Going To Extremes (C4)

Heartless (ITV1)

GEOGRAPHER Nick Middleton should have looked at the small print in his contract, although the fact that the series' title is Going To Extremes was a hint that he might not like what was in store for him in Nepal. The clue was that this is the steepest country in the world - a dizzy, giddy, vertical country whose people live life literally on the edge.

He admitted to suffering from severe vertigo, going wobbly just going up a stepladder. So who talked him into joining the hunters climbing down sheer cliffs on bamboo ladders to harvest honey while menaced by thousands of angry wild bees?

We're used to TV presenters overcoming every obstacle put in their way, but Middleton's predicament was clearly going to take some getting over.

To limber up, he undertook a four-day climb up a glacier and shot the rapids with members of the "international geography mafia". These seemed to go all right.

A sign of things to come was joining the clerk who had measured the level of an important river three times a day for the past 30 years. Now he needed to measure the current from a flimsy-looking cable car suspended high over the river. Middleton looked decidedly uneasy as the metal cage swayed precariously above the water.

Another complication was that one in 100 people have severe, potentially fatal allergic reactions to bee stings. Middleton had to find out if he was one of them. The solution was - you've guessed it - to sting him deliberately with a bee and see how he reacted. Happily, they didn't use the honey bees, described as "the biggest and fiercest in the world", but a smaller one. He didn't have any reaction to the sting, although he admitted he rather wished he had as that would've provided a valid reason for pulling out.

The less-than-intrepid Middleton climbed to the top of the cliff. Even that was an effort. Once he was at the top and had seen the 150 metre drop, he was appalled. "From down below it looked high, from up here it looks terrifying," he said.

Even the safety ropes fixed up for him didn't allay his fears. He went over the edge, only for his "vertigo demons" to return before he reached the hunters waiting on a shelf in the cliff. He scrambled back to the top, admitting that vertigo had beaten him.

Divorce lawyer Harry Holland faced a different kind of crisis in Heartless after finding himself a changed man following a heart transplant. Instead of being selfish and randy, he was kind and compassionate. "What I loved two months ago, I hate now," he said. "I'm a barrister, the last thing I want is to be human." He went in search of the donor's family to find out about the previous owner of the heart, only to fall in love with his widow.

Heartless was an odd beast which was only to be expected from writer Caleb Ransom, whose Distant Shores showed a similar quirky humour and fantasy element. Angus Deayton, all hair extensions and blond streaks, was better at the comic than the dramatic aspects of the character but looked good in a kilt. And, unlike Nick Middleton, he wasn't required to go over the top.

Doves, Leeds University

EVER since their dark and evocative debut album, Lost Souls, arrived to almost universal acclaim at the end of the 1990s, Doves have been a mainstay of the UK music scene. Unfazed by the hype and glitz of the industry, they have steered a lone path, content to play their own music and ensure that style never gets in the way of substance. Their undiminished appeal three albums down the line has been achieved through the sheer brilliance of the songs and their ability to recreate that sound live.

Tonight is no exception. Despite only being three-piece - although they're accompanied on this tour by a keyboardist - the band are able to create an amazingly diverse range of sounds. The result is that brooding masterpieces like This is a Call lose none of their intensity and power on stage. The audience is in high spirits and the group respond to the general euphoria. By the time the encore comes round with a sublime version of their undoubted calling card, There Goes the Fear, you are left wondering how it is that this group haven't gone on to achieve the level of success that their talent so obviously merits. But then perhaps we should thank our lucky stars that they've kept their distance and avoided being swallowed up by the media machine.

Paul Willis

Singapore Chinese Orchestra, The Sage, Gateshead

IT was a rare and unique musical experience when the Singapore Chinese Orchestra appeared at The Sage, Gateshead, on one of only three dates on its European concert tour. Featuring a fusion of traditional and modern music, with a fascinating mix of instruments, including an erhu (python skin and rosewood fiddle) and sheng (bassoon cum pipe organ), the programme included a world premiere to boot. The evening, under the zestful baton of Tsung Yeh, began with Tang Jian Ping's piece Hou Tu, which was underlaid by ghostly recordings of folk songs from remote corners of China. On a more populist note, the orchestra played a selection from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Xu Wen Jing, dressed in dazzling pink, had her instruments singing in modulated tones that would give any violin a run for its money. The highlight of evening was a premiere of Melody Waves, the orchestra's first composition commissioned from a Western composer. Written by Michael Nyman in the wake of Asian tsunami disaster, the score makes use of the Chinese orchestration to stunning effect. The string and wind sections swirled independently of each other, merging in surges of energy and building to a crescendo, before dissipating to resolution. This was followed by the woodwind concerto Divine Melody, showcasing the virtuoso skills of soloist Yin Zhi Yang on ancient instruments. The Yellow River at Hukou unfolded with a dazzling display of calligraphy by Tan Swie Hian. A performance that refreshed the soul.

Gavin Engelbrecht