Is Derren Brown Himself The Placebo of Fear and Faith?

Derren's latest stunt sees him trick people into forgetting fear, but is it just his TV personality that makes the magic happen?
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Derren Brown, master manipulator and vocal doppelgänger of The X Factor's Jahmene Douglas, introduced his latest show on Friday night: the intriguingly titled Fear or Faith was sadly not a look at the effects of fear as a tool in religion but more another chance for Brown to play puppeteer over a gaggle of plebs with "problems" as they conquer their fears one crappily-choreographed bar-fight at a time.

The gaggle in question – your average common-or-garden dweebs – featured people with such life-altering problems as “being a bit shy in Sainsbury's” or “finding walking over bridges without friends weird” and a pair of ears so large that the local county fair wanted them on display in the Freaky Appendages tent (with awards to be presented by Embarrassing Bodies' Dr. Christian's face).

The opening VT looks like something out of Robocop, advertising “Cicero Pharmacutical Solutions” and their “wonder-drug” “Rumyodin” which presumably can make the lame walk, blind see and Dawn French funny again. Rumyodin itself has been tested “by the army” (presumably the territorial army) to “eradicate fear” (presumably the fear of admitting you’re in the territorial army) and now Derren Brown, of all people, has been chosen to “document” its use on the wider public. The only doctors to be seen are Crossroad rejects with child-support payments to meet and... Oh wait, Brown drops the bombshell that this new wonder-drug that no one has ever heard of before doesn't exist; it's a placebo. It was all a clever trick: from the administering doctor “Dr. Goodwill” to “Rumyodin” being an anagram of “your mind”...


It's not that the power of suggestion and the placebo effect isn't an amazing and terribly interesting subject (because it most definitely is) it's that we've seen this trick so often from Brown before; it's a bit like why Peter Kay isn't funny anymore – how many times can you laugh at a joke about how sometimes Nan gets drunk at Christmas? Even Brown's previous special, Apocalypse, (released not even a month ago) was a well-made and entertaining enough distraction from whatever blah-blah mess was on the other channels that night, but of little real value (and if the survivors of the actual apocalypses act as badly as that, I'd rather get fucking eaten). What happens when the placebo bombshell is dropped is something of a damp squib: not quite the “OH CRAP” moment that he and the producers expected but more of quick exhalation of interest; like an arrow flying through a child's party balloon. Perhaps it is Brown who is the real placebo? His light and breezy style tricking us into watching his crap, tricking us into thinking we're enjoying it...


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From an early, interesting infographic on which qualities make a placebo drug more “effective” and a scene wherein wankers wax lyrical about their newfound ability to “see in HD” after necking some sugar-tabs, the show takes a bit of a slump. The less ugly chap who is scared of heights is now, as of ten minutes into the show, no-longer scared of heights: great for him, I'm sure, but editorially it's a bit like tuning into a movie and having half the thing wrapped up before the opening credits have rolled. The really ugly chap (the one who suffered from “crippling shyness” despite being able to talk directly to camera pretty freely) is now a kind of dweebish-superhero; a virgin Kick Ass with fuck-off ears and a fuck-off attitude to any am-dram bastards who try to ruck in his local boozer. The pretty-but-annoying chappette with a big dream of acting who would be SUPER FAMOUS if not for her inability to be able to successfully busk (pick your favourite actor... Got him? Yup, he was a busker. I'm pretty sure they all were...) The show after that is all very much-of-a-muchness from then on as demi-God Brown turns the screw at will then shows up when they crack; it's very much like he's a Mummy with (my understanding of) Münchhausen syndrome: he's pushing these people so far until they fall over then he runs in to save them; it's probably the only way he can look at himself in the mirror, these days.

Even worse than all that: it's a bloody two-parter. See you next week then...

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