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

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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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