I’m thinking a bit about childhood tastes at the moment*. What I’m quite interested in is the moment at which a kid gets the level of visual sophistication which allows them to identify a visual effect as ‘rubbish’. Be it a bit of cheap SFX, or poor animation, or a badly constructed set, there’s a point at which the suspension of disbelief departs.

Actually even calling it ‘suspension of disbelief’ is wrong – there’s no disbelief to be suspended. There’s an awareness (beyond an age I can’t even remember for myself) that what’s being watched isn’t ‘real’ but there’s no sense that certain things are being wilfully ignored by young children.

I’m not sure older children suspend disbelief, either: when they notice something they dislike they can turn against it very quickly. I kept watching Dr Who** in the late 80s out of habit and despair at the show’s apparent decline: when I returned to it as an adult I was shocked to find that several late episodes were regarded as very intelligent, well-acted near-classics. All I remembered was the naff designs and crappy lumbering monsters.

Watching old TV shows as an adult I’m able to ignore the quality of the effects at will. The circle seems complete – from ignoring crappiness unconsciously, through being hypersensitive to it, to simply not factoring it in critically. But occasionally I still get an odd jolt. In one particular old Who episode, a supporting villain was aged into a skeleton. This terrified me, my only real behind-the-sofa moment. In my memory not only was the effect wonderful but the whole tone of the scene was creepy and dramatic. In fact the effect was awful, the actor hammy and the scene played at least half for laughs. So how did I fill in those gaps? I thought of this while watching Saturday’s episode, with its morphing CGI gas mask faces. “Wow, that’s a bit ropey” I thought, and then thought that a 6 year old watching would never forget it. This isn’t a nostalgic wish to be less sophisticated, more groping for where and how ‘sophistication’ develops.

*OK, for several years now.
**come on, you knew it was coming.