Daydreams: can the ‘ambient’ CBeebies experience really work? | Television & radio


If you’re of the opinion – the correct opinion – that CBeebies represents the very pinnacle of what John Reith set out to accomplish, then Daydreams might just represent a brave new peak.

Daydreams is an hour-long, iPlayer-only procession of gentle sounds and colours designed to stop your children from causing widespread structural damage to your property. You put it on and they gawp at footage of rivers, trees and bubbles until they have been lulled into a state of catatonia. It is, transparently, much more for parents than kids; the closest thing you can get to spiking their milk with brandy now that society has come to frown on that.

I have a feeling that – once word gets out – Daydreams will cross over into the mainstream. It is so artfully put together that, if BBC Four put it out under the slow-TV banner, it would probably break viewing records. The closest equivalent, at least superficially, is 2015’s Dawn Chorus: The Sounds of Spring, one of the very first pieces of slow TV to be presented to the British public. Images drift in and out of focus, sounds boil up to the surface then fade away without ceremony.

There is no narrative to speak of with Daydreams, but it is all held together by a cohesive sense of feeling. Remember when, during last year’s Twin Peaks revival, people would tell you that the best way to watch it was to switch off the analytical part of your mind and just let it wash over you? The same applies here, although obviously Daydreams is better because it contains fewer Nine Inch Nails songs.

It’s technically a kids’ show, though, so there is some narration. But it’s one with pedigree; guiding you through the various dreamscapes is none other than Olivia Colman, intermittently drifting in to remind the young audience to “pause” and reflect on something they’ve just seen. And while I’m biased – possibly because no episode of Broadchurch has ever calmed down a manic child – there may be an argument to call it her best work. The music is by Tom Jenkinson, AKA Squarepusher, who delivers some of his gentle ambient rather than his drill’n’bass.

The whole show is full of lofty reference points. In its extreme closeups of trees and streams and blades of grass, it draws parallels with peak Terrence Malick. In its soundtrack, which narcoleptically bobs and weaves as it draws everything into a satisfying whole, it comes off like a Boards of Canada production. And, in its final passage, as day turns to night and focus is dropped – and Daydreams becomes little more than a series of abstract shapes and colours – it becomes a kindergarten Kubrick. It’s heady, impressive stuff.

Best of all, it works. Everyone in our house was ill last weekend, with the exception of our three-year-old, who insisted on ricocheting off every available surface, ignoring our pleas for mercy. As an experiment, I put Daydreams on. Not only did he, more or less instantly, calm down, but by the time it finished he was so relaxed that he fell asleep in the middle of his bedtime story. That may not sound too impressive, but in this household it’s seismic. We’re taking him on a long-haul flight in a few months. Try and stop me from downloading Daydreams to an iPad.

If I had to be picky, I couldn’t call Daydreams perfect – one time-lapse montage of blossoming flowers comes a little too early in the show, and at that point it feels like an unearned abstraction – but it’s close. God, is it close.

The mood that Daydreams creates is integral to CBeebies – its woozy, gentle Bedtime Hour is such a mainstay of modern parenthood that the channel is obliged to warn viewers of impending schedule changes weeks in advance – but this feels like a whole new level. Daydreams is an experience first and a programme second. If it wasn’t successful, you’d have to applaud the BBC’s audacity for making it in the first place. But it is and, next time I find myself unable to sleep, I may just find reach for it myself.



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