So week two was a bit of an improvement on week one. The whole George Washington/Maroons/ancestor-of-“don’t call me Obama”-presidential-candidate business was arrant nonsense, but turning up late 18th century stuff wasn’t quite so loopy as popping down the second hand bookshop for a 14th century text, and gun toting racists were at least vaguely plausible as Villain of the Week as opposed to nutters in Knights Templar t-shirts beheading people down the local shopping centre. Could Plot Insanity be directly proportional to the elapsed time since the Mystery of the Week?
Based on last night, yes. Back to Roman times, and the insan-o-meter is off the scale. Earthquake uncovers New Old Stuff at the local swimming pool, and poor old Baby Archaeologist (Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Viv) follows in the footsteps of on-screen sister Martha as Doctor Who Assistant, helpfully piping up with “What’s going on?” whenever we need a chunk of exposition, “Who are you talking about?” when the rest of the team are being irritatingly smug over some smugly irritating bet, and calls Boudica “Boadicea” just to wedge in the change in pronunciation, in case viewers thought this week was all about a different Iceni warrior queen. Inexplicably she failed to be dragged off by Daleks or Silurians while shouting “Doctor, Doctor, I’ve been captured!”, maybe next week. Exciting Illegal Archaeology follows, as our team cock a snook at some busybody from the council who wants to keep people away under the feeble pretence that the area is terribly unsafe. What could possibly go wrong? If you said (a), “nothing”, EH EH! If you said (b), “the tunnels collapse and kill our protagonists”, EH EH!, no such mercies. If you said (c), “half the team toddle off to the labs while the other half stick around, get trapped by a cave-in and end up in a desperate race against time”, BING BING BING BING, we have a winner!
The half of the team anyone might possibly care about, Baby and Posh (Hugh Bonneville at least hams it up something rotten as dirty old man “Dolly” Parton, and lecherously points out that at least the audience can use their archaeological imagination when Viv’s around) head off for some Strontium Dog dating, which I think involves phoning up Johnny Alpha and asking if he bumped into Boudica at all during his time travelling escapades, leaving Scary and The Other One to get inevitably trapped. At this point, if we’re following the formula, the Bad Guys should turn up, mortal peril in the present trying to cover up or co-opt the past. Who will it be this week? Perhaps an ultra-nationalist political party, who use Boudica as their figurehead and can’t stand the thought of her having had a fling with some filthy eyetie? The deadly assassins of the Watling Street Chamber of Commerce, who stand to lose £1.34 in ice cream revenue from tourists hunting for Boudica’s true place of burial? No, we’re bravely breaking the formula this week, which is a bit of a relief, and the biggest present-day danger to the team is the head of department wanting someone to give a bit of a speech to some VIPs, AIEEE, THE PERIL! Well, that and an elaborate series of Roman traps involving fuel-air explosive based incendiary anti-personnel mines and the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, I think, I was slightly confused after we’d cruised gently past the straits of Historical Liberties and into the choppy waters of What The Fuck?
Still, being trapped underground at least gave our protagonists a chance to talk about their relationship. This seemed to entirely be based around the angle of a Christmas tree, most specifically it having been at “40 degrees”. If you didn’t see the episode and are thinking “that makes bugger all sense”, don’t worry, context really didn’t help. I think it was some attempt at capturing the essence of the slightly up-tight, in control, strait-laced chap versus the crazy maverick woman (surely the first such couple in on-screen history) who’s so out there her Christmas tree was at 40 degrees. Yes, 40 degrees. In case you didn’t catch it the first time, they keep banging on about 40 degrees, sounding like an advert for Ariel washing powder (it shifts stubborn stains, even at 40 degrees!) By the time they’re onto the gaping chasm of musical differences (one liked George Michael, the other one liked Queen; my god, I’m surprised they hadn’t killed each other with guns long before) I was desperately hoping we’d return to the previous formula, and the Bath chapter of a Roman re-enactment society would turn up, terrified the team are uncovering proof that their reproduction armour is ever so slightly anachronistic and ready to KILL to protect their secret. But no. There’s GAS! and EXPLOSIONS! and THE PETRIFIED CORPSE OF BOUDICA only MORE EXPLOSIONS AND STUFF SO IT ALL BLOWS UP and GAS, and Baby and Posh sprinting back from the labs armed with some Latin gibberish from a camgirl that sounded suspiciously like a Ted Rogers riddle from 3-2-1, only it didn’t lead to Dusty Bin but to a secret entrance to a shrine from whence the other two emerge, having managed to set fire to the most amazing archaeological find in history for the second time in three weeks, and it’s home in time for perhaps the most toe-curlingly awful speech of the whole episode, banging on about 40 BLOODY DEGREES again. Oy vey.
I fear there’s a limit to how far you can stretch stories about Amazing World-Changing Discoveries Contradicting All Previously Accepted Historical Fact. As a one-off, in a film, you can just about get away with it, but on a weekly basis? Next time out, Napoleon didn’t die on St Helena, he returned from exile AGAIN! and led a successful invasion of Britain, making it as far as Bath before being defeated by a coalition of forces led by Trotsky, Churchill and the Ogrons! So on Time Team they find a few fragments of stuff and vague traces of a couple of walls, and an artist comes up with a bit of a sketch of how the villa/manor house/village might have looked with varying degrees of artistic license; at least he doesn’t go “yes, and that bloke I’ve drawn there was called Geoff, and his favourite colour was green, and he owned three chickens called Neville, Cedric and Brian, and by the way he’s actually KING ARTHUR working UNDERCOVER with ROBIN HOOD to take down the SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM who was really VLAD THE IMPALER on HOLIDAY!”
Speaking of King Arthur, I’m not even *thinking* about the Mysterious Sword turning up in every episode of Bonekickers. If it’s anything less than Excalibur, which one of the team then wields in a battle against Darth Vader in the finale, I’ll be terribly disappointed.