Friday, 27 November 2009

Bonekickers: Follow the Gleam

I apologise for putting up two Bonekickers posts in a row, but this is the last one, so bear with me. I need to get the DVD back, I'd drafted the post, so I thought I might as well put it out there. After this, no more Bonekickers!

So here we are at the last episode of Bonekickers. Some general thoughts on the series follow the recap.

Usually, when I recap things, I recap while watching the episode, pausing the DVD whenever I need to note something down. It has been suggested to me that, since I haven’t seen Bonekickers before, I might enjoy it more if I watch it through properly first. So I’ve given it a go, and it does help to watch it properly – it makes the whole thing less stilted and the end seems less far away. The recap will be a bit less detailed though, as I have so many hours in the day to spend watching Bonekickers! Also, this one is really, really bonkers…

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: King Arthur did not exist. Nor did Merlin, the Lady of the Lake, Agamemnon, Achilles, Aeneas, Romulus, Beowulf or Father Christmas and I’d be very dubious about Robin Hood. But we’ve discussed this before.

We’re now really, really deep into fantasyland, even borderline horror in places. If you step back and imagine you’re watching an episode of Stargate SG-1 or an Indiana Jones adventure, it’s um, well kinda fun in a this-is-so-bad-it’s-funny sort of way. The problem with Bonekickers is that it acts as if it’s somehow plausible…

The opening credits sum up some of the history of the mysterious sword, which Taggart now names as Excaliber, and show a rather nice shot of a meteorite landing which kind of makes me want to watch Stargate or Buffy. While Taggart muses about the sword and Tennyson, Viv bangs on her door screaming ‘I’m your sister!’ over and over again. Yes, I think she’s got the message now. Gillian screams and throws a book at the wall. Credits.

Glastonbury Tor! I’ve been there! And it’s Dexter Fletcher as an archaeologist! (Dexter Fletcher was the star of Press Gang, an 80s kids TV show that was repeated on Nikolodeon in the 90s. He was also a pirate in Stardust).

An amateur is trying to join in on the Glastonbury Tor dig and Dexter Fletcher dismisses him. The amateur has a strong West Country accent. Come on, BBC, are we still living in the 1930s? Plenty of academics have West Country accents, just as plenty have cockney accents.

The poor unfortunate amateur is dismissed and ridiculed by everyone around him until eventually he gets gruesomely bumped off, a few scenes from now. I realise that this was made before the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard, which was discovered by an amateur metal detector who was thoroughly sensible about the whole thing, alerted professional archaeologists (from our university!) to dig it like he was supposed to and will soon be a very rich man because of it. If you want to see a true story about an extraordinary Dark Age find discovered by a lucky amateur, the Staffordshire Hoard is it, and we’re all very grateful to him. (There are no mythical swords in the Staffordshire Hoard I’m afraid, but it’s genuinely an incredibly exciting find which may change, or at least sharpen, our view of Dark Age Britain, which I think is pretty exciting, with or without Arthur).

Taggart’s mother is still mad, and being cared for by a bizarrely rude and pushy nurse. Taggart insists she has neither a sister nor a quest, despite all evidence to the contrary.

NIJ and AL are stuck between Viv and Taggart, who keep sniping at each other, and they take it out on the amateur, but they do all go out to see what he has found at Glastonbury, though not before they’ve made a scene in front of a very confused media whore (who, when Viv asks if she can quit and still get a good reference, asks if NIJ has been bothering her – I like him).

The find at Glastonbury is supposedly part of a large round table with the name ‘Arthur’ on it (and luckily I am spared a great deal of historical whinging by having already seen the episode – luckily even Bonekickers isn’t that ridiculous).

Glastonbury Tor. Where I have been.

The media whore has an encounter with one of Taggart’s stalkers, who appears to have an actual Bristol phone number – I hope that’s not someone’s real number. The amateur is kidnapped while NIJ thankfully explains that they didn’t have circular meeting tables in the sixth century and Taggart insists it’s a fake, though bizarrely AL is the believer this time around. Also, Taggart and Viv are still bickering and Taggart fires Viv. Then the unfortunate amateur is brutally murdered for betraying some scary people to Taggart.

