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Harrison, I.B. (1996). Doubling Back on Dennis Potter's Doubles: The Invisible Man and the Invisible Woman. Psychoanal. Rev., 83(1):67-96.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Review, 83(1):67-96

Doubling Back on Dennis Potter's Doubles: The Invisible Man and the Invisible Woman

Irving B. Harrison, M.D.

Stretched out and in agony, the man's body-naked but for a loin cloth-extends upward from our vantage point. A group in uniform strides forward and clusters at his bare feet; they contemplate the afflicted figure. It is, however, only a symbolic crucifixion, only suggestive. The man is a patient, his body, vertical on the television screen, is flat on a hospital bed. The white-coated legionnaires who strode in (to the strains of “The Entry of the Queen of Sheba”) are a visiting medical professor with full entourage. To them, the man is a medical embarrassment: his body is failing to respond to therapeutic efforts. They observe the skin disorder that is slowly flaying him alive, as members of the staff describe to the chief the earlier medical mismanagement that has aggravated the crippled condition of the patient's deformed joints.

In a burst of passion, the man pleads for their attention to him as an intelligent adult, and he gains it, momentarily. He describes his torment: unable even to laugh or to cry without pain, he is, he says, “A prisoner in my own skin and bones!” He begs for death.

The response of the medical staff takes on an unnerving reality as they verbally toss around Librium, Valium, barbiturates and antidepressants. While they exchange these one-word suggestions, they begin to snap their fingers in syncopation. (The patient, Philip Marlow, author, the protagonist of Dennis Potter's television drama, The Singing Detective, has become delirious.) The episode gives way to a marvelous, macabre musical comedy routine: attractive nurses in fetching ballet costume dance to the tune of “Dem Bones,” highkicking at skulls and playing on ribs as on a xylophone. The medical team and attending staff are, meanwhile, fully into the swinging, bouncy gospel tune, ending with “Now hear the word of the Lord.” As the music ends, so does Marlow's delirium; the ward returns to normal.


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