Thursday, 3 March 2011

Chelmsford 123: Heads You Lose


The second series of Chelmsford 123 brought a few changes - a new, more arty opening sequence, no Gargamadua (thank goodness) and a new blonde hairdo for Aulus. This opening episode is largely notable for featuring Chris Langham, the actor formally known for The Thick of It before his imprisonment in 2007, and Geoff McGivern, the original voice of Ford Prefect, in his new recurring role of Wolfbane.

As the episode opens, the sheep-shagging, bearded emperor is confirmed as the chronologically correct (though no doubt spinning in his mausoleum, as he never touched a sheep in his life) Hadrian, and he has ordered Aulus to organise the building of his famous wall, which Aulus feels is a waste of time because the Caledonians are famous for their ladders.

The most successful parts of this episode are those that combine post-modern playing about with actual knowledge of the Greco-Roman world. Aulus, for example, is struggling with authority issues and calls in a psychologist who, as a Freudian, is a good 1800 years ahead of his time, but, as a Roman period physician, is appropriately dressed as a Greek (most physicians were Greek or trained by Greeks). After Aulus has condemned Badvok to death for repeatedly breaking into his office, Wolfbane tries to persuade Aulus to let Badvok off by pretending to appear to Aulus in a dream as the Ghost of Next Week. This is quite a nice combination of Dickens' beloved A Christmas Carol and the genuinely Greco-Roman recurring trope of people being persuaded to do things by ghosts or gods in dreams.

One other example is, however, perhaps a little forced. Wolfbane, who is Welsh-sounding and appears to be a druid, tells Badvok at length the details of Roman mythology relating to the afterlife, which seems very odd - but this is largely so they can make a then-relevant joke about how the powers that be have been talking about building a tunnel under the Styx for years (the Channel Tunnel was still in the planning phases when this episode was made).

Overall, this is a pretty forgettable episode, and a somewhat disappointing start to Series 2. The episode ends with Badvok's execution and a voiceover joke about how the part will be played by Bonnie Langford from now on, but this is revealed to be a dream of Grasientus' at the beginning of the following episode. Exactly how much of this episode was supposed to be Grasientus' dream is unclear, but Badvok is alive, well and free when we next see him, so presumably quite a lot of it. One can only conclude that McGrath and Mulville had watched a bit too much Dallas before writing this one.

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