As a young boy, I was given a book called The World's Greatest War Stories. In one, a group of brilliant scientists board planes that they think will take them to work on a top-secret project at a special base. Unbeknownst to them however, the pilots and crew are German spies taking them to their own secret base, which looks like a little piece of Britain, down to the last detail. Once there, they are convinced to work on the project by their cunning captors.
Watching Space Cadets this evening, I was struck by the obvious parallels, and the audacity of the programme makers in rising to the challenge of providing a synthetic world. There were fascinating and all too short sequences detailing a trip to Russia for authentic uniforms, food and toiletries; the sourcing of authentic hardware; the decoration of an entire army base; and the transport to the base. From what I could tell, they've done a very good job indeed.
So it's a shame they've chosen to lower the bar for themselves by choosing what looks like a roundly stupid set of participants. In the war story, the plucky hero uncovers Fritz's ruse and signals home for a rescue party. I dearly hope that we get similar drama in this series from close shaves with reality and some real efforts by the participants to work out what's happening to them, but I hold out very little hope. And consequently, it looks like all the laughs are going to be cheaply won at the cadets' expense, which will hardly make for satisfying viewing.
This talk of my entertainment demands leaves aside the much-discussed ethical issues. We've all seen the Truman Show and sympathised with Jim Carrey as the pawn. No one wants synthesised experiences over real ones, and the sense of let-down at the end is going to be cataclysmic for some. Clearly wise to the possibility of losing their audience's sympathy in this way, the producers cleverly allowed the participants to nominate a deeply trusted person to decide whether or not they should participate. There goes my qualms with the show: lost with my respect for these poor saps' choice of friends.