Friday, November 28, 2008

The Lost Civilization

Not many posts of late because I’ve still been feeling under the weather. While I’ve been laid up a week of decent dramas has unfolded eating up my time in different ways. Oddly enough, faced with so much on offer, they ultimately turned out to be more than I could manage.

I suppose it’s typical human behaviour to moan when there’s very little to watch on television and then moan when there’s far too much. With something new almost every night the possibility of being quite blasé about what’s on offer arises. If they didn’t all turn out to be tip-top dramas I expected, most had some kind of perverse entertainment value to jolly along my addled brain.

I had really been looking forward to The Devil’s Whore, the English Civil War drama that began on Channel 4 a week last Wednesday, especially since that it was co-written by Peter Flannery. Various historians beforehand were afraid that the subject matter was going to be sexed up. Remembering how utterly dull history classes had been at school, which led to essential names, dates and places go in one ear and out the other, I didn’t think that was a particularly bad thing.

Roman History lessons once a week at Prep School had been entertaining because our Latin master made them entertaining. By the time I was at Grammar School the history teacher on staff virtually put everyone into a coma. The only time she actually livened up a lesson was when, taking a sixth form class, she sat on the desk instead of behind it, gradually teasing her thighs apart until the lad seated immediately in front of her waved a hand before his face and uttered, “Close your legs, miss. Your breath smells.”

Anyway, fifteen or twenty minutes into The Devil’s Whore I fell asleep. Maybe it was just a slow start and I was wearier than I thought. Or maybe it was because I was looking forward to Roundheads against Cavaliers, the battles of Edgehill and Naseby and the formation of the New Model Army, and instead got the devil up a tree, unfurling a remarkably long tongue, and John Simm with a pantomime scar stuck on his face.

Because of this I passed on the second part in which, from the look of it, the heroine went the way of The Wicked Lady and turned highwayman. Where’s James Mason when you need him? Before that I had planned to try again with the Saturday repeat of the first episode but instead that was time for the science lesson on the television timetable.

While I obviously knew about Albert Einstein, I hadn’t heard of the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington, the pacifist Quaker who championed his fellow scientist’s new theories as The Great War was in full flow. BBC2’s Einstein and Eddington was certainly an interesting story but since it hung on the pair covertly exchanging complex equations by post there was always the danger of it becoming little more than a science version of 84 Charing Cross Road.

To plump up the narrative, the English scientists spent the time questioning their faith in God and science while their German counterparts got to work developing Mustard Gas. Still, once news that his theory of relativity had been proved, Andy Serkis as Einstein ruffled up his hair like he was about to audition for a Marx Brothers’ movie and got to stick his tongue out at the waiting photographers. Science was never my strongest subject at school. I wonder if I could have improved my performance if I had taken that approach in class.

Transmitted between the two dramas, the second part of Apparitions continued with its very unusual kind of Religious Education. To begin with it had a far better exorcism than in the previous episode, especially since there were a few odd moments when the music was dialled down enough so I could make out what people were saying. After last night’s episode, with even more copious amounts of bloodletting, beatings, attempted rapes and another impromptu exorcism that left everyone sprayed in claret, the drama got even better as it merrily ratcheted its way higher up the bonkers scale.

Even though I wasn’t at that stage, I suspect Apparitions is probably best viewed while running a high fever. That way, as the devil jumps from one body to another, spouting out his various threats in Ancient Aramaic (or whatever the language was), it all turns into some mad delusional fantasy. If it eventually comes out on DVD with a NO MUSIC facility, I’m buying it.

Now at the halfway stage, Apparitions has become even getting crazier than Spooks. Although with WWII: Behind Closed Doors on Monday nights, illustrating how Stalin was the sort of paranoid nutter that nobody should have been in the same room with let along forge alliance with, I’ve missed quite a few episodes of the MI5 drama, forgetting to watch the various repeats. Though I did catch one episode on iPlayer about dastardly shenanigans in The City. That was disappointing simply because nothing blew up.

With all those dramas out of the way, all that leaves is the BBC remake of Survivors. When it appeared the first time around in the mid-1970s, I must have watched an episode or two but didn’t stay the course. It may have been because when it started we were living on our first farm on the fringes of Dartmoor. In that situation, watching a bunch of middle-class townies struggling around in the mud, upset that the paper wasn’t being delivered anymore and their dinner party plans had gone up in smoke, was simply laughable.