There’s a Tennyson flashback which introduces us to the ‘Disciples of Good Use’, who wander around wearing scary white masks and murder people. Taggart tells NIJ that she thinks ‘Henry Timberdyne’ is after her and he freaks out, explains that ‘Henry Timberdyne’ and the Disciples of Good Use are a secret society who were behind her mother’s madness, then tells her they’re really really scary and he won’t have anything more to do with any of it, and promptly leaves.

Dexter Fletcher and the scary man nick the table fragment and get Viv to tell them what she knows about it. Taggart has established that the table fragment is a fake because she’s found a ring pull buried underneath it, and says a student must have buried it as a joke, and that she did the same as a student. AL tries to kiss her but she’s distracted by Dexter Fletcher talking about the table on the news.

The scary man is really annoyed when he finds out (through Viv) that the table is a fake, and that Dexter has made them all look really silly, so he murders Dexter Fletcher by shutting him in a coffin marked ‘Henry Timberdyne’ with some very large rats. Hmm, interesting method. They all somehow know that Taggart and Viv are sisters too, don’t’ know what’s going on there.

Taggart shows AL her Crazy Room full of drawings of swords and he is a little taken aback. Then they discuss how the sword fits into every episode we’ve seen – forged from a meteor in ancient Mesopotamia, picked up by Alexander (Cradle of Civilization), taken by Romans looting Alexander’s tomb, taken to Britain by Claudius, picked up briefly by Boudicca (The Eternal Fire), it hangs around Britain for a while and is used by Arthur (this one), then – and this is where they really start to struggle – taken by Britons to France fleeing a Saxon invasion (and I feel duty-bound to point out that we’re not sure the Saxons did invade, they may just have settled in less populated areas), the Templar Knights get it to St Joan (Army of God and The Lines of War – this link with Joan of Arc is really odd and kinda pointless, as it goes nowhere, they’re just desperate to shoehorn The Lines of War in somewhere), the remenants of the Knights Templar then recovered it, moved to Portugal, then the Portugese traded it with the Ashante from West Africa, they ended up shipwrecked in the Bristol Channel (Warriors) and the sword was lost. Where everyone has been going wrong has been stopping with Arthur and not knowing all the stuff our guys have been finding out.

Taggart finds a random face on her wall , meaning someone has been in there, but AL just thinks she’s going completely crazy at this point, like her mother, and has drawn it herself, so they have a big fight and he storms off. Meanwhile, Viv is in a room full of the scary white masks. How and why did she get there? No one knows! Viv refuses to share information, so the scary men shut her in the coffin, but without the rats this time – they just want to torture/scare her into talking. They try to get Taggart, but miss her because she’s in her mother’s secret underfloor hiding place where she keeps baby photos of Viv. Wow, that’s an impressive nursing home/asylum, that comes with secret underfloor compartments!

The media whore helps Taggart go through her mother’s old letters and a bunch of information about Tennyson and his friend Hallan, who got himself murdered by the Disciples of Good Use for. They actually work really well together and are both rendered less annoying – this part made me want to watch another series with just those two in it. They find a coded receipt from which Taggart works out that a beachcomber found the sword, handed it in to Hallan, the Disciples got involved and wanted to take over the country and killed him, and he left it to Tennyson as ‘the gleam’ with the words ‘know that the quest is everything’, and Tennyson buried it.

Outside Viv’s tomb, NIJ comes out from the bushes, decks the guard and rescues her, introducing me to a new sensation – being pleased to see him. They go back to headquarters (where the media whore amusingly lets slip that he fancies Taggart). They all work out from Tennyson’s In Memoriam that Tennyson buried the sword with Hallan, and NIJ explains that he helped Taggart’s mother as an undergrad and spent some time in the coffin as a result. The grave contains a letter with another clue, sending them to Wells Cathedral.

