The Eleventh Hour: no original thought allowed

11th hour wallpaper

Every so often, a show comes along that is so derivative, so unoriginal, it becomes almost impossible to decide exactly what it’s ripping off. So it is with Eleventh Hour, a four-part series starring Patrick Stewart as a “government scientific investigator”.

Although it’s silly, that’s a pretty accurate job title, in fact. Stewart is charged by ‘The Government’ with investigating science, whether that’s Evil Scientists who try to clone human beings or Angelic Children who believe in the healing power of spring water. A pretty broad brief, given that as a physicist, he’s probably as qualified as the average PE teacher to talk about most of the medical issues Eleventh Hour focuses on, but that’s The Government for you.

Nevertheless, the countryside-patrolling Stewart is so important and vital to The Government that they’ve actually given him a bodyguard, played by Ashley Jensen. This could be a mistake, given she drinks any experimental samples Stewart takes, doesn’t bother guarding him at night, takes naps during the day in her Land Rover while he’s busy confronting angry parents, and rolls about on the floor having fights with blood-soaked potential smallpox victims. But we’re not talking police procedural here, so kooky bodyguard gets to stay and protect Stewart with her unconvincing gun work, no matter how much danger she lets Stewart get into.

With global warming and nuclear weapons research among the plots, it’s tempting for anyone versed in British television history to accuse Eleventh Hour of simply being Doomwatch reheated to a lukewarm temperature for the 21st century. But unlike Doomwatch, which literally plucked its plots from the headlines to warn society where it was going wrong, Eleventh Hour takes great pains to steer away from anything controversial. Instead of well-meaning scientists and civil servants who simply don’t think through the consequences of their actions, we get Hollywood-style moustache-twirling villains and fabricated threats that have no actual relevance to viewers. Why run the risk of complaints with an avian flu story when you can write about the risks of deranged researchers trying to cross-breed smallpox with other viruses? Lot of that happening, is there? Is that really something which we have to lobby Parliament to prevent? Thought not.

Equally, any resemblance to actual science depicted in the programme is purely accidental. When Stewart the physicist starts dipping pH paper in water as his sole test for contamination, anyone with even a GCSE in Combined Science knows we’re in the realm of science fiction rather than looking at a serious study of the potential dangers inherent to modern science.

Instead, to find the true inspiration for Eleventh Hour, we need to look at the show’s creator, Stephen Gallagher. While he’s best known for his equally irrelevant 1991 serial Chimera, Gallagher started out as a script-writer for Doctor Who. A pseudo-science spouting older man, always wandering into trouble with his naïve female sidekick? Ring any bells?

Just as Doctor Who is essentially an adventure show that uses aliens and technology as the MacGuffins that create and advance the plots, it would be wrong to think of Eleventh Hour as anything other than a thriller that uses ‘science’ and ‘scientists’ as an excuse for a jolly run round. However, while a good thriller, such as State of Play or Edge of Darkness, can leave you thinking about the issues and the characters long after it has finished, Eleventh Hour is nothing like a good thriller.

Stewart and Jensen do their best to inject life into their ciphers and Gallagher has an occasionally good line in humorous but predictable dialogue. But the show has next to no grounding in reality; the plots have more holes than a colander; the direction leaps from shot to shot without giving you any real idea of what’s happening; and when the usually incoherent plot explanation finally arrives, you’ll wonder what the five other impossible things you’ll be asked to believe before breakfast are.

Rather than provide warnings about the dangers of science, Eleventh Hour provides warnings about the dangers of not having a clear, original idea for your programme before you start filming it. With ratings of 3.8 million and Stewart’s schedule full for the foreseeable future, further instalments of the show look unlikely. But with no real raison d’être other than filling an hour and a half in the mid-week schedules, it won’t be a great loss to television.


The IT Crowd: funny or not funny?

My vote was for funny, although it dragged slightly in the middle of the second episode. Still, enough laughs in there to make me eager for the next episode. Courtesy of today’s Broadcast Now email, we can see that critics were divided about how funny it was:

The IT Crowd (C4)

“The fact that the laugh track didn’t grate was evidence of how successfully Graham Linehan had pulled off the self-consciously retro style of The IT Crowd.”

Thomas Sutcliffe, The Independent

The IT Crowd (C4)

“It couldn’t be sillier and, as a consequence, couldn’t be funnier.”

Caitlin Moran, The Times

The IT Crowd (C4)

“The whole thing is utterly and completely bereft of any smidgen of wit, humour or comic insight, and is possibly the least comedic comedy of the century.”

AA Gill, The Sunday Times

The IT Crowd (C4)

“At a time when most of the best comedy is pretty dark, [The IT Crowd is] so good-hearted and celebratory that it does feel distinctly refreshing.”

James Walton, The Daily Telegraph

The IT Crowd (C4)

“The IT isn’t funny Crowd.”

Ian Hyland, News of the World

Despite the hopes placed on The IT Crowd by Channel 4, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the next mass-market hit: ratings for the first two episodes were only two million or so.

PS My mate Martin hates Richard Ayoade. Why? Apparently, Ayoade was a bit of a nobber back in his Cambridge days and rejected Martin’s scripts all the time when they were working together in Footlights. Seems a reasonable enough reason for hate to me.


Lewis producers cracked Morse’s code

Kevin Whately Lewis: Reputation, which aired on Sunday night on ITV, showed once again that detective-show formulas are often a bigger draw than the detectives themselves. Just as Taggart outlived Taggart himself and Rebus is going strong despite the replacement of John Hannah by Ken Stott, so Inspector Morse seems to be able to go on even though Morse has passed the investigating torch on to his former stumbling foil Lewis.

Reputation was pretty much by-the-book TV Morse. In fact, it was concentrated Morse, with more Latin and Hamlet per square inch than any previous Morse mystery – as though the producers were trying to assuage any fears that the Philistine Lewis would take things downmarket.

As per usual, various academics and students were either murdering or being murdered. For two, very long hours, Lewis proceeded to stumble cluelessly around Oxford, no doubt with the kind cooperation of the Oxford Tourist Board, which must have been desperate for some new Morse to bring some interest to the town again. Like a Knights Templar conspiracy theorist, at no point did he use any investigative technique that remotely resembled actual police methods, preferring instead to search for answers in crossword puzzles and mottos. Again, so far, so old-school Morse.

Nevertheless, it was clear that the old Morse production team weren’t simply going to cross out His name in the titles, replace it with ‘Lewis’, and hope nobody noticed. Lewis remained resolutely the same character as before, despite his promotion, with the requisite erudition being passed on instead to former theology student turned police officer, DS James Hathaway. They made for an interesting team, with Hathaway essentially getting the really bright ideas but Lewis having the experience and wider knowledge to know what to do with them – a subtle shift in the Morse-Lewis dynamic. However, Laurence Fox (son of James, cousin of Emilia) followed in his father’s footsteps by playing Hathaway as rather a stiff individual, even in his lighter moments, leaving Lewis as the ‘heart’ of the central crime-fighting duo once again.

The final revelation of the murderer came as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Columbo school of whodunnits, although said murderer’s motivation for his crimes made so little sense, you knew in an instant you were still watching classic Morse in action. The names may change but the structure stays the same.

With astonishing ratings of 11.3 million, Lewis will undoubtedly be making a return to our screens in the near future, barring equally astonishing incompetence or bad luck. That means Morse fans can finally relax in the knowledge that the proven formula of a couple of murders, Oxford scenery and some posh people getting their comeuppance over the course of two interminable hours will be theirs to enjoy again. After all, just as a crossword is a crossword is a crossword, so a Morse mystery remains the same, whether you call it Lewis or not.