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First Look: Bonekickers, the BBC’s new ‘Time Team meets Indiana Jones’ drama series

By Paul Hirons on June 16th, 2008 18 comments


It’s amazing what people come up with, isn’t it? I know, let’s make a TV series that mixes the best bits of Time Team with the best bits of Indiana Jones. This faintly ludicrous concept would have been laughed out of town if it wasn’t for the fact that it came from the brains of Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham, the writers and creators of Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes. That combo makes people sit up and take notice. So Bonekickers is a mixture of Time Team and Indiana Jones then, and I went to a screening of it last Thursday (because of the usual embargoes I couldn’t write about it until today). I have to say with muffled embarrassment that I am a sucker for all that Indiana Jones/Da Vinci Code adventure spin on history. I know, I know. You don’t have to say it. It’s one of my weaknesses. So I can report that Bonekickers, due to start early next month, is really rather good.

Update: Read John’s review of the first episode here.

Before the screening, I was chatting to Mark Horton, the archaeology expert from Coast, who acted as consultant for Bonekickers. He was very pleased with the result, and suggested that the series is genuinely groundbreaking. I do frown on anything that gets hyped out of the water like this, but Mark was so enthusiastic (about everything, actually) that it was difficult not to believe. Trouble is he is as mad as forks, genuinely mad as forks, so his enthusiasm was tempered by wibble madness.

He also thought I would make a good archaeologist because I was wearing sandals. I was wearing trainers, so there you go. Nice chap though.

Anyway. Bonekickers is the first production of from Pharoah and Graham’s new production company, Monastic Productions, and it stars Julie Graham as a ballsy, risk-taking archaeologist, Hustle’s Adrian Lester as a sort of forensic archaeologist, Hugh Bonneville as a grizzled and sozzled digger with encyclopedic knowledge, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a raw archaeologist student.

It’s all set in Bath, which makes a nice change, and the first story concerns a seemingly innocent dig on a patch of land just outside a hospice. When the team discovers Saracen coins and Knights Of The Templar gear, they realise they’re onto something big. And when they discover a bit of wood from a cross, they realise they could be onto something really, really big.

Yes, Knights OF The Templar. Jesus’s cross. This means Da Vinci Code territory in the first episode. Fair enough, they need a big, popular hook to grab the audience and it all rattled along at a fair old pace.

Initially I thought the dialogue was a bit clunky, there were daft plot bits everywhere and I thought, y’know this is perfect Saturday teatime adventure stuff. Then there was an act of extreme violence so out of the blue it made everyone in the cinema jump and cover their mouths with their hands. Maybe not Saturday teatime viewing then.

As the episode wore on and the plot began to thicken, all the little questions I had about it just faded away – it was brilliant! I loved it and it was hugely enjoyable.

Not everyone is going to like this, I realise that. But there are flashes of the Life On Mars/Ashes To Ashes type of storytelling in Bonekickers, and anyone who likes an unpretentious slab of rip-roaring adventure will like it very much.

Time Team meets Indian Jones? Oh go on then.

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  • johnberesford

    It’s got Julie Graham in it. That’s good enough for me.

  • annawaits

    I’m a bit too excited about this… đŸ˜€

  • Heterodoxly

    You thought it was rather good? i’m never ever going to believe anything you ever say again.I watched twenty minutes of it and had to turn it off, the biggest load of drivel i’ve ever seen, the BBC sink to an all time low, if it had just a little bit of archaeological reality i might have suffered it until the end.

  • Paul Hirons

    Fair enough mate, but my opinion was that it was big, stupid and great fun. Nothing to take too seriously, but really good adventure TV. Having seen episodes two and three I’m no changing my opinion.

  • Glen Shipley

    It was the biggest heap of dog excrement in the entire history of television. There are no adjectives or phrases to describe it, other than an insult to the intelligence.

    To think that the same people were responsible for Life On Mars, which was utterly brilliant. How very, very sad.

  • Christine

    I managed to sit through about thirty minutes before giving up. I thought it was dreadful. I won’t watch again.

  • Nigel

    Well this opening episode could be titled
    ‘Relic of the True Turkey’. Of course the entire production team, BBC commissing editors and 10 viewers nationwide would disagree

  • John Greaves

    In a word: pap.

  • Dave

    That was the most ridiculous PC box ticking piece of rubbish I have seen! It may as well have said ‘This was a party political broadcast on behalf of New Labour’, when will the brainwashing stop?

  • Robert

    A big pile of steaming …

    I felt insulted and dirty after watching it. Tremendous over acting, bad archaeology, unlikable characters. I really wanted to like it, maybe the first episode was just bad and it will improve, but I can’t degrade my self enough to watch it next week to find out.

  • jayne turner

    It was just awful. Formulaic and contrived. But it did make me think seriously about getting rid of my telly…

  • Michael T.

    Paul Hiron said: “my opinion was that it was big, stupid and great fun. Nothing to take too seriously, but really good adventure TV. Having seen episodes two and three I’m no changing my opinion.”

    On the basis of the fact you recommended this steaming heap in the first place, and you’re now recommending the next two episodes, I think we can all pretty much guarantee that this show is not going to improve – and that we needn’t waste our time watching it.

    Thanks, much appreciated – and double thanks for adding a link to John Beresford’s much more realistic review.

  • Karl

    Surely, you must have been watching another show? This was bad television, really bad.

  • Canon Alberic

    Youre either lieing or corrupt! Either way I will never trust your opinion or visit your pile of pants website again.
    By almost universal opinion its the worst thing ever and there can be no excuse for your having a contrary opinion other than that for whatever reason youre a crap critic.

  • Paul Hirons

    Cheers Rich. Love you.

  • Blah Blah

    You are a reviewer and this is the best you could come up with regarding ‘Bonekickers’?

    My god, I’ve never seen this site before but after reading this article, I never want to see it again.

  • Greg

    I could not believe what i was watching. How does the whole thing link together. It is just switching between badly made jokes to a fast moving plot. They seem to find exactly what they are looking for, in quick succession with non believable setbacks. Quite how in the last episode they found themselves to be in a gun battle, with a trial president of the US and be completely unfaised by it is beyond me. Then just the ending plot, of finding an old vine leading to a door, on a tiny island, that lead to a HUGE chamber, perfectly formed is beyond me. It made no scene, and the saddest part i feel is the reflection scene. They seem more concerned about who has written on their breasts than the ordeal they went through!

  • Thomas

    I hope we’ll be spared of such stupidity in the future. I fear not though..

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