+ve on Bonekickers

To cla­rify, I am not being at all sar­castic when I say I’m pos­it­ive about Bonekickers. The first epis­ode wasn’t bril­liant, but first epis­odes of any series tend to be poor because not only are they intro­du­cing a story, they’re intro­du­cing char­ac­ters. The entire first sea­son of Star Trek:TNG and DS9 are poor, but with char­ac­ters estab­lished they improved massively. The per­petual prob­lem with new Doctor Who is that each series intro­duces a new assist­ant or new Doctor which causes prob­lems for devel­op­ing stor­ies. So in light of that, the cur­rent shal­low­ness of the char­ac­ters in Bonekickers is understandable.

It would also be easy to go through and pick every point that made me laugh dur­ing the show. I could do the same for 1960s era Batman. Like pick­ing apart Batman I’m not sure there’d be much point to it. There are some prob­lems though. There are cer­tain assump­tions about real­ity which have to hold. It might be pos­sible to have a Bat-microscope which can view inside atoms, but you can bet Batman will have to use his open eye to view it. Similarly there are cer­tain basic archae­olo­gical assump­tions and this clip shows where they get it wrong.

The line about ‘get in the trench or out of it’ is an echo of what had been said to the archae­olo­gist earlier in the show. That’s not been com­men­ted on much because the bit where they yank out the wood has caused howls of deri­sion. I think this is fair because prior to this jar­gon and tech­nobabble was get­ting dropped to show how they were ser­i­ous archae­olo­gists. The pub­lic know that wood rots and this isn’t plaus­ible. My reac­tion would be if it’s the holy cross then surely all bets are off, but people don’t think like that. There have to be some basic found­a­tions which the drama is built on and this scene breaks them.

That aside, if you look at the assump­tions Bonekickers uses then it’s actu­ally very pos­it­ive towards archae­ology. The pro­gramme shows arche­olo­gists in a largely flat­ter­ing light. They appear almost nor­mal. The reason the Head of the Department is odi­ous is that real archae­olo­gists don’t go chas­ing media atten­tion. This comes up a couple of times.

The tech­nobabble emphas­ises that this is a men­tally demand­ing pro­fes­sion. Often engin­eers or bio­lo­gists in TV shows are shown giv­ing things their best guess. In con­trast the archae­olo­gists in this series Know What They Are Talking About. They have a wide range of skill sets, but this is the basis of how they know stuff rather than just mak­ing it up.

Two of the four cent­ral char­ac­ters are from eth­nic minor­it­ies. I don’t know of a single archae­olo­gical depart­ment in the UK that has more than one non-white lec­turer. I would be delighted if that’s down to my ignor­ance rather an accur­ate reflec­tion of real­ity. Nonetheless uni­ver­sit­ies as a whole and archae­ology in par­tic­u­lar are strug­gling to recruit ethnic-minorities onto courses, which isn’t going to help rep­res­ent­a­tion at staff levels.

The assump­tions aren’t all help­ful. Bonekickers lives in its own fin­an­cial uni­verse so the lab, which serves the same func­tion as the Batcave or Torchwood Hub, is amaz­ingly well equipped. This is prob­ably a dra­matic neces­sity. Carbon dates and post-ex ana­lysis needs to be sup­plied fast to keep the story mov­ing, but that means that Wessex University must have a bot­tom­less pit of money for the archae­ology depart­ment. It’s also amus­ing that the lead char­ac­ter lives on Bath’s Royal Crescent. This must mean she’s inde­pend­ently wealthy, but there’s also the assump­tion that the work­ers have a reas­on­able wage, which many field archae­olo­gists will find hard to swal­low.

There are oddit­ies. The insist­ence that they have an archae­olo­gical con­sult­ant seems a bit po-faced. Thanks to Daniel Petts at the PAS, I know Mark Horton has been say­ing what his role was. Star Trek also has sci­entific con­sult­ants who they ask about phys­ics before decid­ing the prob­lem can be solved by run­ning warp power through the deflector. I don’t think they make a big deal of it though. On the plus side next week’s epis­ode might bear some resemb­lance to a pro­ject Mark Horton has been work­ing on con­cern­ing a ship found in the Bristol chan­nel. That sounds like a way of get­ting the polit­ical implic­a­tions of archae­ology out for dis­cus­sion. He also says that it’s funnier.

They say a good wine critic is judged by the wine he rejects. Certainly the safe option would be to pan Bonekickers and thus imply that my work is far super­ior. Perhaps there are med­ics who berat­ing Green Wing for its unreal­ism. I think that would be miss­ing the point and the same goes for Bonekickers. It’s not an out-and-out com­edy but I don’t think it is meant to be entirely ser­i­ous either, else it’d be called some­thing like The Unsilent Grave.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

1 Response

  1. heather says:

    You are very charitable.

    I tried to watch it but had to give up because I found it almost phys­ic­ally pain­ful. I’ll take your point that the begin­ning of any series is usu­ally rub­bish and try again.