Waking the Dead episode goes too far

"You can try to justify it dramatically, but you will fail because it is indefensible"

I often wish there were some kind of Manchurian Candidate-type brainwashing scheme for television critics. And I mean “washing” in the sense of being rinsed clean.


Nothing too drastic, I don’t want to be strapped to a dentist’s chair and bombarded with white noise while images from Kerry Katona: the Next Chapter dance on white walls before my blank, deadened eyes.

No, nothing like that. Just a bit of light de-programming, maybe over a weekend at a country house hotel in the Cotswolds, when every last trace of Episodes, Twenty Twelve, Mrs Brown’s Boys, Luther, Hope Springs, Roger and Val Have Just Got In, the MasterChef auditions and all of that stuff that I just don’t want in my head is painlessly removed. Preferably over a cream tea.

But it would take a week of intensive reverse-indoctrination, probably accompanied by soothing, back-to-back repeats of In the Night Garden as someone (oh, I don’t know – Jon Hamm, maybe?) stroked my wrists with a tepid wet flannel to expunge completely Waking the Dead.

Or, specifically, a scene in a recent episode that had me leaping from the sofa shouting, “Who the hell watches this stuff?!” before sheepishly answering my own question with, “You do, you watch this stuff. You’re ashamed, aren’t you? So you should be.”

I cannot articulate my horror at a sequence where a nine-year-old child tortured another child by burning him on the arm with lit cigarettes while the screaming victim was held down by other kids. Yes, nine years old, which was all the more shocking because the part was played so impressively well by a young actor called Danny Emes.

I know, it’s only a drama, I shouldn’t take these things so seriously, I should get a life/lighten up/get on down, whatever. But no, I’m having none of it. This was vile and unflinching make-believe sadism carried out by infants on other infants and thus goes way beyond anything that’s acceptable in a hugely popular drama on a main terrestrial channel. 

Unacceptable even for Waking the Dead and its Hieronymus Bosch approach to ruthless realism. This is the dramatised torture of small children by other small children. God knows it happens in real life, we remember James Bulger. But it has no part in entertainment – ever. You can try to justify it dramatically, but you will fail because it is indefensible.

The same child was later shown chained to a wall with a bag on his head, like a tiny prisoner in Abu Ghraib, and in the final episode of this convoluted story about an appalling care home run, Lord of the Flies-like, by savage kids, we saw the child stabbing out a tormentor’s eyes with a pair of pliers. At which point I murmured silent thanks that this was the last-ever series of Waking the Dead.


For once I really hoped there would be a little, nannying “if you’ve been affected” announcement at the end of the programme, offering me a telephone helpline because, by heck, I would have rung it.