Maybe deep down it was meant to be a social satire that didn’t quite work out as planned, because normally in a post-apocalyptic environment the initial event leads to a far greater threat. In John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, after the meteor shower renders the populace blind they then have to deal with the homicidal vegetation. In Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, the few people unaffected by the “rage virus” have to contend with running, jumping, very-rarely-standing-still zombies. Even in this remake of Survivors, once the pandemic has wiped out 99% of the population, there’s still a nagging feeling that the few people left are more annoyed they’re missing their daily Fairtrade Mocha with soy milk and an almond croissant more than anything else.

I suppose the drama/entertainment comes from watching this little collective make a complete cock-up of trying to survive. By the second episode they were certainly going about it the right way to getting it all wrong. I’m no survival expert, and certainly wouldn’t be of use to anyone parachuted onto the permafrost with just a pair of M&S Y-fronts, half a dozen lollipop sticks and a box of damp matches, but there are times when common sense should prevail.

The only character that had a proper plan – Paterson Joseph’s Greg Preston – has ended up being waylaid by the particularly clueless bunch. Wouldn’t the best bet be to find some reasonably remote small holding rather than what looks like a country manor? Somewhere more isolated is more likely to have a septic tank to deal with waste, a well or other fresh water source, and, more importantly, a generator run on diesel. Find somewhere like that and you’re on your way to having a basic existence. Once that’s established you source dried and tinned provisions, grab a couple of British Alpine goats and then have a blitz on a bookshop and DVD store to keep you occupied when you’re not working the land.

While I know there has to be some dramatic license, watching the first episode of Survivors, instead of worrying about the characters’ predicaments, I ended up wondering how long water pressure actually lasts in the pipes or how long electricity would be available if power plants went unattended. Actually what the hell happens to nuclear power stations if the last person alive forgets to switch it off? Still that’s more for nightmare-scenario documentaries like If... The Lights Go Out or The Day Britain Stopped. Instead Survivors seemed to have an altogether different influence.

As soon as the shotgun-toting proles turned up in the silver Range Rover, I instinctively thought, here come The Others. The lead characters may have survived a plague rather than a plane crash, and the United Kingdom is certainly a far bigger island, but I felt like I was watching a homegrown version of Lost. There’s certainly a Locke, Sawyer, Jack, Michael and Walt amongst the characters, which now has an added Shannon.

While they bumble around, the real interest is just what those scientists at the end of each episode are getting up to. Maybe we’ll discover the purpose of their machinations by the final episode. Whether the survivors discover a hatch or not is a different matter.


At 9:29 am, Blogger Lucy said...

I go to bed at 9pm these days so miss all the good drama. I always mean to watch them on repeat or iPlayer but somehow time just vanishes into this big black hole and days speed up like some kind of rollercoaster. Is that what getting old is like, GD?

At 4:14 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Seeing as I'm regularly working until at least 1 or 2am in the run-up to Christmas, I think it's a phase one goes through on the way to really old, like GD and me. ;-)

Survivors. Great initial premise; slapdash, cut-and-paste, “I’ve not really done a great deal of research” execution. Reminiscent of most of the output of the original author, IMO.

At 6:31 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Kids today just don’t have any stamina. No wonder everything’s going to the dogs. Going to bed at nine o’clock? That’s not getting old, that’s being old.

But if you want to know where the time goes, I’m the last person to ask. The weeks just fly by. In a few days next year’s Christmas decorations are probably going to be up. I’m missing more programmes on iPlayer than I get to watch.


I wish I had stopped at one or two o’clock last night. I really got into what I was doing, had The West Wing playing in the background for company and before I knew it the sky turned from black to purple to mauve to blue and the traffic picked up. I turned the computer off at eight this morning.

Of course instead of having a quick kip on the sofa or necking down an industrial strength coffee, I flopped into bed and... woke up a couple of hours ago. Bugger! So it was a quick run to the M&S food hall.

As for Survivors, are you saying that it’s not a properly formed idea like, say Battlestar Galactica? Are you suggesting that Terry Nation really was the useless hack those industry people said he was?

At 6:51 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Actually, Luce,

I thought you'd be watching the mental goings-on in Apparitions. Isn't that kind of stuff right up your street?

At 3:36 am, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

All I've ever wanted from the vast UK broadcasting industry is two or three hours a week of competently made, escapist, adult entertainment scattered somewhere across the schedules.

On that level, even without the high fever, I enjoyed Apparitions.

There's an excellent cast. The show is well put together. And the script delivers some neat twists and a few spooky moments.

