Magazine article The Spectator

Television Zombie Hell

Magazine article The Spectator

Television Zombie Hell

Article excerpt

Derren Brown is a great big cheating liar.

Or so my old mucker Rod Liddle reckoned last week in his Spectator blog. Derren Brown's Apocalypse was 'clearly, demonstrably, faked', declared Rod. Well, I guess that settles it then. Or does it? First some background for those of you who missed it.

(Though my advice for those of you who did is: stop reading now and watch both episodes immediately on Channel 4's 4oD catch-up site. ) Derren Brown's Apocalypse (Channel 4, last Friday) was - or, pace Rod, purported to be - an extraordinarily bold TV experiment. Part horror movie, part therapy session, its aim was to turn around the life of a selfish, boorish waster called Steven using the novel method of persuading him that he was one of the few humans left alive in a world taken over by zombies.

If this sounds implausible I'd quite agree.

But not impossible, as anyone familiar with Brown's meticulous working methods would know. First, Brown selects his targets carefully, from a large group of volunteers who have proved susceptible to hypnosis. Second, he goes to enormous lengths to lay the groundwork for the psychological trick he is about to play on them.

In the case of Apocalypse, the trick was to persuade Steven that our planet has been struck by a meteor shower carrying some kind of space virus that has turned all those it touches into zombies. Travelling by coach to what he thought was a rock concert, Steven instead found himself entering a nightmare: explosions all around as those meteors crashed to earth; screaming, terrified passengers. What he didn't know was that they were all actors and that the stranger who sidled up to him in the mayhem and whispered a cue word in his ear was Derren Brown, putting him into an hypnotic trance state.

Waking up, alone, in the ward of an apparently empty hospital, Steven spent the rest of the two-part series experiencing every post-apocalypse cliche going: rubbishstrewn corridors; eerie noises off; emergency broadcasts on TV; the dawning realisation that he's one of the few people left alive; the felicitous discovery of a fellow survivor, in this case a 14-year-old girl called Leona.

But Leona - along with all the other characters Steven would meet on his journey through zombie hell - including, of course, the massed ranks of the walking dead - was played by an actor with a vital, schematic role in Steven's psychodrama. …

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