The sword turns out to be underneath a lake – OK, well – near the cathedral – of course. NIJ and Viv go to the cathedral to nose around, which is a bad idea of course, as they get attacked by the scary men, causing NIJ to yell ‘Don’t mess with me, I’m an archaeologist!’ I think they’re trying to replicate the hilarity and tone of something like Rachel Weisz’s line in The Mummy, where she says ‘I know what I am – I’m a librarian!’ with great pride, but it doesn’t really work. Taggart goes under the water to find the sword and AL has to abandon her to go and help the other two, which he does by wielding a mace, which is very cool.

Our guys win the fight, of course, and rush back to Taggart, who emerges triumphant from the water, holding the sword aloft, just like the Lady of the Lake. This bit is actually genuinely cool in a really cheesy way. She hugs Viv and apparently all is forgiven.

Then it all gets even weirder. A white-haired scary man in white mask turns up. He takes the sword and attacked Taggart, and manages to totally break it. Taggart points out that after thousands of years it’s destroyed itself in his hands, and he promptly drowns himself. Hmm.

Sacry man in scary white mask with sword.

They take the broken sword to Taggart and Viv’s mother so she can hold the hilt, then chuck it back into the lake because ‘the quest is everything’. OK then. Though the chucking back into the lake part is genuinely nicely evocative of Arthurian myth.

And that’s it. Bonekickers is finished.

This episode left an awful lot of questions unanswered. OK, we know Viv is Taggart’s half-sister, produced while Taggart and her mother weren’t in contact for a year, but who was her father? How did they meet? Did Taggart senior have an affair, or was she single by then? Why does Taggart think Viv was lying when it was clearly just an omission of the truth? And so on, and so forth. All the backstory they’ve been hinting at all series didn’t really come to much, in the end, other than an excuse for Taggart to yell at Viv some more.

Also, we vaguely get the impression that Taggart senior was driven mad by the scary men’s coffin-torture, but a little clarification might have been nice. And what about Taggart and AL? How can I go on with my life without knowing whether they get back together or not??!!

I have to confess, though, I enjoyed this episode more than the others. Maybe my friends are right and I just needed to watch it properly and not type at the same time. Maybe the Arthurian subject matter allowed me to let go a bit and give up on actual history, and just enjoy the ride. Maybe the gruesome murders made it a bit more interesting, Maybe all of the above. Who can say?! Actually, in all honesty, I think it’s the fantasy thing. I knew that this episode was going to be pure fantasy from start to finish, so I relaxed and let it go in a way that’s not possible in a story which keeps getting its preachy act on about World War One, or Iraq, or slavery. When Bonekickers starts mangling serious issues, it’s problematic. When it just lets itself go on a flight of fancy, it can be quite fun.

The basic problem with the series is that they want to make something that’s plausibly about archaeology, but they also want every episode to put our heroes in mortal danger, and preferably they want each episode to have some kind of social or historical moral as well – and to be about something that is still a current issue.

Now I’m all for making history exciting, and for exploring the history behind current issues. But Bonekickers’ combination of over-earnestness and the need to include the danger element is disastrous for this side of things. The history of the slave trade and the long and distinguished ancient history of Iraq and Iran are important things to explore and to improve public awareness of, but attaching them to stories where people try to kill our heroes does no good whatsoever. And don’t get me started on their attitude towards religion…

The other problem is that it’s one thing to write a science fiction or fantasy show in which King Arthur and the Tablet of Destinies really exist and the it’s somehow possible to locate the True Cross, because we all suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. If Stargate wants to pretend that the pyramids are really spaceships, then fine. But Bonekickers very carefully avoids any element of either science fiction or fantasy (with the possible exceptions of the glowing True Cross and the meteor from space that Excaliber is forged from). If the show is not SF/F, then presumably it is intended to be plausible and reasonably realistic.

There are plenty of shows that take a real job – policeman, doctor, pathologist, surgeon – and take some liberties with reality to make it seem more exciting. Most hospitals do not experience helicopter crashes as often as the one in ER does, and most rural detectives do not work on a different bizarre murder case every week. But Bonekickers just goes way too far – it’s one thing to insert a bit of excitement, and quite another to insist on the reality of King Arthur and Excaliber in a supposedly realistic programme.

