KEENE, N.H.

Story of Medicine -- A very interesting documentary miniseries has been released on a two-disc Athena Learning set of DVDs. The title, "The Story of Medicine," is a bit misleading, because it does not start in ancient times but more or less in the 18th and 19th centuries. The subtitle is "Pain, Pus & Poison," a good alliterative summary of the three parts that make up the series.

Dr. Michael Mosley is the narrator and often the willing but nervous recipient of certain chill-producing experiments, such as testing the effectiveness of a painkiller by thrusting a needle through his hand. Indeed, the first of the 52-minute episodes is concerned with the fight against pain. This includes not only the pain caused by a specific disease but also pain caused by the surgery designed to cure that disease.

The second episode is about how scientists found that many diseases are caused by bacteria and viruses and how they went on to search for cures for each specific disease. The last episode shows how deadly poisons can be used to cure several diseases. One example, among many ironic ones, is how an outbreak of murders using arsenic poisonings (in the style of Agatha Christie) in Great Britain motivated research into the use of controlled amounts of arsenic as a means of saving lives rather than taking them.

Mosley is a genial host and uses words and graphics nicely to explain some fairly complex ideas in the story of medicine. The usual Athena booklet gives background material not all of which covered in the feature film.

A bonus feature, "Seven Wonders of the Microbe World," is a bit rushed at a mere 27 minutes; but it might spark the viewer’s interest in following up with other research into this branch of science.

One of my favorite books back in my youth was "Microbe Hunters," which has been (I learned to my sorrow) a very exaggerated and overly dramatic account of a good deal of the material mentioned in this series. This Athena set has whetted my appetite to tackle the book again!

Father Brown -- To that group of sleuths that qualify as "characters" -- Hercule Poirot, Lt. Columbo, Horace Rumpole, Nero Wolfe, Lord Peter Wimsey and Miss Marple -- one can now add G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown. As played by English actor Kenneth More in this British miniseries from the early 1980s, Brown has a good sense of humor ("We have the best Church, but you have the best churches"; "The devil has all the good lines and all the worst jokes") and uses his world view as a Catholic priest to "search out men’s souls for motives."

Once available on Acorn Media tapes and then in two boxes of DVDs, Sets 1and 2 of "Father Brown" have been reissued in a single box of four Acorn discs. Of the 13 episodes, some include Brown’s old antagonist, Flambeau (Dennis Burgess), now turned private detective.

The earlier episodes include "The Hammer of God," "The Oracle of the Dog," "The Curse of the Gold Cross," "The Eye of Apollo," "The Three Tools of Death," "The Mirror of the Magistrate" and "The Dagger with Wings." The second group includes "The Secret Garden," "The Actor and the Alibi," "The Quick One," "The Man with Two Beards," "The Head of Caesar" and "The Arrow of Heaven."

I find the pacing of the first episode a little slow. But Brown is not Bond, and the feelings of the 1920s are neatly reproduced, although on a smaller budget than those in the Poirot episodes with Suchet. Now and then the pace is a little too slow and there are signs of under-rehearsing. More plays Brown with as little flamboyance as possible, unlike Alec Guinness’ Brown in a 1954 film.

As always, it is Father Brown’s insight into human nature and tiny details that help him to the solution. It is all good fun -- but it could have used a better director. Or bigger budget.

Note: This series is not to be confused with the recent "Father Brown" series of remakes shown on Public Television with Mark Williams in the title role. Watching both series makes an interesting comparison.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays.