Bonekickers, BBC1

Did we like it?
The BBC gave us Triangle in the 80s, Eldorado in the 90s and have now generously bequeathed Bonekickers to the nation. Set in the beautiful city of Bath, with the creative forces of Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham (Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes) and a strong cast including Adrian Lester, Hugh Bonneville, Michael Maloney and Paul Rhys this surely had quality television written all over it, didn’t it?

Au contraire; with dialogue so banal it made your ears bleed, plot developments that veered from the ludicrous to those that a seven-year-old could have predicted this was jaw-droppingly awful drama. Buffy the Vampire Slayer for pensioners.

What was good about it?
• We’re struggling here. You have to acknowledge that it was a pretty strong cast, but when they’re wasted on garbage like this, that becomes a bad point.
• There was some eye-candy to suit most preferences in the shape of Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Adrian Lester and Paul Nicholls. And that’s about it.

What was bad about it?
• Where to start? Could someone please explain the appeal of Julie Graham to casting directors? In William and Mary she was an unappealing stroppy midwife with a sharp tongue. Here she has the same personality except this time she’s the (unconvincing) lead archaeologist Gillian Magwilde. But to single her out would be unfair, as pretty much all the lead characters were cardboard caricatures straight from central casting: ‘Maverick professor with old-fashioned attitudes who comes out with some dodgy sexist comments but has a heart of gold’? Step forward Hugh Bonneville as Gregory ‘Dolly’ Parton. ‘Head of Archaeology who’s on Gillian’s case and is more concerned about public appearances’? That’ll be Michael Maloney. And ‘Naïve young intern who asks lots of questions, is mistake-prone but you know will come good at the end’? That’s Mbatha-Raw as Viv.
• Some of the dialogue was so trite, a 5 year old child would have been insulted. After discovering a chunk of wood in their dig, Adrian Lester’s Ben tells the team, “This wood is cedar, from Syria, dated to 32 AD, and some organic matter – blood – has soaked into the wood.” We had no idea that you could date a 2,000 year old tree back to its exact year. We half-expected him to say that it had been dated to 8.45pm on Good Friday, 32 AD and have done with it.
• The plot of this opener was a load of old cobblers, with Paul Rhys as the creepy religious leader of a modern day version of the Knights Templar, pursuing their own crusade to rid Britain of its Muslim menace. This lead to one of many ludicrous scenes when Paul Nicholls, dusting down his old ‘Mad Joe’ routine from his EastEnders days, decapitates a Muslim student with a broadsword at the bottom of a block of flats.
• When Viv is trapped in Gillian’s flat whilst someone with a broadsword tries to break in, does she call the police on either a mobile or a landline? No, she hides in a secret room and then rushes back to tell the team.
• Dolly manages to escape from a nutter with a sword by pushing (not throwing, but pushing) a book at him and then dodging round a bookcase. Quite why said nutter – who’s about 20 years younger and a lot fitter – doesn’t follow him is left unexplained.
• The climax of the episode was possibly the most ludicrous 10 minutes of television we’ve ever seen. After rushing to the burial place of the ‘one true cross’, the team find a huge chamber buried under a hatch in a small dovecote. It was akin to finding St Paul’s Cathedral under a few planks in your garden shed.
• Paul Rhys, dressed in a business suit and overcoat then slides down a rope into the chamber like Batman and produces a previously unnoticed broadsword from his belt. He’s then momentarily distracted from killing Viv, by her singing ‘Jerusalem’ at him. (Yes, you read that right) That gives Gillian enough time to swing by and knock him into a flaming cross and turn him into a fireball.
• Despite the hole in the dovecote being about 4 foot square, when Paul Nicholls follows his leader down the rope and finds himself suspended opposite Gillian, they’re about 10 feet apart. And we all know from watching ‘Hang Tough’ on Gladiators that even the fittest athletes thrash about like fish on a line when hanging from just one rope. Not these two, however; they manage to generate enough momentum from somewhere to swing around like Tarzan.
• The whole debacle is summed up by Dolly’s plea as they stagger out of the smoking dovecote, “Can we please all go to the pub?” For a dedicated archaeologist, he seems remarkably unfazed that he’s just seen the one true cross go up in flames. We might sneak a glance at next week’s episode to see if it can get any worse – though it’s difficult to imagine how that’s possible.

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