It can't be easy being Patrick Stewart. One day you're commanding a team of intelligent creatures from around the galaxy, the next you're protecting the rights of mutants and battling a crazed Holocaust survivor. So it's nice to see Captain Picard/Xavier trying TV again, even if the effort, The Eleventh Hour, never survived its infancy.
That's not to say there isn't anything to like in this series, currently airing on Xtra HOT Sundays at 10 p.m. In fact, compared to others, this intriguing if sometimes exasperating effort may deserve more than the four episodes produced so far.
Sort of a mix of The X Files and House, the show introduces Stewart, who does his usual fine work despite a sometimes melodramatic script, as "Ian Hood, scientist" - a character created by novelist Steven Gallagher who's called in by the government to examine unusual cases involving advanced science such as cloning, which forms the plot of the premiere episode.
When a whole field of fetuses is unearthed in the English countryside, there's Hood examining the remains - "the waste of an attempt at human cloning," in a snarl that leaves no room for doubt as to where he or this Granada series stand on that issue.
"He specializes in physics and making himself unpopular" says Hood's partner Rachel (Ashley Jensen), a gun-toting, sharp-tongued Emma Peel/Scully clone. Before long our duo is on the trail of Gepetto, the evil genius who is using unsuspecting young women to carry embryos to be used for cloning. And not a Klingon in sight, honest.
Too bad the writers are operating at Warp Factor 12 with their anti-cloning rhetoric, however. "What this man is doing is abhorrent," declares Hood to a local policeman whose help he seeks. Good thing Hood can't start a fire or change the weather whenever he wants to, or we'd really have a mess.
It turns out that a disgraced former Ob/Gyn is helping the evil genius, but since God's on his side, Hood's not bothered by taking a religious suspect to a church and embarrassing him in front of a statue of Jesus. "Ask his forgivenessâ€¦ tell the truth," implores the scientist on a crusade as the camera zooms in, apparently looking for a nod from Jesus himself.
Like the script, the music is also horribly melodramatic, all smashing and crashing and eerie. Nonetheless, there are some good moments, most of them when Hood and Rachel come to loggerheads over her shoot-first, ask-questions-later approach and his determination to rely on science. So when Hood accidentally lets the evil gynecologist escape after Rachel shoots out the glass in the bad guy's car, Rachel yells at Hood: "You stupid, stupid man!"
Still, Hood's got aphorism diarrhea, as when he mumbles after another seeming bumble: "In science, a negative result is as important as a positive one," while Rachel summarizes: "It was a bloody waste of time." Naturally, it turns out not to be. Later, she warns him: "We shouldn't be doing this; it's nothing but a hunch." "Once upon a time, Rachel," smiles Hood, "gravity was just a hunch."
Any series still using scattering birds as a sign of impending evil is not scheduled for a long voyage, or perhaps what the network said was Stewart's "other commitments" led to a suspension in filming. Blame the script, we say, especially with Hood telling a father trying to clone his dead son that the boy isn't merely DNA, but "the sum of every minute you spent with him, every meal his mother ever cooked for him, every story you read him, every ball you threw for him to catch, every day at the beach, or night at the cinema."
Obviously, Hood hasn't eaten at our house latelyâ€¦
So it's probably back to the X-Men money pit for Stewart, or maybe some other role, as he starts to slip into the Sean Connery realm: too old to play adventurers, but too adventurous to settle down. Perhaps Hollywood or the UK can clone him a better series to lead. Until then, fans should catch him in this short-lived experiment.