Takin’ Over the Asylum

So when I was a wee lass, struggling with greater than/less than and detesting long division that ended with remainders (this is why I don’t like math! – because lots of things end up with solutions that are very untidy and not whole numbers AT ALL), the BBC was creating a miniseries about a DJ at a mental hospital radio station and the patients there, called Takin’ Over the Asylum.  And although I was too wee to care at the time, they were being surprisingly careful not to be an asshole, and getting their actors to perform four major mental illnesses (bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, and OCD) with care and sensitivity, if not always total accuracy.

And yes, okay, the reason I wanted to watch this in the first place is that it contains a young David Tennant, large of nose and floppy of hair, playing a manic(poor typecast thing but he does do it brilliantly)-depressive kid who also wants to be a DJ.  However, when I read a bit more about it, I discovered I wanted to see it for its own sake anyway.  The extras in the series were people who had previously been patients in mental hospitals, so they could make sure they weren’t getting mental hospitals wrong!  How good’s that?  Oh, and also, it’s set in Glasgow, rendering everyone TOTALLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE.

No, I’m exaggerating.  They are only a little bit incomprehensible.  I listen slightly slower than they talk, which is fine when they’re only saying one or two sentences; it’s just when they go on and on (David Tennant goes on and on) that I sometimes get lost around the middle.  There’s also the other problem of David Tennant being so damn cute (seriously, look at how adorable he was) that every time he comes on screen my sister and I have to shriek loudly because he’s just so young.  And that tends to make us miss his lines.

Takin’ Over the Asylum is sad.  I was pleased they didn’t try to make everything bright and cheery at the end, because mental illness is really sad and difficult.  I got to be really fond of the five central characters, and I wanted them all to triumph over the odds and get what they wanted.  Things got better and worse, better and worse, which is just the way it goes.

The keen-eyed amongst you may have spotted that this is not a book review.  Only when I was reading Donna Franceschild’s recollections of making this series, she says that the director sometimes worried that the hospital orderly was being too vicious, and the extras all said, no, he’s got it exactly right.  And that made me sad, and also reminded me of how interested I am in the history of mental health care and how little I know about it.

Et voila, I checked out Edward Shorter’s A History of Psychiatry.  When I used to work at one of the college bookshops in town, this was one of the books I wrote down to read.  And then one day this girl came in to sell her copy back, and I asked if it was fascinating, as I suspected it must be, and she said, “No.  It’s actually really boring.  I thought it was going to be my favorite textbook but it was really boring.”

And it wasn’t so much that it was boring, as that it didn’t give a good idea of the sweep of change in psychiatry.  It’s more a history of people in psychiatry, which is dull, episodic, and difficult to follow.  I got about a fifth of the way through and couldn’t manage to continue.  However, I did examine his bibliography to find out some other books about the history of psychiatry, so I hope I will have more to say on this subject in the future.