Masters of Sex (Channel 4) – Review

cloughYou may or may not know that Dr. Who’s Tardis was originally designed to change its shape into anything, but in 1963 it got stuck forever in the shape of a police telephone box.

In the same way, actor Michael Sheen has always had the miraculous ability to transform himself into anyone. Unfortunately, in my mind, in 2009 Sheen’s face became stuck forever, Tardis-like, with a single, indelible visage.

Yes, rather infuriatingly, for me, Michael Sheen will always be Brian Clough. Which makes reviewing “Master of Sex” very confusing. But I’ll give it a go.

As the series opens we first discover Clough playing the part of William Masters – infamous Leeds United manager and noted gynaecologist at Washington University.

This new regeneration of Clough likes to wear a neat bow tie and crouch in a cupboard, peering through a tiny hole, while a mucky prostitute has doggie style hanky panky. Clearly this is his favourite pastime, but this man is more than just a serial pervert – he wants to win the Nobel Prize for studying sex.

“How did you feel during that orgasm?” he asks the prostitute. “I faked it,” she replies.

Clough can’t understand why any woman would want to fake an orgasm, so he and his new research assistant Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) embark upon one of the world’s first serious studies of human physiological responses during sexual intercourse.

Luckily, Virginia Johnson is hot. Very hot. Not only that but she appears to be a sex maniac – already having made a name for herself on campus by banging the brains out of several of her colleagues – notably Cloughie’s best buddy Dr Ethan Haas. So Ginny has no trouble at all adapting to the strange and explicit obsessions of her new boss.

After sitting in a lab with the lovely Virginia for several months, watching literally hundreds of couples having sex, the former Middlesbrough, Sunderland and England striker eventually suggests to his assistant that they should have sex together, claiming that the huge hard-on in his shorts is starting to prevent him from concentrating on his research.

Clough visits the provost of the university (Beau Bridges) and asks him for funding, so that he and Virgina can watch ever more bonking couples whilst hooking them up to machines with blinking lights and ticker tape readouts.

Doubtful at first, Bridges slowly warms to the idea when he is invited into the laboratory to observe a blond secretary masturbating with a giant glass vibrator containing a television camera.

By 1956 sex expert Alfred Kinsey had already generated front page headlines and huge book sales with “The Kinsey Report”, so Cloughie was far from the first scientific sex pioneer.¬† But he will always be admired for the sheer scale and breadth of his research on sexual activity, and for leading Nottingham Forest to European Cup success in both 1979 and 1980.

There are 12 episodes of Master of Sex. Difficult to see how Channel 4 are going to spin it out for as long as that, and one can’t help wondering whether this commission is not more about cheap, soft-core titillation than it is about the history of sexual research.

Clough went on to marry his research assistant Virginia Johnson in 1971. He was, without doubt, one of the greatest scientific researchers of his generation, and also, in my opinion, the best manager England never had.