Escape — at a price

06 October 2017

CHRISTOPHER RAPHAEL/CHANNEL 4

Enigmatic: Ed, played by Timothy Spall, in Channel 4’s The Commuter, based on a story by Philip K. Dick

Enigmatic: Ed, played by Timothy Spall, in Channel 4’s The Commuter, based on a story by Philip K. Dick

YOU can try to get a return ticket to heaven from Woking Station. A beautiful stranger tries to purchase one from the station attendant Ed (Timothy Spall) in Channel 4’s The Commuter, last Sunday’s episode in the Electric Dreams series of plays based on Philip K. Dick’s science-fiction stories. She does not call it heaven, of course, but Macom Heights, a non-existent town with no station.

The more we learn about Ed, the more we understand the deep lines of suffering etched on his face: his son Sam lives with violent psychosis — it is only a matter of time before he will cause serious injury, and be imprisoned or sectioned.

Eventually, Ed boards the train and joins a motley group of passengers who simply jump off the carriage as it slows down and walk up to a city set on a hill. It is a place of generosity and joy. When he returns home that night, all is transformed: Sam, it seems, was never born.

After subsequent visits, his world becomes happy and light; but some­thing is not right. He starts to realise that the mysterious town is a place of escape that removes all the suffering from the lives of those invited to enter its portal: but at what cost?

Eventually, he rebels, and demands that everything return to its previous state. His love for Sam means that he will not consign him to non-existence so that his own life can be easier. Macom Heights might seem like heaven, but, a place of self-centred fantasy, it is closer to hell. Ed chooses reality.

Superbly acted by Spall and the cast, it was entirely appropriate to a Sunday evening.

The BBC surrounded National Poetry Day with programmes about 20th-century poets. Cornwall’s Native Poet: Charles Causley (BBC4, Sunday) was the least-known, but his decept­ively simple verse is perhaps the most accessible of all. It is, of course, satur­ated with Christian images and con­cepts, but the programme, having raised the matter of his faith, veered away from such unacceptable perversity.

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Causley, embedded in Launceston, was the strongest contrast with the superstar profiled in Stop All the Clocks: W. H. Auden in an age of anxiety (BBC2, Saturday). Until the Nazis assumed power, W. H. Auden preferred 1930s Berlin to England; famously (or notoriously) he moved to the United States just before the outbreak of the Second World War, and became an American citizen.

His final return to Oxford was not a successful homecoming; he died in Vienna, and is buried in the Austrian village where he had a farmhouse. Auden’s faith as a High Anglican was similarly passed over: it was far too disturbing a subject for the average viewer.

Our third poet’s initial distaste for the city turned to affection — even love, on the evidence of his archive of photos, as we saw in Through the Lens of Larkin (BBC4, Monday of last week). Larkin found in Hull inspiring subjects for his camera, although not quite as many as the quasi-glamorous images of his girlfriends, and nothing like as many as the surprisingly ob­­sessive and numerous self-portraits.

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