It may be hard to believe sometimes, but there was a time when there were people even more divisive than Steven Moffat – and one of the most divisive in the past century has been Sigmund Freud.The oft-quoted “father of psychoanalysis”, the frequent focus on sexual history in his theories have fallen out of favour (though they give good joke material) but many aspects of the methodology of analysis and therapy remain.
Now, The Sigmund Freud Files gives a new aspect to the Professor – how would he have dealt with personal involvement in cases of crime? Big Finish bring us Bastei’s new English-language adaptations of the successful German series from 2011 – but do they stack up or end up as a Freudian slip?
Wisely, writer Heiko Martens (translation is by Armin Prediger) keeps away from the Holmes-type template despite the deductive focus and doesn’t try and make Freud an action hero – set between the two World Wars, Freud is not a young man any more and the stories reflect this. In fact, the utilisation of his daughter Anna and policeman Karl Gruber give a slight parallel of Hartnell’s Doctor with Susan and Ian, albeit Barbara-less!
Bastei have released four stories through Big Finish, which touch on a range of aspects of Freud as well as the society at the time. In The Second Face we are introduced to the main players when Gruber seeks out Freud as an actress is found murdered and drained of blood – could there really be a vampire on the loose? Father and Son has an analysis session take a disturbing turn when a patient grieving the loss of his parent holds Freud at gunpoint demanding release from guilt over his actions, and in Injury Freud’s talents are needed when a sniper in a church tower threatens Vienna’s citizens. Finally, Stimulus sees Freud himself under the spotlight as he is accused of raping a woman left in a vegetative state – is he innocent, and if so who attacked her?
It’s not the first time that Freud has been involved in thriller stories – Jed Rubenfeld’s The Interpretation of Murder springs to mind – but it’s a good concept and handled quite differently to the aforementioned novel. One aspect I particularly like is that the three core elements of the Freudian mind – ego, superego and id – are all literal roles that play a part as we hear Freud’s thought processes, which give insight into his thoughts and fears. Their casting as well as their words are telling, and that kind of measured detail is evident throughout all four episodes.
You don’t have to be a supporter of Freud’s theories to recognise the methodology of deduction, which has persisted even if the specifics of the ideas used as framework has not. The scenarios in these four stories are carefully chosen to fit with Freudianism so if you really dislike that then you probably didn’t get past the title to be honest!
That isn’t to say that this is hero-worship either, and it pulls no punches in what can sometimes be uncomfortable territory (particularly in Stimulus). The sense of the age and its society comes through well, for both better and worse, and the sound design compliments the pictures drawn.
So, how does it stand up to Big Finish itself? Well it’s a mighty high bar these days, but it aquits itself pretty well – if any niggle is there I would say that the musical interludes can be a little long for their scenes but their quality is good (especially the piano). The German series had a further four stories made, and I do hope they get adapted in the same way as these.
This clearly isn’t going to be a series for everyone with challenging mature content and a controversial central figure, but if the concept interests you then you should definitely check out The Sigmund Freud Files – and The Second Face is completely free! And if I were to overlook that then surely I’d need my head examined…