Written by David Renwick
Directed by Keith Washington
John Shrapnel was best known for his stage work but made a number of appearances in beloved mystery dramas. Among his television credits are roles in Inspector Morse, Between the Lines, Wycliffe, Foyle’s War, Midsomer Murders, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, The Last Detective, New Tricks and Waking the Dead.
The science fiction elements are a welcome change of pace but I am unconvinced that the solution is credible.
Maddy is preparing for a media interview to promote her new book when she receives a note from Professor Lance Graumann who promises her ‘the most incredible story of your life’ if she meets him in a warehouse. When she arrives he shows her an alien skeleton in a glass case and explains how touching it caused burns to appear on his assistant’s hands. He offers her the chance to get some photographs but as she goes to her car to get her camera trucks of American military personnel arrive to seize the body and transport it to their base.
When the soldiers arrive they open up the truck only to find that the skeleton has completely disappeared. Desperate to find an explanation they track down Jonathan to demand he explain why the skeleton vanished.
I was really fed up of the whole paranormal alien thing back when this story first aired. Everyone at school was still obsessed with The X-Files, a show I was never able to get into. This story seemed to be pretty clearly influenced by that series and I am pretty sure I resented it a little for that. No doubt that’s the reason I didn’t remember this story particularly fondly and why I skipped over it whenever I would rewatch the stories.
That is, of course, exactly the reason why I decided to revisit these seasons and watch all of the stories in order. To view them once again through fresh eyes. Some have fallen in my estimations as I am much more familiar with common tricks now than I was back then while some, like this one, have definitely gained a little with some distance.
The scenario is certainly hokey although it is a fun change of pace to have a break from those horror elements that dominated the second season and the previous episodes and have a switch to science fiction. It makes the story stand out from those around it, giving it a pretty distinct identity.
The idea of a government agency forcing Jonathan to solve a case for them is also pretty entertaining and I liked the problem it creates for him in terms of keeping Maddy’s involvement in the events of that night secret from them (though the idea of dozens of US troops carrying out a covert operation in uniform on UK soil does seem rather ridiculous – it does reinforce that X-Files feel however). Once again I appreciate it for being a little different from the usual ways he stumbles onto cases and I appreciated the complications this adds to his investigation and to his working relationship with Maddy.
Speaking of Maddy, I think that this episode is one of her best in quite some time. This not only allows us to see her using her journalism skills at work but also reminds us of some of the potential dangers an investigative journalist might face. This episode reminded me that this is the part of the character I am most interested in and that I wish had been the focus rather than the will they, won’t they relationship with Jonathan.
The final thing that I think works well here is the casting of John Shrapnel as Professor Graumann and that character’s general characterization. It is not just that he has a frankly magnificent voice that sounds just right for this sort of character but that he contrasts with Alan Davies in an interesting way. That contrast is drawn quite directly for the viewer with Creek noting that the two men have fairly similar backgrounds and skill sets but use them differently and this casting helps to illustrate that idea.
Given that we know the identity of who devised this trick from the beginning we are simply then looking at how it was carried out. I appreciated that the character is given a little more depth and context by introducing us to one of his acolytes, showing us the impact of what he does. It makes him a pretty enigmatic figure and he stands out for me as one of the more interesting antagonists that Jonathan faces, precisely because he doesn’t behave as such (or, to be more accurate, because Jonathan isn’t really the focus of his activities). He even gives Jonathan a pretty significant, if enigmatic, hint about how the trick was worked.
Which brings me to how the trick was carried out. While the trappings of this episode bother me less today than they did on first viewing, I feel I have become more suspicious about whether the scheme Graumann came up with could work.
The biggest question I have is the economic feasability of his scheme. Graumann’s plan would seem to require a pretty large outlay of cash, not to mention time, to make it work. While I can see that he could expect to make money back from donations, book and VHS sales (!), that takes time and if the trick here is rumbled then he presumably would face total discreditation and financial ruin.
I have further questions but they are all heavily spoilery so I will confine them to the end of this post. To put it briefly, I like the idea of this story but I do have strong doubts that it could actually work.
Overall then I think I liked this one a little more than I did when I first saw it. The concept is still incredibly silly but I think it represents a fun change of pace within the season. I just have difficulty accepting that this scheme could work as shown.
Aidan Spoils It All
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