TV programs worth watching
Sun September 14 — Sat September 20
On September 5, 1972, amidst the excitement of the Munich Olympic Games, eight desperate Palestinians entered the Olympic Village disguised as athletes and took nine members of the Israeli team hostage. They demanded the freedom of over two hundred political prisoners in Israeli jails. After several failed attempts to free the hostages, the day-long ordeal came to an end in a nearby airfield, where an operation to assassinate the terrorists became a botched bloodbath, leaving seventeen people dead, including all nine hostages. The Kevin MacDonald documentary One Day in September (SBS 8.30pm Sunday) takes us through the highly emotional day of September 5 and examines "the irresponsible actions made by the parties in charge". Like all bourgeois accounts, it focuses on the Palestinians, and does not ask why Israel had hundreds of political prisoners, (the number is now in the thousands) and why it used (and uses) torture and tactics Hitler and Himmler would have approved? That aside, One Day in September is a well-structured account of a terrifying day in modern history, with emotional and revealing interviews, intriguing footage from the Munich Olympics and a powerful musical score from Alex Heffes and Craig Armstrong,. The phenomenally popular BBC serial Doctor Who returns this week to commence a 40th anniversary season beginning with episode one (ABC 6.00pm Monday-Thursday). This news is not being greeted with hosannas, however, from the faithful or indeed anyone else. Viewers of Vets in Practice and its several variants, interesting, instructive and genuine real life drama, are miffed that it is to be replaced by what they think of as a children's series. Viewers of Behind The News are miffed because it is being dropped ("for budgetary reasons") while money is being paid out for something that's been seen umpteen times already. Fans of Dr Who are miffed at its 6.00pm timeslot. This is a cult series for adult sci-fi fans. Its artlessness, wit and ingenuity in overcoming the constraints of an obviously low budget made it a classic from the moment it appeared back in 1963. It should be screening at 11.00pm, not 6.00pm. The early evening slot and four nights a week stripping suggests that it is less a 40th anniversary celebration than a ploy to give a once very profitable franchise (for marketing memorabilia, tie in books, videos, sound tapes, toys, you name it) a much-needed shot in the arm. Certainly it can only boost sales of the fully-restored episodes being released on DVD. And everyone is miffed that, although the ABC boasts that it will be starting with episode one, it will not be screening any of the acclaimed early historical episodes, which have, in whole or in part, been lost, stolen or junked. These deliberately educational episodes, where our time travelers became embroiled in the Crusades, the Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, the French Revolution (Reign of Terror) and the travels of Marco Polo (A Journey to Cathay), were regarded as among the best drama production the BBC ever did. Every Australian knows that Japanese schools are a lot more intensive than ours. But most Australians have no idea just how intense is the pressure on Japanese school children to keep up, do well, succeed. The extraordinarily high rate of youth suicide in Japan is linked to the constant pressure on them not to fall behind their peers. Now a new social phenomenon is wreaking havoc in Japanese households. Teenage boys in Japan's major cities are turning into modern hermits — never leaving their rooms. This bizarre social disease is called hikikomori and is considered by experts and sufferers to be a consequence of Japan's intolerance of individual difference, the all consuming work ethic, and a loss of inter-personal communication beginning with the family. According to Japan's Missing Teenagers, screening on Cutting Edge (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday), Hikikomori now affects nearly one in ten young Japanese men. It can be a slow process of recovery for many sufferers, with teenagers living inside their rooms for four year periods in total isolation. Japan's youth spend most of their spare time studying for academic success, attending special "cram" schools where 12 year olds spend three days taking lessons well into the night and retiring for sleep only when exams have been passed, and playing video games. With fewer children, the pressure is intense for the "only child" to achieve all the parents' ambitions for them. If children refuse to attend school, social workers or courts rarely get involved. Most consider hikikomori a problem within the family, rather than a psychological illness. When I was young a cousin of mine spent some time in the psychiatric ward (Ward 21) at Sydney's Concord Repat Hospital. Next door, behind its own high wire fence, was another "secure" ward, Ward 22. You never saw any patients walking around in the grounds of Ward 22. Upon enquiry, I was told that it was for men who had come back from war so badly maimed and disfigured that they could not return to their families or the world. True Stories: Guinea Pig Club (ABC 10.00pm Thursday) is about two pioneering plastic surgeons, Sir Archibald McIndoe and Dr Ross Tilley, who were determined that even if horribly burned, allied airmen would be spared that fate if at all possible. These two doctors' revolutionary and holistic approach to reconstructive surgery cajoled back into the world of the living, men so badly burned and broken they believed they might as well be dead. The men were repaired with revolutionary plastic surgery techniques that were still in their infancy. Their spirits were restored with a unique philosophy of getting on with it and facing the world again no matter the stage of their reconstruction. Until now, only sniffer dogs and humans have been used to stop poachers, who are still a threat to elephants and are on the increase again in certain parts of Africa. But elephants have an incredible sense of smell, the best on the planet. No human or animal can rival it — they can even follow a scent through water. So in South Africa, elephant expert Saba Douglas-Hamilton and a former poacher, Magic, are training a unique team of elephants to track down their most deadly enemy — the poacher. Escape The Elephants on Richard Morecroft Goes Wild (ABC 6.30pm Saturday) follows Saba as she tests whether the elephant team can track her with a two hour start through the bush. The ABC's opportunistic tribute to the late Katharine Hepburn using only the RKO titles in their collection lurches somewhat this week with the creaky 1934 adaptation of J M Barrie's play The Little Minister (ABC 10.25pm Saturday). Once highly regarded, the play's whimsicalities have dated badly, as has the central performance. Even when the film was made, Barrie was already dated. Personally, I think that, as a supposed gypsy with a secret, Miss Hepburn's character ("Babbie") seems to be away with the fairies just a wee bit too much. Andre Sennwald in The New York Times apparently agreed with me, writing in his review at the time, "Although dear Babbie's elfin whimsies are likely to cause teeth-gnashing among unsympathetic moderns, Miss Hepburn plays the part with likeable sprightliness and charm".