"Archaeology has never been so dramatic" goes the BBC blurb for this six-part series from the creators of Life on Mars. Based in Bath, the Bonekickers team, led by feisty, no-nonsense, two-dimensional Professor Gillian Magwilde (Julie Graham, above), delves into historical mysteries linked to present-day events. On paper, it must have sounded brilliant. On screen, it’s at best pretty ho-hum and at worst almost unwatchably dire.
On the team, who have clearly been carefully hand-picked for their demographic diversity, there’s the cute black guy, who just happens to be Gillian’s ex-lover, the newbie pretty girl who acts as info-dump recipient on behalf of the audience (but is it really believable that this apparently crack team of archaeologists would employ someone who doesn’t know the correct pronunciation of "Boudicca"?), and the older guy, Professor Gregory Parton, known as "Dolly". And no, the jokes don’t rise much above that level. He is the standard old fogey, making non-PC comments and being tutted at by the others but tolerated because he’s apparently lovable and brilliant. Apparently.
Each week, Gillian puts herself in danger so that she can explore her feelings for her ex, or for some other former beau, while digging up an artefact or two and making grand leaps of logic and assumptions that would make even the Primeval team wince.
And considering this is from the writers of Life on Mars, the dialogue can be astonishingly clunky. Witness this scene – Gillian and Ben (cute ex-boyfriend) are digging around in the catacombs under the Roman baths following Gillian’s hunch that Boudicca was kept there (there was no real evidence for this, but it was a fun idea) when they are trapped by a rock fall. There’s a load of stuff about Roman explosives, genocide of the Britons, a love affair between Boudicca and a Roman legionary, some of which may even have been based on real, proper history. But anyway, they’re trapped underground. The two other brainboxes on the team, newbie Viv and Professor Dolly, are back in the lab, doing labby things with previously found artefacts. Viv is worried. She can’t contact Gillian and Ben on their mobile phones. Dolly says with a grin, "Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure they’re busy enjoying themselves!" chuckle, chuckle. Cut to Gillian and Ben covered in dirt underground, and in danger of being blown up.
According to the synopsis, Gillian has a Big Secret that she’s hiding from the rest of the team, something to do with following up the quest that drove her poor old mum round the bend. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can be bothered enough to care.
The BBC might think archaeology has never been so dramatic. I’ll stick with the Indiana Jones movies or sexy archaeologist Dr Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG1. Both manage to get pretty dramatic and archaeological and, frankly, a lot more interesting.
© Carole Gordon 2008