James Delingpole

Warts and all

With hindsight it was probably a mistake to sit down with my daughter to watch Enid (BBC4, Monday).

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With hindsight it was probably a mistake to sit down with my daughter to watch Enid (BBC4, Monday). Before it started, Girl was a massive fan, especially of the Naughtiest Girl series and The Magic Faraway Tree. By the end, she pronounced herself so disgusted with the evil hag that she swore never to read another word.

I’m not sure how glad I should be. On the one hand, I suppose it’s good that Girl will no longer have her expensive boarding-school fixation stoked by the Naughtiest Girl’s frolicsome japes. On the other, though Blyton can indeed be pretty repetitive and dull, she’s one of those writers that children seem to be able to read happily to themselves again and again. And I do like the vision of England that her books promote: country as yet undefiled by wind farms; jam sandwiches; children buggering off to do their own thing without troubling adults.

Anyway, Enid — a warts, warts and more warts portrait of the author with Helena Bonham Carter in the title role — was so unremittingly grim I wish I hadn’t bothered. ‘Can she really have been as ghastly as that?’ I asked my wife. ‘Well, her daughter always claimed she was,’ the wife replied. I checked. It seems that indeed she was: vain, haughty, selfish, vindictive, horribly unloving towards both her depressive, alcoholic husband (Hugh Pollock — her editor and a first world war DSO) and her two daughters Gillian and Imogen.

The key scene was the one where a gang of lucky readers from her children’s book club are invited to tea at her home with Enid playing the sunny host while her spurned real children watch enviously from the staircase. Once you’d grasped that point you were done, for the rest was just more of the same.

Nor was the script’s sense of period perhaps as assured as it should have been. There was a scene, for example, where Pollock comes unexpectedly home to be asked by his (philandering) wife, ‘How did you get in?’ Well, for one thing, houses weren’t generally locked back then; and, for another, there were staff. Also, people didn’t say ‘inappropriate’ to signify bad behaviour. That’s late 20th-century, non-judgmental therapy speak. More likely they would have said ‘shabby’, or ‘immoral’ or ‘wrong’.

By way of consolation, I sat down with Girl to watch Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars (BBC1, Sunday) — tantalisingly billed as one of the scariest episodes ever, and also one of the last featuring David Tennant. It was about the crew of a Mars space colony being possessed by the spirits of the Red Planet’s evil, indigenous creatures — and going postal.

As you would expect of a script co-written by Russell T. Davies there was some spry dialogue, with lots of knowing jokes. (Such as the fact that the base was called Bowie Base One.) As we have also come to expect, unfortunately, there was rather too much cod-depth, speechifying, straining-for-wider-resonance and mawkishness. This confuses the kids; and makes intelligent adult viewers cringe.

The bit at the end, for example, where the space-base commander — Lindsay Duncan — commits suicide with her phaser gun. ‘Why did she kill herself, Daddy?’ Well, you see, as the Doctor knew all too well — being cognisant of The Future — Duncan’s character (and her entire Mars colony crew) were fated to die a tragic death when their colony mysteriously exploded. Visiting the base on the day of the disaster, the Doctor discovered it was an act of sacrificial suicide to stop the creatures reaching Earth.

Fair enough, but then — purely for the purposes of twist-in-the-tail plotting, I fear — the Doctor was required to have a completely out-of-character personality flip. Instead of allowing Duncan to die — as fate and the space-time continuum decreed — the Doctor decided to whizz her safely back home to her attractive stucco villa somewhere in London. ‘It has taken me all these years to realise the laws of time are mine and they will obey me,’ he yelled, as if suddenly possessed by Davros. ‘We’re fighting time itself and I’m going to win!’

No! You can’t do that with a popular, well-established character. It’s plain wrong: like having Kojak suddenly discover hair-restorer or Ironside getting up from his wheelchair and walking or Starsky and Hutch acting out a scene from Brokeback Mountain. Sure, it will jar the viewer out of their comfort zone, but not in a good way, nor one which earns any respect for the scriptwriter, because it’s cheating.