Third-episode verdict: The Musketeers (BBC1/BBC America)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 4

In the UK: Sundays, 9pm, BBC1
In the US: BBC America. Will air in late Spring

So we’re three episodes into The Musketeers, an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s classic The Three Musketeers so embarrassingly low in its ambitions, it decided to leave out the ‘Three’ in case people were confused by there being four heroes. Originally aimed at filling the gap in between seasons of Doctor Who, it’s had all the narrative sophistication of Dogtanian and The Three Muskehounds without the charm, characterisation, acting talent or fidelity to the original.

For the first two episodes at least, we’ve been treated to junior league antics, with a collectively poor bunch of actors (honourable exceptions: Peter Capaldi and Santiago Cabrera) prancing around Prague in leathers, sword-fighting like they’re still seven and playing at being Jedi in their back gardens. You’d have been hard-pushed to distinguish most of the characters from one another, such was its bland uniformity, and without their names, the occasional reference to France and the musketeers, you’d have been even harder pushed to realise what the source material for the series was.

Things changed considerably for the better on Sunday, though, where despite the presence of Gaius Baltar himself (James Callis), hamming it up something chronic as a pirate/trader, the show decided to take a turn for the serious and to dust off its moth-eaten copy of Dumas’ original to actually flesh out some of the characters, as well as do some of its own inventing. So at last we get some of Athos’ back story and Cabrera gets to show off his Spanish. The history of the period became something more than just a head-nod in between anachronisms and actually got to be an important plot and character point: Porthos, whose non-whiteness had until now been ignored and used mainly as a combination of colour-blind casting and an acknowledgement of the non-white Dumas, was revealed as the son of a former slave and his experiences of slavery were used to good effect to contrast with the then-legal practice of slavery that even a cardinal of the church could indulge in.

Unfortunately, despite the general hugely improved script quality of the episode compared with its predecessors’, the show’s structural flaws were still there for all to see. As well as the blatant fact the show isn’t filmed in France or have any real French qualities at all, the poor acting, and everything else, it’s about 20 minutes too long per episode. So even though the show was allowed to breath a little and to actually give some qualities to the musketeers for us to care about them, after a while, every scene ended with the surprise that there was yet another scene afterwards that you’d have to sit through to get to the end of the episode.

It’s not a great show – indeed, in combination with the likes of Atlantis and other “original British dramas” (which all seem to be adaptations, incidentally), I’ve been getting conditioned of late to hate anything that’s British and a drama, knowing it’s largely going to be a waste of my time and an insult to my intelligence – but this third episode did make me think there was hope in sight and the show might be worth watching by the end of the season. However, the fact they’re now going to have to write Peter Capaldi out of the series for the second season makes me think that even if I do get to the end of this season, there won’t be much point.

Barrometer rating: 4
Rob’s prediction: Will probably get another season but no more, and the departure of Capaldi might be sufficient pretext for the BBC to cancel the show if ratings continue to drop.

  • benjitek

    Shows like this one must make TV reviewers hate their jobs 😉

  • benjitek

    Shows like this one must make TV reviewers hate their jobs 😉

  • They have their cons… and pros 😉

  • GYAD

    Off the back of this semi-recommendation, I decided to give it another try.

    Nope. Still not doing it for me.

    The costumes and attitudes are anachronistic. The dialogue is stilted. The acting is generally so wooden they could have built the sets with it. And the fights and characters lack any, as Cyrano would say, panache.

    Altogether pretty rubbish.

    Now, Cabrera is one of the better actors in it but I still dislike his colour-blind casting as being both unfaithful to the source work and to history.

    If the BBC really wanted to nod to Dumas' own mixed race heritage they'd be better off doing something historical. Like a drama about Dumas' (even more mixed-race) dad and his adventures as a general (!) in the French Revolutionary Wars.

    I'd watch it.

    Similarly I thought the slavery element of the show rather tired and formulaic. It was just the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, about which we've had many dramas, after all. The one innovation was that the slaves weren't bound for North America but for Brazil.

    I'd hoped the writers might have broken new ground by mentioning the Barbary Corsairs, but no such luck.

    Nor does it help that all the characters react to slavery like 19thC English Whigs, rather than like 17thC soldiers. Slavery was simply a fact of life back then.

    Ultimately, I'd rather watch “Cobra Verde” instead.

  • Episode 3 got a 3 and it's an overall 4, so I'm not quite sure it's a recommendation, semi or otherwise… But I otherwise largely agree.

  • GYAD

    Yeah, that's why I included the “semi”. I didn't want to put words in your mouth.

    It's just another in that sad litany of BBC dramas with decent concepts and horrible execution.

  • Rullsenberg

    “the departure of Capaldi might be sufficient pretext for the BBC to cancel the show if ratings continue to drop.” It clearly wasn't…

  • It is all very dumbed down. Accessible seems to mean 'as inauthentic as possible' these days, rather than 'slightly simplified', 'charismatic' or 'humorous'

  • GYAD

    I completely agree.

    When the BBC tries for populism, it usually seems to aim for the lowest common denominator audience.

  • My theory is that's a BBC1 thing. I'll be posting a fuller theory on Monday…

  • GYAD

    Aha. I look forward to reading your theory.

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Kathy Mae Struewing

    James Callis was a disappointment tonight his normal voice would've been way better. The costumes are too costumy if thats a word. They look like an Amish lady designed and sewed them yesterday. There is no travel wear at all on anyones outfits. The settings are nice, the cast is good…the directing could use better pacing, camera direction, rediting and direction of actors. It could've been great fun but it looks low budget for a good ensemble needed to pull it off.

  • I totally agree.

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: The Medium is Not Enough TV blog()

  • Pingback: Review: Salvation 1x1 (US: CBS; UK: Amazon) - The Medium is Not Enough()