The Baby With A New Face Review

EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE – THE BABY WITH A NEW FACE: Thursday 28th June, Channel 5, 9pm

Watching a child with a severe facial disfigurement is never fun, yet I pressed on when watching the latest episode of Extraordinary People. Tonight we met Viet, a 24 month old Vietnamese boy suffering from not one, but two clefts. Essentially gaps in body tissue, this condition has rendered Viet unable to see, eat properly, or indeed, talk.

It’s the latter which poses the greatest risk – language skills are learnt early on in a child’s development – we’re told, and as he is already two years old, time is not on the family’s side. If he isn’t operated on soon, this crucial window could close and his speech development could be severely impaired.

Viet, along with his mother and a translator are sent from Vietnam to London for an operation organised by a charity. In a fascinating insight, the surgeons discuss how exactly they are going to redress the deformities – various incisions along the face, and astoundingly, sewing up the hole where the roof of his mouth should be. The operation footage is, as you would expect, gruesome. Despite years of exposure to the internet having all but desensitized me, I had to force myself to remain composed when they showed the surgery on the young boy’s eyelids.

Of course, it’s not all shocking surgery footage. In a particularly poignant scene, one of the surgeons operating on Viet invites him round to his son’s party, as it happens that they share a birthday. This gesture, on top of the astoundingly generous work done by team (all of the doctors are volunteers working in their spare time) could give even the most nihilistic of pessimists a smidgen of hope for our species.

I’ve hesitated to watch similar programmes in the past, fearing that they may be exploitative, that it would be made in the knowledge that a part of the audience would be watching it as if it were a freakshow. Given the subject matter, you’re never going to be watching it for entertainment (unless you’re a monster), but rather, to be informed. Luckily, the show doesn’t stray into “isn’t this disgusting!!!â€? territory, but unfortunately, it wasn’t as informative as it could have been.

In the beginning of the episode, it’s mentioned that Viet’s deformity, like many others in Vietnam, is a result of the use of the chemical “Agent Orangeâ€? during the Vietnam War. This is never mentioned again, despite being fertile ground for a documentary. Whilst we’re shown how the condition is treated, that’s about it. The programme may focus on Viet and his mother, but for a factual programme, there’s little of real background substance to put what we’re shown in context. It’s a glaring ommission in what is otherwise a solid piece of television.