Okay, it's harly going to make anyone's all-time top ten list, (in addition to the intrusive music, the first episode featured the world's first exorcism by speakerphone) but by modern standards, set against the snoggin'-and-rubber-fish of Torchwood, it's a work of art.

Fair play to Joe Ahearne. He hooked me a decade ago with Ultraviolet, and he's done it again.

At 11:53 pm, Blogger qrter said...

Regarding what would happen to the infrastructure when left unattended by human engineering hands, there's a book, The World Without Us, written by an American journalist, Alan Weisman, who consulted several boffins on the question what would happen if from one day to the next all humans would disappear.

Weisman appeared on The Daily Show at the time and seemed slightly.. odd.

That said, I am also slightly odd, because this is exactly the kind of book that tickles my fancy.

obligatory Amazon link

At 2:29 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


Yeah, it seems there’s either too much or too little, and when there’s too much – with all the dramas and documentaries – there’s little chance of seeing it all or taking in what you’re seeing. Still, something new to moan about.

I think they do an exorcism by Twitter next. That would be a hoot. By the second episode, once they had dropped the Mother Theresa/Dead Blonde nonsense and showed that it was aiming for just plain bonkers, it actually started to come together.

I watched Ultraviolet when it came out. While I liked the concept, ultimately everything was just so low key that it tailed off. That’s something Apparitions certainly can’t be accused of. You’re absolutely right saying it’s a work of art compared to Torchwood (turns three times and spits). Actually I watched another episode of Fringe even though I promised myself I wouldn’t go anywhere near it again, and Apparitions was better than that.


Thanks for the “obligatory Amazon link”. Missed the guy on The Daily Show but I wouldn’t be surprised that he would be a bit “odd.”

Actually, it reminded me of the documentary Channel 4 showed some time back that went into detail over what would happen. I think I remember seeing the beginning but then it went the sensationalist route – not surprisingly.

The thing with Survivors is it’s like some post-apocalyptic version of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. Obviously there’s an interesting set up but no pay off.

Shame Spike Milligan has passed away because he could have had a cameo, walking across the empty motorway toward the camera muttering, “What are we going to do now?”

At 5:00 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

Apparitions does indeed sound up my street you would think, but I just can't summon the enthusiasm to stay up for *yet another* supernatural series. This is hampered further by the fact I'm reading supernatural almost constantly as well: it's massive overkill for me. Suddenly I fdind myself salivating at the thought of bleak, kitchen sink drama.

And I'm NOT BEING OLD - you try getting up at 5am and tending to wee beastie kids you bugger! Oh no, that's right: no one will have you!! arf

Word verification - CODGI. For real! That's you, that is

At 6:24 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Oh, you poor love, having to get up at five AM.

Of course, when I was a little over half your age I was living on a farm, working from before dawn to well after dusk in the summer months.And after that up to 90-hour weeks at the animation studios.

Yeah, you really have it tough there.

At 8:01 pm, Blogger Lucy said...

Don't mock what you don't understand, GD - parenthood is more exhausting than a day on the farm AND a 90 hour week in the animation studio PUT TOGETHER. Kids suck you dry right down to the very bone in energy! Get someone up the duff and raise the spawn yourself every single day, THEN tell me what you think, punk ass!!!

At 11:20 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Well, I suppose I should have put a winking smiley face at the end of the post, but if you're going to get shirty about it...

My folks managed to bring up two kids while running a succession of businesses that were never 9 to 5. My sis has spent the last 16 years raising her lad, and still managed to improve her golf handicap. My cousins who are GPs and dentists have raised two kids each.

I think it can be done...

At 7:42 am, Blogger Lucy said...

Right, because I don't do anything *except* raise kids. In fact, it's incredibly easy to run your own script reading business (that incidentally is often not 9 to 5 either and the goal posts change constantly - got no scripts today: oh no: I have TEN, to be in TOMORROW and now I have to stay up ALL NIGHT to get it done often for a pittance!). Not to mention write specs, go for pitches, be a wife, a sister, a daughter to an incredibly close-knit family that you end up involved in EVERY SINGLE DRAMA WITH YOUR MANY, MANY SIBLINGS AND SIBLINGS-IN-LAW.

And "shirty" - LOVE that word!

But as for you, you evil dog, one day your knob will drop off. This is a prediction and A FACT.

Obligatory smiley face: ; )

At 4:19 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

When that happens will I still have my arse to talk out of? %-)


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