Derren Brown: The Experiments- Part 1. The Assassin

"After you've bumped off Stephen Fry, could you top my mother in law?"

Derren Brown is very much a fixture of the televisual landscape, like the grinding unending misery on Eastenders, or Doctor Who plots that make absolutely no sense if you think about them for too long.

And although it is grandly billed as a ‘series of sociological experiments’, this latest series really just provides another opportunity for Mr Brown to bemuse and befuddle us.

Incidentally, I’ve  always been reluctant to accept Brown’s claims that he doesn’t have actual magic powers: if anyone could learn to trick people into obeying their every whim why haven’t I been banned from every casino in the world for winning too much money?

Ah…sorry, I’ve just checked and apparently it’s because I’m far too lazy to do the bone crushingly boring work required to master such things. Mystery solved.

Brown’s latest jape is to investigate whether a member of the public could be brainwashed into killing a celebrity (I was rooting for it to be Les Dennis. It’s not like he has much to live for).

In the first episode, after the rather wonderful sixties style credits we were treated to some flim flam about whether Robert Kennedy’s assassin was hypnotized into doing it, an idea even the show itself seemed a little bored with.

The real focus here is Derren Brown hypnotizing people into doing freaky things. Having got himself an audience, he proceeds to whittle them down to the single most suggestible man: a chap called Chris. Which certainly stacks up with the Chris’s I know.

Along the way he uses hypnosis to convince Chris he’s feeling no pain while sitting in a bath of freezing water, an act simultaneously impressive and entirely useless (see also: juggling, team sports and soufflé making).

There’s also a reference to 1952 Hypnotism Act which sounds  like legislation inspired by a scandal involving a senior government minister, a stage magician, a nubile young assistant and an antique walking stick.

Once Derren had selected Chris the show lost pace a bit. Derren becomes Chris’s best pal, using hypnosis to improve his shooting ability and make him forget things. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, although there’s a fairly serious point here that hypnosis is a very powerful tool that make can people do remarkable things.

For all there’s likely a bit of jiggery pokery and editing going on at the production level, the whole show does rattle the whole noggin a bit by pointing out just how easy human beings are to manipulate.

Anyway all this thoughtful stuff goes out the window when the Chris’s target is revealed. LES DENNIS!

No, alas not. Rather more upsettingly it’s everyone’s favourite paunchy omniscient scamp, Stephen Fry.At this point the tension really ratchets up as Chris is filmed through hidden cameras at a theatre where Mr Fry is giving a talk.

Even though the viewer knows that the whole set up is fake, it’s hard not to let out a little gasp as Chris retrieves a gun from beneath his seat and lets Fry have it. Fry for his part, dies very well and (chillingly) afterwards Chris had no idea he’d done anything out of the ordinary.

All of this raises interesting questions about free will, human consciousness and how easy the human mind is to manipulate.

But more pressingly: why isn’t Derren Brown King of the whole bloody world? If I had his powers, I certainly wouldn’t be settling for ten o’clock on a Friday night on Channel four: I’d want prime time!

And a car made of ham!


The next episode of Derren Brown: The Experiments is on tonight, 9pm, Channel 4.

You can watch last Friday’s episode here


About Ian Dunn
I love avocados, WH Auden and dinosaurs but I don't like effort.

One Response to Derren Brown: The Experiments- Part 1. The Assassin

  1. Pingback: London TV Award Derren Brown: '.. doesn't seem to be doing anything particularly mind-blowing, but with a few words of encouragement and buzzing noises in the right place, he can make people admit to murders they haven't committed, or even brainwash perfe

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