Tony’s feeling like a king.
While the format of The Confessions of Dorian Gray allows episodes to be plucked from over a hundred years in the life of the degenerate immortal, Series 1 began with the death of Oscar Wilde in 1900 and has kept us moving forward in leaps of decades. The final episode of Series 1 sees Dorian as close to us in time as he’s ever been, as a banker in the City of London in 2007, complete with all the trappings of what he calls ‘the kings and queens of Britain’ – penthouse apartment, comprehensive cocaine habit, sharp suits, anything his debauched heart desires. It’s a development of his character that feels instinctively right – while he’s always been a morally corrupt aesthete, enjoying art for its own sake, sex and drugs and (we daresay) rock and roll for the fleeting pleasures they can give him and the sensations they can bring to his long, generally unfulfilled life, he’s always been able to do more or less whatever he pleases, mostly ‘doing nothing’ as he candidly admits. Now in 2007, for the first real time, the freedom to do as he pleases at the very top of society involves responsibilities. Timetables. A day job. It’s so thoroughly unDorian that it brings with it an interesting dilemma – why would the immortal Dorian Gray do such a thing? He answers that question early in this story: doing nothing, the life of unbridled hedonism entirely revolving round itself, gets very tedious. For all his uniqueness, Dorian has always been at the centre of a scene, a group – there is no point in being stunningly beautiful if no-one’s around to adore you, after all. So we find Dorian in the City, doing the banking thing for distraction, and following its rituals of sex, drugs, conspicuous consumption and (not to put too fine a point on it), being a wastrel only in his off hours. That’s perhaps the most punchy satire in this episode – Dorian’s always been a wastrel, as have those he allows in his circle: artists, certainly, but only the best class of artists, able to devote their time to it because they have no nagging financial concerns, whatever else they have to do to ensure that’s the case. Now, we have inculcated the wastrel nature into the very top financial echelons of our society, and so we find Dorian there.
The story of The Fallen King of Britain has two main strands. As ever with Dorian, there’s a creepy supernatural element to his tale, as people grow paranoid and die after taking cocaine that Dorian’s supplied them. To some extent, that’s not unexpected, but there is of course more to their deaths than a simple excess of chemistry – writer Joseph Lidster brings the first series round full circle in many ways, revisiting the Spirits of Guilt from Episode 2, bringing in Dorian’s sister from Episode 3, and in the sharpest stab of all, bringing in Toby, the man with whom the immoral immortal fell genuinely, ungovernably in love during the 1980s. We’ve heard Isadora and Toby, alive and vital in their respective episodes, but here they’ve joined the choir of those who died through Dorian’s actions, spirits who cannot be set free of the Earth while he’s alive. Or at least of something pretending to be those spirits.
But, plagued as he is in this episode by the voices of the dead, there is no corner of the world in which Dorian Gray can be anything but a corrupting influence. We meet only three of his friends and colleagues in this episode, Mark, Fiona and Simon. Mark and Fiona are the governors of his lifestyle – his friend and his boss, and Dorian (going by the name of Charlie White, because of his prodigious side business as a coke dealer) supplies them both with gear that winds up costing them dearly, Mark joining the crowd in Dorian’s dreams and his head, the choir demanding retribution for his immortality and their deaths at his hands or through his influence.
And then there’s Simon.
Simon is the other story-strand in the episode. Simon’s favourite book is The Picture of Dorian Gray. Simon is beautiful, and seemingly innocent, and very clean living – he’s new to the circle of ‘kings and queens,’ and he has no interest in cocaine. Dorian sees himself reflected in Simon’s eyes, himself before he was first brought into artistic society, before he was taught the moral imperative of self-interest above all. He has a plan, rooted entirely in his own self-regard, to be the mentor to young Simon, as Basil (in the original novel) was to him. To corrupt him utterly to the same point of view. There is to plan to ‘rescue’ this avatar from himself from the hedonistic viewpoint, but only to bring him over to it.
Simon stands in opposition to Toby in Episode 4, with whom Dorian fell so hopelessly in love. Toby was a creature consumed by darkness and melancholy – he was Dorian’s devil, so to speak. Simon on the other hand has the potential, and it seems the desire, to be his angel, to rescue Charlie White, or even Dorian Gray, from the demons of his guilt, from the excesses of his self-revolving nature, and from the loneliness of at least a portion of his life.
But Dorian, king of corruption, cannot really believe in simple human goodness any more. Perhaps a predisposition, but certainly a long, self-serving life, have killed the notion of people simply being ‘good’ in his head, and he accuses Simon of all sorts of prurient motives, and even supernatural ones.
Is he right? You’ll have to listen to the episode to find out, but whether Simon’s as genuine as he seems or not, there’s certainly a battle for what remains of Dorian’s ‘soul’ here, the ‘Guilt-Spirits’ daring Dorian to the edge of his destruction, and Simon joining him there. Good or bad, the question of whether Dorian can add one more soul to the tally of those for whose death he is responsible becomes the battleground between death (with its attendant notions of Hellfire and punishment for the man who threw his soul to the Devil for his beautiful immortality), and life, with its unending challenges of boredom and his influence as an agent of corruption wherever he goes.
Arguably no-one does. Arguably, that’s the point of Dorian Gray – having sold his soul, his life, long as it may be, beautiful though it may appear, privileged and wealthy and decadent as it undoubtedly has been – is worthless, the artwork of his face and body merely pigment over the increasing, devastating corruption of his portrait and his soul.
But as ever, it’s a mistake to overanalyse Dorian Gray. Like all the aesthetes of his day, and like Wilde himself when he created him, he is a work of art for its own sake, working only on himself as a creation. Alexander Vlahos in the first series stamps a new, informal-sounding voice on the character, and delivers the philosophical and emotional confessions of a man who always walks away from any catastrophe. From the death of the man who immortalised him in print, and the demons in his wallpaper, Dorian walks away. From the woman carrying his child and the carnage of the Blitz, Dorian walks away. From the death of his sister and the wrath of dragons, Dorian walks away. And from the sun-drenched death of the man he truly loved with all the power that was left in his heart, Dorian, still, walks away. David Blackwell as Simon in this episode gives a believable portrayal of an innocent, straightforward man way out of his depth, but as Dorian himself might say, if he was sent from Hell, he would do, wouldn’t he? Director Scott Handcock moves the pace along, as you have to in half-hour episodes, but here, perhaps more than in any other episode of the first series, there’s time to debate the nature of good and evil, Simon and Dorian seeming to come at things from opposite ends of the spectrum, despite what Dorian sees as their similarity.
But from Simon, his sacrifice, and the potential of his salvation – from all of it, at the end of the episode, Dorian Gray has no option but to walk away, his solitude intact, his soul…ah, but that would be telling.
The first series of The Confessions of Dorian Gray has introduced and established Dorian in a new mould at Big Finish. No longer the creature driven to destroy his portrait at the end of his story, the series has asked the question ‘What if he didn’t?’ What would Dorian Gray do if he survived the end of the book, and went walking away into eternity?
We can’t wait to find out more of his answers over the course of the next four series.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk