Spooky music. Like, really spooky electronic music over mixed with howls.. Arty shots of wolves in the forest. Nimoy tells us about ancient legends of children raised by wolves or other animals. Sure enough, a boy comes running through the forest, and Nimoy tells us that he is a feral child discovered in the French forest in the 1800s. Nimoy asks could such a child be civilised? If so, that was an excessively spooky intro.
Panning over a shot of Rome, and we’re talking about Romulus and Remus– though I’m surprised Nimoy wants to go anywhere near Romulus. Footage of monkeys and apes and ‘many people’ think that human children could be raised by them. Blah, blah, filler, Tarzan, Mowgli (not actually raised by apes, but whatever). Nimoy admits that actual, non-fictitious apes would be more likely to kill a human baby than raise it.
But anyway, we’re talking about feral children. There are photos of children who were allegedly discovered being raised by animals, though the photos uniformity show no animals at all. Nimoy talks about children being cast out for various reasons.
Surprisingly, we move from this vaguery to something very specific. This is a famous case in the 70s, a Peruvian boy with a rare disfiguring disease who was abandoned by his parents. He was rescued by a Swiss charity worker and had reconstructive surgery in Britain. The surgeon, Ian Jackson, is uncertain how the child ended up in a children’s hospital in Lima. Jackson presumes that he lived in the jungle, but doesn’t know for certain. Tellingly, Jackson does not suggest anything about the child being raised by animals.
A photo of an Indian boy ‘believed’ to have been raised by wolves. Some more photos, also of Indian children ‘believed’ to be raised by wolves.
We’re five minutes in and… suddenly the show takes one of its trademark odd turns. Most of the rest of the episode is taken up with the story of Victor, the Wild Boy of Aveyron. Around 1800, French villagers discovered a naked boy living in the local forest, stealing food from fields to survive. He was captured and sent to the National Institute for the Deaf and Dumb.
One consultant at the Institute, Dr Jean Itard, took an interest in the child and tried to learn about him. What follows is minutes of re-enactments of Itad’s observations, which range from the interesting to the unlikely. The child actor playing the boy is having the time of his life, though.
It’s actually pretty interesting – initially the boy (later named Victor) was sullen and unresponsive, but gradually took an interest in his surroundings. But it’s also very long. Instead of the usual wild flipping from idea to idea that you often get in this show, there’s an extended sequence in which Itard tries to teach Victor to say the word ‘eau’ or ‘lait’. Victor learns a few spoken words, but never gains the full power of speech. Apparently, he had better success with reading and writing. It’s all very slow television, but between the long sections of Itard trying to teach Victor and Nimoy’s sonorous narration it’s strangely hypnotic.
And now we’re out of the nice little reconstruction and looking at pictures of man-beast creatures and looking at an actor pretending to be sasquatch. Because it wouldn’t be In Search Of… if we just looked at an interesting historical curiosity like Victor without trying to link it to something stupid.
So we go to talk to Scottish wolf expert, Ian Brody. This is a good episode if you like Ians. Brody says that a wolf that had lost a child might possibly respond to the cries of a human infant and feed it. He is being licked by a wolf as he speaks, which honestly doesn’t detract from his credibility.
But Ian Jackson, the surgeon from earlier, rather more sensibly argues that a human infant would certainly die without human care. An older child, he argues, might survive in the wild and so become wild. But a baby in the woods is basically a gonner.
And now it gets ugly. We bring up some footage from an earlier episode (Shark Worshipers, possibly?) of black children playing in the water. Nimoy argues that in ‘isolated tribes’, ‘survival is not taught but must be learned by trial and error’, which… no. Just no. I mean… no. Just… And then the narration claims that these children are halfway between us and the completely wild children and… Ugh. I was enjoying this episode, this bit left a nasty taste in my mouth.
Now we’re learning about a tragic story of child abuse, in which a Californian girl was basically imprisoned and isolated by her parents. She was rescued and her parents prosecuted, but she has found it difficult to master basic language skills. We conclude on something pretty true – there’s a time in our lives for learning language, and if we miss that window it’s almost impossible to learn it later.
So, interesting look at a child who survived in the wild but with the usual weird swerves into sensationalism and racism. Which is a pity, because the bits about Victor are fairly well made and informative.
Nimoy: “What happens if a child is raised completely devoid of human contact.” – Excellent question, could have used more answering.Nimoy: “Where our ancestors marveled at mermaids and centaurs, we wonder about yeti and the sasquatch. If they exist, are these really wild men? Have they perhaps been reared by animal parents?”
Reenactment: 7/10, Weird electronic music: 7/10, Cohesion: 4/10, Avoiding racism: 1/10, Nimoyness: 6/10. Overall: 25/50. Pass.