Scared of the Dark is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. Channel 4’s new reality series is Celebrity Big Brother without the lights on, featuring eight celebrities in a wholly unilluminated bunker – specially constructed within a hangar somewhere, I presume, on the road to hell. The captives undergoing seven dark days (for us all) include Chris Eubank – possibly England’s last genuine eccentric, replete with fur coat, winkle-picker boots and an unlit cigar the size of a baby’s leg – Love Islander Chloe Burrows, boxer Nicola Adams, the Wanted’s Max George, actor Donna Preston, blind standup comedian Chris McCausland, Gogglebox’s Scarlett Moffatt and footballing legend Paul Gascoigne.
They will – and it’s not my fault that there is no interesting way to put this – spend a week in total darkness, performing challenges to earn rewards, chatting to camera in The Vault (the chiaroscuro equivalent of the diary room), mainly about the lack of light, while living and sleeping together and trying not to bump into furniture. We watch them all in monochrome via infrared cameras. It is as boring to look at as it is to listen to. Everyone is either banging their shins and saying, “Fuuuuuck!”, or being performatively or unperformatively scared of the dark and screaming, “Fuuuuuuuuuck!” – or both.
Overseeing the stupidity and boredom is Danny Dyer, who appears to be morphing into a strange blend of Ross Kemp and Ricky Gervais. His commentary comprises gems such as – on watching Eubank enter the bunker – “It’s difficult being an alpha male in the dark, I’d have thought,” and, as the first pair embark on a challenge to win a meal for the group: “There’s a lot at stake because it’s a good dinner.”
On the other hand, at least while Dyer is speaking, Dr Tharaka Gunarathne (known as Dr T) is not. He is a clinical psychiatrist and the medical professional all such shows have to have on hand as a sop to respectability. He is the one who vouchsafes us insights such as in the dark “your sense of safety is compromised”. There is “a fear of the unknown” and if you have multiple issues there can be “a compound fear reaction”.
Chloe has a compound fear reaction to the prospect of the first challenge. She is so scared of the dark that at home she sleeps with a main light and the television on, and when asked to stumble through a pitch black room searching for keys to unlock five doors, she promptly has a panic attack and flees. Donna Preston takes over and, in a markedly unsavoury development, it turns out that the twist in the tale is that this lone woman fumbling for her keys in the dark will be followed by a silent male figure (in chains so she can eventually hear him coming) – and gosh, I don’t know, is this just quite a horrible idea or what?
Meanwhile, Chris Eubank – in-between spouting endless gnomic nonsense about specks in the cosmos – is trying to stop everyone swearing (“Be the kings and queens that you are”) and I suspect the first person to tell him to “fuck the fuck off” will be instantly crowned the winner by the rest. Nicola must surely be wondering if it’s in the sporting spirit to punch a man’s lights out in the dark.
In marked contrast to Eubank’s impregnable superiority complex, Gazza is so clearly emotionally and mentally vulnerable – as well as suffering from claustrophobia that has him periodically trembling so hard he can barely stand – that it is uncomfortable to watch. He claims he is off the drink and “in a good place now” and wants to prove his strength to others. Well, godspeed, but on the evidence so far, God damn the producers who are letting him try.
The programme will run for five consecutive nights, and only the first episode was available for review. So it’s possible that things will improve. There is potential, obviously, for McCausland’s presence to teach us something about disability and its socially constructed elements. And, at the other end of the scale, there was Chris Eubank’s face after Gazza told his story about getting and dealing with an unexpected erection when he put his arm around Margaret Thatcher during a gathering at No10. Other than that, however, it seems to be a stupid, boring programme, filled largely with stupid, boring challenges; contemptuous and derivative in the extreme and – unless Gazza has a fund of similar-quality onanistic anecdotes – as unentertaining as it is unedifying. Dark days.