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.