Bonekickers has limped to the end of its run and after an epic quest which spanned four thousand years and half a dozen major finds, Gillian Magwilde finally acheived her quest in an madcap manner which sealed Bonekickers in the pantheon of British television alongside such classics as Triangle (a drama based on the glamorous and sexy world of North Sea Ferries) and Eldorado. It’s as if the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation had decided to write a drama as the superficial flaws seem to obscured some people’s views of the fundamental flaws in the series.
Spoilers, and I’m using the word quite wrongly, follow.
The story arc was the quest for Excalibur which cropped up in one form or another each week. To what extent this was a revelation is hard to say. I imagine the audience was divided between those who knew exactly what to expect and those who couldn’t believe the plot could be as shallow as that. Personally I don’t have a problem with that per se. If Indiana Jones can go raiding lost arks, then why not have someone go after Excalibur. The problem is that a drama at least needs internal logic. The writers tried to supply that, but they were left with the problem of how to get Excalibur from Bath to Wells Cathedral, a distance of twenty miles. The answer was:
The Knights Templar took it with them to Portugal around the time the Portuguese were exploring the West African coast. From here a black man, Oran, got it. He was enslaved and shipped to America where he fought, with his sword, alongside George Washington against the British. He was shipped to Britain after the war was won and he escaped around the Bristol Channel, where the sword washed up and was taken by someone whose name I can’t be bothered to look up to Wells.
The second episode was built around the sheer injustice, which is still often downplayed, of the slave trade. Millions died. The idea that Oran had Excalibur makes even less sense than the idea that Africans enjoyed being slaves, because you could hear them singing. Contrary to what Scotty says, when it comes drama you can change the laws of Physics but you cannot change the laws of narrative flow. Unfortunately the final episode was up against an avalanche.
The climax, for want of a better word, was when a baddie took excalibur and attacked the heroine with it. It broke in his hands and to let the audience know this was a Significant Thing, Magwilde explained how it had survived four millenia before it broke in his hands. This utterly failed because when you’re burning the True Cross, blowing up the remains of Boudicca or losing the bones of Jeanne d’Arc to traitor from the Army, a broken sword really isn’t a big deal. At least you still have the bits. If you’ve spent five weeks showing that the loss of major artefacts doesn’t matter, then why on earth would you expect anyone to care by episode six? It’s as if they simply couldn’t care less, and the timing on the script told them they needed to resolve the story somehow. The need to get the job done would explain how the baddie died.
The death of the Bad Guy at the end of a drama is usually about a moral judgement, and it’s more hamfisted in Bonekickers than usual. After telling Magwilde tells him that he isn’t the man for Excalibur, he jumps into the pond Magwilde had just swum out of and disappears. I suppose you could argue that dissolving the bad guy in cathedral pond is an original end, but seeing as Magwilde was showing no ill-effects there’s that narrative continuity problem again. The remaining eleven masked men get the message through the collective unconscious and decided to turn their back on evil and set up a florists’ shop in Glastonbury. Possibly. Actually we never find out what happens to them.
For all of the above you simply cannot blame Mark Horton, which is why I find the complaints directed at him about the many, many inaccuracies tedious. It would be a bit like getting agitated about the police using the wrong form to take a confession in Murder She Wrote. I cannot see, despite some claims by other archaeologists, that Bonekickers has diminished archaeology in any way. If you look at complaints by the public it’s not archaeology bothers them. The public love archaeology and that’s why they’re annoyed Graham and Pharoah have done such an awful job with it. The first episode was sadly the high point.
It’s been fascinating watching it, but then people slow down to gawp at car crashes.