Torture is everywhere on TV – give us a break

With dramas like Cardinal and The Loch, there’s little respite from violence on telly says Alison Graham


Right, that’s it. I’m off. It’s all over. Goodbye, I’ve defrosted the fridge and the front door key is under the mat. The taxi is on its way. You’re on your own.


OK, OK, I’m overreacting, I’m not going anywhere, but I’d like to. I want to escape to a world where there’s no gaffer tape, houses don’t come with cellars that become squalid dungeons and there’s no access to secateurs. Sorry, rosegrowers, but you’ll have to use scissors.

After so many years of television drama sadism I can’t have gaffer tape in the house, not even unseen in a drawer. The associations are too grim. It’s the sound, that sticky ripping when a terrified victim is taped to a chair as a prelude to torture. Just like in Cardinal, BBC4’s Canadian crime import.

By the end of this week’s double episode, a groaning feast of ad hoc amputation, sustained savagery, peeing-in-terror, stabbings, sexually charged non-consensual homo-erotic bondage and torture, all I wanted to do was eat battenburg and stare into the garden.


New BBC4 series Cardinal, starting at 9pm this Saturday 10 June

Who makes this stuff? And why? It’s not like there’s anything new here. John Cardinal is your standard TV Detective In a Can – pop open the lid and out comes a damaged, brilliant maverick with a complicated personal life and a disrespect for authority (because authority is always wrong and Cardinal is always right).

Fair enough, I’m a TV critic, I can and do watch any number of those. But why must there be so much violence? Not just any old violence, too, but violence that lingers, that the camera caresses just a bit too lovingly for my liking.

Cardinal’s central story is a classic folie à deux, a young couple who get off on inflicting pain and killing people for fun. One half of the pair is a sadistic weirdo who photographs his victims in their fear and distress, later chatting up a shop assistant by pointing to his camera and saying “this is my instrument, I play people”. For that terrible line alone he deserves lifelong incarceration in the fieriest pits of hell.

The couple kidnap and torture their various victims in, yes, a fetid cellar/dungeon. Just to add a little spice, Camera Boy shows his latest victim footage of his previous captive’s fate. I can’t bring myself to tell you, I’ll simply say “hammer” and “plastic sheeting” and you’ll have to use your imagination.

The whole thing is deeply nasty and sinister. The hostage is naked throughout and gaffer-taped (told you) to a chair. Secateurs are produced. Sorry, but again you’ll have to do your own thinking on this one.

Not that the Canadians have a monopoly on the grotesque. In ITV’s very odd new drama, The Loch, or “McBroadchurch”, we mercifully hear of, rather than see, the fate of a murder victim’s brains. Though what happens to another victim’s heart leaves nothing to the imagination.


New ITV drama The Loch, staring this Sunday 11 June at 9pm on ITV

Now, I’m not being all mimsy about this (or maybe I am, just a bit). But it’s time to take stock and look at ourselves. The real world, as we know with the most painful clarity, is all too cruel and shows no signs of becoming more gentle any time soon.


So without turning our television landscape into a meadow filled with daffodils and bunnies, because no one wants that, can we tone down the terror and the torture? For just a little while?