Turn Back Time

Wednesday, August 9, 2006 by

“And now for something completely different”, that familiar phrase from Monty Python’s Flying Circus would not have been the first thing to spring to viewers’ minds as they tuned in to watch ex-Python Terry Jones discuss his career in BBC2′s new offering, Turn Back Time.

Hosted by Dara O’Briain, the show delves back into the past of a celebrity guest, prompting them to discuss their regrets and what they would change given the possibility. It’s a format that has more than a faint whiff of familiarity, basically an amalgam of chat show, Room 101 and TV Heaven, Telly Hell – itself an obvious variation of the former. O’Briain, who has become a more regular face on television this side of the water, comes across as quite an amiable host, not dominating proceedings and amusing enough within the constraints of the show.

Most of the questions are another excuse for the BBC to drag out familiar clips that are, for the most part, not unfamiliar to audiences. As with Room 101 there is also a handful of pre-scripted prop assisted gags – although not a coconut in sight surprisingly – and it is in these moments that O’Briain comes across as a bit uncomfortable.

The regrets of Jones were hardly Earth shattering or particularly revelatory either, amounting to little more than wishing he had learnt the lines to the spam sketch.

Having said that, there were some interesting moments, such as Jones revealing details of a never filmed scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, some brief historical chin waging about the Vandals (a plug for his current book, really) and the debates with the film censors over swear words. This was summed up at the end when both host and guest unleashed a bombardment of naughty words over the show’s closing credits. How times have changed eh?

The most affecting moment was the screening of 8mm footage of a short film the young Jones had made with his father; a slightly surreal comic affair involving animated garden chairs. Alas any attempt to delve below the surface and find out more about his relationship with his parent, and possible insight into the beginnings of his particular comic style, were ignored. It wasn’t helped by the fact the audience didn’t seem to know how to react. Was this a serious interview or a light-hearted chat? This was highlighted early on when, after Jones revealed that seeing the footage had made him rather emotional as he hadn’t seen his father since 1971, the audience’s titters trailed off.

Whilst certainly not the worst way to waste 30 minutes, the rather derivative format means this isn’t a show that will create viewer loyalty, being one of those “there’s nothing else on” options. Crucially it will be the calibre of guests – future interviewees include Johnny Vegas, Ruby Wax and Vic Reeves – that will entice the casual viewer rather than make Turn Back Time must see telly.


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