Sunday, July 13, 2008

Holey, Holey - Bonekickers Misses the Mark

Bonekickers, the BBC's much-publicised summer drama, got off to a stumbling start last week with its first episode, Army of God.

The series focuses on the activities of a team of archaeologists whose finds stir up historic, political, and (in the case of last week's opening episode) religious controversy.

The concept - Time Team meets Indiana Jones - is a bold one and certainly worth a go. The problem as I see it is in the decision to ride roughshod over such minor details as plot, factual accuracy and credibility. That's OK when it's Doctor Who, but for a production that claims to have its feet firmly on the ground (boom, boom!) it makes a mockery of the genre.

Last week's episode started well enough - an unusual find of medieval coins under a building site in Bath raises questions about aspects of the history of the Crusades - but it soon tumbled downhill into a storyline that had as many holes as the chain mail the team were unearthing from the Somerset soil.

Central to the plot was an entirely unbelievable "right-wing Christian" Laygrass, whose vision of Britain was to restore the order of the Knights Templar, drive out all Muslims from the UK and establish a pure Anglo-Christian theocracy supported by the possession of ancient relics.

Laygrass (the aforementioned villain) was portrayed as a quasi-evangelical (Bible quoting, salvation-focused) with his own media department producing ethereal DVD's expounding his ideas against a cloudy backdrop to the tune of Jerusalem. His theology, of course, was unrecognizable in the British Christian scene - and would have been out of place in even the wackiest parts of the American Bible Belt. It's nearest counterpart might be that of the Maronite militia of Lebanon - though even these militants do not seek a restoration of the Knights Templar, the medieval monastic order responsible for protecting pilgrims en route to the Holy Land.

The programme's crass detachment from reality is further portrayed in the clumsy manhandling of artifacts on the part of the archaeologists, who appear to treat the antiquities like items found on Car Booty.

Last week's closing scene, when Laygass meets his fiery end in a basement inferno in rural Herefordshire, pushes credibility to the limit. While ancient and priceless artifacts go up in flames and while people are burning to death beneath the ground, Professor Greg Parton (Hugh Bonneville) nonchalantly asks "for the love of Jehovah, may we go to the pub?"

Bonekickers seems to be pitched at a mainstream audience. If the show doesn't improve, it risks being consigned to the dust.

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