maintain a line of sight, bisect the opposition's defence or, if they are proving really tricky, prick them with a scalene triangle.

All true, no doubt, but Match of the Day wouldn't be quite the same if John Motson were to shriek excitedly: "and Everton have trapped Liverpool in a tessellation of congruent squares". Nor would his geometric gaffes ever achieve the immortal status of blunders such as "and Seaman, just like a falling oak, manages to change direction".

Could prime numbers explain the goalkeeper's dive? Marcus would say they could. Here we arrived at the centre of the programme. It's not love or money that makes the world go round, but maths. The energy level of atoms follows the pattern of prime numbers and so, too, does parking in north London. The professor shone with evangelical fervour as he conveyed the good news to Alan. If Marcus had been my teacher instead of psycho Bert, I would have solved the Riemann Hypothesis and made myself a fortune. Well, I can dream, can't I?

Marcus was drawn to maths because of its beauty and truth. An arithmetical proof is not just for Christmas or even for life, but for ever. An understanding of geometry reveals that the Universe is shaped like Homer Simpson's favourite food, a doughnut. Lying on a hill in winter, Marcus and Alan looked up at the stars. "Am I at the end of my journey?" asked Alan. "No," Marcus replied. "This is just the beginning." "I can see Milton Keynes from here," said Alan.

Shame he couldn't see Albert Square, which for mathematicians may be just another quadrilateral, but which was this week, for ordinary mortals, the stage of Archie and Peggy's wedding (EastEnders, BBC One, Thursday 2 April 7.30pm). As you might expect, things were not going well. There was Peggy's outfit for a start. A frumpy suit! "Archie chose it," she said lamely to Pat, who looked sceptically at her from under a hat the size of a cartwheel.

As the car drew up, Peggy was beginning to have second thoughts. Could she marry a man who had such poor taste in clothes? "You're the only woman for me," said Archie - who had obviously forgotten about his fling with Suzy - at the altar. Peggy's doubts were banished.

Back to the Vic for the reception. But where was the food? Upstairs, Danielle finally told Ronnie that she was her daughter. But Ronnie wouldn't believe her. Downstairs, Janine was told she wasn't welcome. Archie whispered to Peggy that he looked forward to waking beside her until she was old and wrinkled, when presumably he'd be off. And he is. Sooner than he thinks. Thrown out.

Archie is Ronnie's dad. When she was 14, he made her give her baby away and then told her it had died. As everyone is toasting the happy couple, Ronnie discovers the locket proving that Danielle is indeed her child. Ronnie runs off into the night to find her. "Baby!" she calls. Danielle stops, turns and starts to cross the road but is run down by Janine. And still no one has had anything to eat. Greek tragedy recycled as soap.

"If you have been affected by any of the issues in this programme and would like to talk to someone about it, you can ring this number," announced a voice as the credits rolled. If? In this house, we suffered anger, frustration, relief, delight and disappointment. Tears were shed, I tell you, and one needed more than a sip of sherry to soothe shattered nerves.

We should have laughed at plotting that was more clunking than Pat's earrings, but we didn't. Can maths explain that? I hope so. Otherwise, it's over to Stephen Fry.

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