View from the top of Glastonbury Tor.

I suspect the main comparable thing is The Da Vinci Code, but I very deliberately haven’t seen the film or read the book, partly because I can’t be bothered spending time reading something that will just annoy me, and partly because I don’t want to spend every social event where I have to make small talk with strangers explaining the many, many ways in which it’s wrong. My big issue with it is that people think it’s real – I once overheard a woman in a restaurant proclaiming loudly that it was all based on ‘real historical fact’ and shuddered. I doubt anyone will think Bonekickers has any relationship with reality, but it doesn’t really help, and I would just enjoy something so silly much more if it threw in a few aliens or witches or something so I know where I stand.

I believe some of my friends are planning to get together and watch Bonekickers with some booze one evening. If I can possibly join them, I will, as I think that is the way to really appreciate Bonekickers. Try to take it seriously, and it’s a disaster. Drink, laugh, admire the sexy men, revel in the cheesy action moments and enjoy mocking lines like ‘use you archaeological imagination’ and it could be a really good evening in.


  1. Oh my, I think everyone involved in this project should be made to work a full season on a dig under extremely unpleasant conditions (remote desert, lots of mud, that sort of thing). And warn them that if they ever perpetrate such an act again, they will be forced to participate in another dig under worse conditions.

    The thing that really leaps out at me is something of a so-what attitude about the sword. I mean, yes, it would have some interesting historical and archaeological significance, but beyond that? It isn't going to make you king of the world or anything. I have this image that is a mix of generic bad guy going, "At last it is mine! BWAHAHAHAHA!" and the scene in the first Indiana Jones film where the guy does all that fancy stuff with two scimitars and Indy just shoots him.

    As an aside, I think I'd be more likely to grant Agamemnon, Achilles, and maybe Aeneas a historical grain of truth (as high ranking kings/warlords, not all the rest) than Robin Hood, but yor mileage may vary.

  2. Yeah, we've had this conversation before. I still think they're about as real as the tooth fairy.

    They do have a conversation at the end about the fact it's just a sword and has no special powers or anything. This seems to upset the white-masked bad guy!

  3. Well I'm glad to see you've come round (at least a little bit!) to the brilliance of the show. My favourite line from this episode is Dolly's "Call yourself a Bonekicker?!" Err, no, not really.

    It is worth pointing out that I've only ever watched it with the aid of about six cans of Stella though. And on that basis I can't wait for the next Bonekickers-a-thon!


  4. I think the six cans of Stella would definitely help - watching it sober has probably been my problem all along!

  5. Romulus did not exist... I dare you to email that to Andrea Carandini.

    On talking to people at parties about the Da Vinci code being nonsense, I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. It seems an odd thing to come to mind if stuck for small talk with strangers and I would probably extend people the courtesy of accepting that they can't be *that* foolish (if they are, like the lady in the restaurant, good luck to them)!

    Finally, I think you could have saved yourself from many of the bits that annoy you about Bonekickers by noticing the lines "From the creator of Life on Mars" and "Great Escapist Fun" written on the DVD cover. I don't think anybody will ever be in danger of taking it seriously, so neither should you. I worry that you have been put off Bonekickers because you have not suspended your disbelief. Watch it again (!!), don't take it so seriously, an use your archaeological (or classicists) imagination! We should all revel in the insane madness that is this show. To do so is not to show ourselves up or make it look like we don’t know it’s a load of nonsense. Yes, Juls, you can have the DVD back immediately. I know you want it.


  6. In reading this again, my tone sounds more aggressive than I had intended. I simply cannot believe you still think it is rubbish!!!!


  7. Lol! Don't worry, it wasn't that agreessive. I LOVE Life on Mars, I think that may be the problem - how can the nakers of such a genuinely awesome show go on to make Bonekickers?! You're right though, it needs a re-watching with disbelief properly suspended, and preferably with some alcohol involved. If I can make it to your Bonekickers-a-thon, I will come suitably prepared to enjoy it!

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