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Death And Television: Shuffling Off Their Mortal Set

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The fifth and most recent season of Mad Men has just ended, which made me sad for two reasons: a) We waited like 17 years for a new series and it was over in no time and b) It marked the end of the road, in the most tragic and grizzly way possible for long term favourite Lane Pryce, played by Jared 'He's Richard Harris' son? Blimey!' Harris. Of course, death in the TV world is as inevitable as it is in the real one, especially in soaps or in Spooks, where the mortality rate seems to be worryingly high. Especially on public holidays.

And just like in the real world, when a character we've come to know and love goes to that great TV graveyard in the sky (no, not Dave), it can be quite a traumatic, sometimes heart-rending experience. Great characters like:

Victor Meldrew:
Poor bloody Victor. It was bad enough he seemed to be at a permanent, angry loose end when he stopped being a security guard and became a full-time incredulous grump, but dying relatively young at the hand of a hit and run driver was just rotten luck. And worse still, the viewing public were split between watching his swansong and the first ever winner on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, which by startling coincidence was airing at exactly the same time on ITV.

A Bunch of People From The West Wing
I've mentioned previously on this site the effect Leo McGarry has had on a whole generation of idealistic politicos, and the passing of the actor who played him, John Spencer, a few episodes from the end of the show cast a pall over the last series. But, that wasn't the only West Wing death to upset. The President's uber-efficient, cookie making secretary Mrs Landingham died at the end of the season two (and the actress who played her, Kathryn Joosten, sadly died recently too). And in the climax to the fifth season, badass sailor Admiral Fitzwallace was killed on a peace mission to Gaza. Happily the man who played him, Coming To America's John Amos, is still alive.

Colonel Henry Blake
Henry Blake was the first commanding officer of the 4077th in hit sitcom M*A*S*H*, and a fine one he was too. Portrayed by McLean Stevenson, the nephew of a former Presidential candidate, he was a regular comedy panellist on American TV and had actually originally auditioned for the role of Hawkeye. After three years on the wildly popular medical war sitcom (what a mix!) McLean decided to leave, as the ensemble cast was becoming more of an Alan Alda-led vehicle. Originally, Henry was due to be sent home having served his time, but then, in a move that is still controversial to this day, the producers decided to crash the plane he was travelling back on. And only told one cast member about it, the one that would announce the news as the last scene of the series, a matter of minutes before he was due to give his lines. JESUS.

The Doctor
In a bit of storylining genius that can't really be undersold, The Doctor's ability to regenerate creates continuity and excitement at a change of guard all at once, and in this instance, the death of a doctor (which have become increasingly yellow and explosive over the years) becomes a kind of cultural shibboleth, a badge of identification. For my generation, the death of the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant was the most emotionally charged because he more than anyone shaped the success of the updated Doctor Who. That and it was such a slow death he managed to get round pretty much everyone he ever met.

Alan Bradley off Corrie
It would be wrong of me not to mention a soap death because there are simply so bloody many of them, but which one? Sarcastic, wonderful old Blanche Hunt? Leslie Grantham, who survived a shooting but was finally killed off by webcam sexy time? Both worthy considerations, but in the end I went for Rita terrorist Alan Bradley, a man more terrifying than any Dalek. But, like so many domestic abusers, he fell fowl of quaint local public transport.