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Posted by Dr No on 14 March 2014

silk.jpgSlit, the gash in the silk curtain BBC One legal procedural through which we get to see posh knobs with wigs on polishing each other off, is back. So too are the hormonally challenged. Leading QC Martha’s oxytocin levels are so high it can only be a matter of time before she starts lactating for her under-dog clients. Billy still plays the testosterone fuelled clerk ready to roger anything with a hole in it, despite a heartless medic telling him it’s bye bye Morning Glory hello tits for Billy, on account of his treatment for prostate cancer. In the last episode Martha’s oxytocin met Billy’s cancer head on, and the cuddle juice won. Billy coughed, and they cuddled.

Meanwhile, the show continues to tackle The Big Issues Of The Day. Increasingly these are medical. The first episode of the current series hinged on the fate of David, an undiagnosed schizophrenic charged with killing a police officer, while this week’s episode three took on maternal mercy killing. Neither, to this viewer, ended satisfactorily. The series formula – Martha gets you off – was rigorously applied, like a double mustard poultice. The schizophrenic walked free, the case against the self-confessed filicidal mother collapsed.

The schizophrenia plot was revved up by making David the son of Alan, the fino patriarch of chambers, triggering a dangerous surge in Martha’s oxytocin levels. Despite evidence that here was a young man with florid schizophrenia, Martha decided to do the right thing by her head of chambers, and got the son off, by way of a bent copper defence: the voices never made it into open court. Alan, meanwhile, would retire, ostensibly to ‘spend more time with the sherry’, but actually to meddle in his son’s mental illness, at which point Dr No felt he too might need to spend more time with the sherry, if he wasn’t to start shouting at the screen.

The reason for Dr No’s ire was that he has seen similar outcomes in real life. A lawyer’s natural tendency is to get the client off, even if that is at the expense of the client’s well-being, while a doctor’s is to focus on a psychiatric patient’s well-being, even, if necessary, at the expense of that patient’s autonomy. The proper outcome for David was not to sweep the voices under the carpet, for fear of the stigma of mental illness – a stigma, we may note, reinforced by the plot, along with the stereotype of the violent schizophrenic - but to fess up. The outcome in court would have been a ‘hospital order’, a court order for detention under the Mental Health Act. David didn’t need his freedom, he needed proper diagnosis and treatment.

Similar strains had Dr No contemplating spending more time with the sherry as the mercy killing episode turned into a dud. The case again had real life echoes – Dr No has previously commented on Inglis, Gilderdale and Gosling, all of which contain elements of mercy killing, of killers killing ‘with love in their hearts’. Martha’s initial ploy was to focus on consent – the murdered daughter had sought and so somehow consented to death, thus making the case one of assisted suicide (a legal dud – and as it happens another example of the BBC attempting to change the law on ‘mercy’ killing - the case was clearly murder, intentional death by another’s hand, a fact un-changed by consent; suicide, assisted or not, is death by one’s own hand) but the greater cause of ire was the plot twist that had Martha twigging the self-confessed mother was in fact covering for a younger sororicidal brother. Clive, the prosecuting QC, got prosecutor’s droop, and pulled out for good, such that both mother and brother got off. Martha ‘won’ again, but viewers lost out on a chance to contemplate the serious – indeed vital - ethical questions that surround killing ‘with love in the heart’.

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