At the eleventh hour

Last night I dreamt that I bumped into Patrick Stewart at some celebrity get-together… an awards ceremony, or something.

We didn’t know each other, but had inexplicably been seated side-by-side. As I’d suspected he might be, he was very pleasant, and it was easy to chat with each other.

After a while, I asked him how he felt about “Eleventh Hour” (the ITV show in which he takes center stage as Professor Ian Hood, a scientist who comes into contact with and overcomes various potentially world threatening situations). Suddenly he became very distant, looking away from me; the impression I got was that he’d had similar queries recently from hostile critics.

Of course, I moved to smooth things over, and went some way towards doing it, by being honest about the show but at the same time positive, overall. I pointed out that his performance, as always, made the show instantly watchable, and that the premise was exciting, and experience shows that sometimes it takes a little while for new shows to find their feet.

However, I had to tell him that there were some real problems that needed to be addressed for Eleventh Hour to become truly great tv. There are some severe script problems that actually rob the pretty smart stories of any real gravitas… like George Lucas with his misuse of a pretty impressive cast, you have to be working pretty hard to write a story about threats of a national or international scale, with Patrick Stewart present, and there be NO gravitas or interest to the story.

A standout moment of unimaginative writing occured this week, when the whole turning point of an investigation rested on a genius hiding clues to lead Hood to the code that would unlock his work… after story hours of pondering and agitating on the problem, Stewart’s character finally realised that the devilish fiend, having led them to the word “Kyoto”, had actually based the code around that word’s anagram, “Tokyo”. I’m a fierce believer in the spoiler warning, so please realise that for me to give such a major plot point away, it had to be at least as flat as you can imagine that one being. These guys are supposed to be extremely intelligent, you understand.

Also, the dynamic between Hood and his assistant Rachel Young needs to be worked on. It’s not the chemistry between the characters so much as the way the direction and writing deals with them that’s the problem… There’s a place for Rachel’s character in this story… it should be a defining role (see: the Filthy Assistants in Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan”, or in a similar vein, Jakita Wagner in Ellis’ other series, “Planetary”). But Rachel isn’t written like a bodyguard, she doesn’t act like one, and she doesn’t move like one… At least not so far.

It’s interesting, actually… I know Patrick Stewart knows Warren Ellis, and is familiar with his work, and I wonder if an exchange of thoughts couldn’t be arranged between Ellis and Stephen Gallagher, the show’s creator. While I’m sure the premise for it was entirely original (it’s an idea whose time has come, after all; a less fantastic take on the X-Files, set in the often much odder and more worrying world of modern spooky science), it would be wise to look to Ellis’ work as a way to see how similar paradigms are done right. The idea of science going wrong on a world-changing scale in an episodic work, and only a small team able to stand in it’s way is very similar to the Global Frequency’s taking on of the super-scientific aftermath of the cold war. The set-up of idealistic powerhouse intellectual and the capable female muscle tasked to look out for him is, as mentioned, already familiar to readers of Planetary and Transmetropolitan.

And Warren Ellis makes it look easy. Whereas Gallagher makes it look clunky.

I’m not a tv critic, nor a media student any more, so I didn’t find it as easy to make my points as I could, but it’s a problem I’ve noted with a couple of other British series… most notably BBC’s “Sea Of Souls” and ITV’s “Afterlife” (and more recent series of “Spooks”). There’s no lack of talent in these programmes (“Afterlife” features Lesley Sharp in a central role… an actor, like Stewart, who really deserves to front a great show), but there’s no respect for the audience in the writing or direction; unusual shows like this should be made by people with fire in their belly for the concept… and then no matter how formulaic or off-the-wall a show is, there’ll be a quality that shows through. There’s really no other qualification for making truly outstanding drama than having that fire… it’s why, despite all the stylistic similarities and caliber of the talent involved, “A Touch Of Frost” will never be “Cracker”.

Anyway, so I told Patrick all this, and he seemed to take it on board… I don’t know, ultimately, how much authority he has, and anyway, me seeing these flaws by no means guarantees failure, critical or otherwise. I told him that, too.

You really couldn’t hope to meet a nicer man. Seriously. I hope I get to chat with him again.