Truth hurts

Gary Day finds the omission of one victim's tale disturbing in the gritty realism of Five Daughters

May 6, 2010




It's night. A car comes slowly down the street. It stops. There's a flash of gold heels. The window whirs down. "You want business?" The door opens and the heels disappear. They belong to Tania Nicol. The next time we encounter her she is in Belstead Brook. A working-class Ophelia not garlanded in flowers but entangled in weeds. A water bailiff stirs them and we glimpse a foot.

Tania was the only one of the five women murdered in Ipswich between 30 October and 10 December 2006 whose life was not portrayed in Stephen Butchard's superb drama, Five Daughters (BBC One, Sunday 25 April, Monday 26 April, Tuesday April, 9pm). Why? Not enough time? Not enough known about her?

Whatever the reason, the lack of information was troubling in a film determined to show that the other victims, Gemma Adams, Annette Nicholls, Anneli Alderton and Paula Clennell, were not just prostitutes, as the press repeatedly dubbed them, but someone's child, someone's sister, someone's girlfriend. Only Tania remained unknown, an echo of stilettos on stone.

Despite the murders, the girls still perch on the pavement. It's always dark. There's always a drizzle of rain. And there's always a car coming slowly towards them, its headlamps lighting the way to dreadful death. The girls are there because they need their fix. Anneli takes heroin because life is boring.

This is provincial England. Ipswich is huddled against a flat stretch of countryside with clouds coming into land. The houses are cramped, the interiors are drab and conversation stalls. But now and again, sitting in a nondescript cafe or on a back doorstep, the women are visited by sudden eloquence.

Their desire to be clean is symbolised by stepping under a shower or into a bath. But it is never going to be that easy. An addiction that makes you stick a needle in your arm rather than feed your children is not going to disappear with soap and water. Gemma never got the bright eyes she craved, nor the clean hair. Pale as an angel, she was laid out like a cross in woodland, yards from the road.

Five Daughters was in the best tradition of British realism. Some may say, too real. But this was not exploitation, it was an exploration of deep-rooted social problems and what can be done about them. Which made it a world away from the election debates.

And, if we are talking about the pursuit of truth, then so, too, is Michael Mosley's new series, The Story of Science (BBC Two, Tuesday April, 9pm). "What is out there?" asked Michael from the television screen. The viewers. "How did we get there?" he asked. We walked from the kitchen. I don't know why people say science is hard. It seems pretty easy to me.

Michael, though, was of a different opinion. It took at least 1,500 years to discover that we are not the centre of the solar system. The Greeks were convinced that the Earth was stationary because, if it was whizzing round, we'd be buffeted by high winds. A visit to the Yorkshire Moors would have showed them that indeed we are.

Ptolemy's model was perfect, but the heavens weren't. For a start, the orbit of Mars was a bit erratic. It wasn't until Johannes Kepler, building on the observations of Tycho Brahe, decided to abandon the divine conception of the circle, that the true motion of the planets was finally plotted. The progress of science, insisted Michael, is not a series of eureka moments, but persistence, technological innovation, rivalry, a dash of passion and blind chance.

Michael was clearly fond of this formulation and repeated it, with small variations so that we didn't get bored, in sunny spots all over Europe. But he needn't have worried. The old ennui couldn't get a look-in here. Disappointment, perhaps. Newton's discoveries raised hopes that we could unearth universal laws for everything, for history, politics and human behaviour. Would that have helped Tania? Who knows.

Dr Who, that is (BBC One, Saturday 1 May, 6.25pm). He seems to know everything. The series is a barometer of the public perception of science. When it started in that annus mirabilis, 1963, the programme was a perfect fuse of character and cosmology. Now it has descended into a camp romp. The same plot each week with a different but equally ridiculous villain. Yawn.

In EastEnders (BBC One, Thursday 29 April, 7.30pm), Christian got beaten up, ostensibly for wrecking Syed and Amira's marriage, but really because he is such a bad actor and members of the cast had had enough of his all-purpose expression: the frown. "Is that all you've got?" he cried, as they departed. It's a bit more than you have, love.

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