2 November 2007 | Belphunga
I agree with zoothorn's review to the extent that 'Baby' is, by some distance, the scariest and most disturbing of the six and 'Murrain' kind of a Straw Dogs/Wicker Man hybrid with Jarvis Cocker as a grumpy James Herriott is the most satisfying dramatically. Probably not uncoincidentally, these episodes also have the most location filming.
However, I don't believe this is grounds to entirely dismiss the other episodes in the series. 'The Dummy' is, I think, a successful blend of satire and horror (although with Hammer and the rest of the British film industry on its last legs in 1976 it must have seemed a bit belated). Special Offer has the great premise of Carrie transferred to a tacky British supermarket. Also a fine central performance from an unfeasibly young Pauline Quirke and, despite ATV's limited budgets, very effective FX no shoestring in evidence anywhere in fact.
On the other hand, 'What Big Eyes' ends up rather short changing the viewer and, despite its skillful escalation of tension,'Barty's Party' has been, I agree, somewhat overrated. The concept is too derivative of Hitchcock and James Herbert and doesn't really evoke any wider significance for the unfolding horrors.
Finally, I can see why 'Buddyboy' is so well-remembered as it must be one of the weirdest pieces of drama I've ever seen on British TV. I can only assume Kneale's remit to make each episode as distinct as possible eventually propelled him down this bizarre blind alley, but trying to extract chills out of a storyline involving a telepathic dolphin (which we never actually see) was always going to be tricky. The most disturbing thing here is the close-up of Martin Shaw's sleazy porn cinema manager 'on the job' you may never see Judge John Deed in the same light again.
So, yes, by modern standards, these episodes are slowly paced, wordy and cheap. They were made at a time when TV drama was still largely derived from theatrical models and, at their worst, they are marred by OTT acting, lengthy expository dialogue and the constrictions of the set-bound productions. At their best, however, the acting is tremendous, character's and plot lines are given room to breathe, suspense is built gradually and the sheer ordinariness of the videotaped, studio-lit environments (and almost complete lack of a musical soundtrack) actually increases their creepy power.
I think it is salutary to remind ourselves that there was a time when TV producers had faith in audiences to sit down and engage with an hour's worth of challenging, original drama broken by only one ad break. In these hyper-stimulated, mayfly attention span times, that makes this series a strange and oddly compelling beast indeed and, IMHO, this DVD release should not be dismissed as a mere footnote to Kneale's better known work.