Tag: period drama

Doctor Who Review: The Eaters of Light

I’m really not sure about The Eaters of Light.

On the one hand: what a fantastic name – a name to go along with a fantastic symbolic set-up.

On the other hand: I think it has to muddle its moral world somewhat to get to that set-up.

It’s the second century AD. The Doctor and Bill have rocked up in Scotland to settle an argument about what really happened to the Ninth Legion of the Roman Empire (which, to save you a trip to Wikipedia the Font of All Knowledge, disappears from surviving Roman records round about 120 AD). The Doctor thinks they were destroyed by the Pictish army. Bill believes they escaped. They separate, and tramp off in search of clues for their respective hypotheses. This is, as we know, always a good idea in a mysterious historical time period.

After a deal of mild peril and a foray into local folklore, it transpires that the Ninth were destroyed by the titular Eaters of Light: interdimensional locusts, as the Doctor dubs them, clustering Lovecraftianly at cracks in space-time, ready to come into our world and eat the sun. For three generations a local tribe of Picts have held the interdimensional gate against the Eaters, using a temporal trick of the gate to extend their lifespans – a couple of seconds within the mound that houses the gate amounts to a couple of days outside it. But the current gatekeeper, a young woman named Kar, has let one of them through, to destroy the army colonising her country. This, obviously, is A Bad Thing, and the Doctor comes up with a cunning plan to lure the creature back to its dimension.

There is one excellent scene which I would like to commend to your attention before I start complaining. Temporarily trapped with some deserters who are all that remain of the Ninth Legion, Bill comes out to Cornelius, the Roman soldier who’s obviously interested in her In That Way. “This is probably just a really difficult idea,” she says. “I don’t like men…Just women.” “Ah! You’re like Vitus, then!” Cornelius chirps, unperturbed. “He only likes men!” Cornelius himself is (what we would think of as) bisexual: “I’m just ordinary. You know, I like men and women.”

I just want you to think about that for a minute.

This is a prime time, popular science fiction show.

This is a show that spent last season punishing its strong women and blithely ignoring its vaguely racist undertones.

This is a show whose first episode this season made the lesbian love interest a literal possessive alien.

Not only is it now giving secondary characters non-heteronormative sexualities for non-plot reasons, it’s also doing the conceptual work to recognise that our sexual norms are culturally specific; further, that our assumptions about historic sexual norms basically erase non-normative people from history. (I don’t know enough to say whether Romans really thought bisexuality the norm, but it doesn’t seem hugely unlikely.)

And it’s doing all this in a two-minute throwaway scene that has nothing to do with the plot.

This is brilliant.

Unfortunately, the episode doesn’t extend that conceptual work to the bits that actually are plot-relevant. As I wrote at the beginning of this post, the episode knows where it wants to get to: the Ninth Legion and the Keeper of the Gate, Romans and Picts, fighting the Eaters of Light, together, forever. Music under the hill, for those to hear as will listen. The crows, remembering down the centuries: “Kar! Kar!” Very Celtic. Very pretty. Very mythic. It’s just that, to get there, it has to do some painful-looking moral contortions.

The Eaters of Light picks up the theme of desertion from last week’s episode, Empress of Mars. Here, at least, Bill says to the Roman soldiers what we instinctively felt she should also have said to Captain Godsacre last week:

You’re not cowards. You’re scared. Scared is fine. Scared is human.

But, you know, I think that sentiment would probably have meant more if the soldiers of the Ninth hadn’t redeemed their desertion, narratively speaking, by sacrificing their lives in an eternal fight against monsters from the Dungeon Dimensions; just as Captain Godsacre redeemed his past desertion by laying down his life in the service of a warrior race. So The Eaters of Light has the same problem as Empress of Mars: it co-opts the ideological structures of colonialism, invisibly, to make martial endeavour and sacrifice the “right” atonement for deserting the colonial project.

And, speaking of colonialism: the Doctor’s treatment of Kar, the Keeper of the Gate, struck me as deeply patronising and unsympathetic. Here is a woman – hardly more than a child, actually, but still – who has lost many of her people and much of her land to the Romans. Sure, she did release an interdimensional locust on the unsuspecting Earth – but then the Romans sent an army of five thousand to kill some Scottish farmers, as Bill puts it. The point being: none of the Ninth Legion ever get the kind of condescension and scorn the Doctor unleashes on Kar, who is, after all, de facto leader of her people. And the Ninth Legion are colonisers. Ultimately, the best answer the Doctor has for colonialism is “you’re all behaving like children, get over it,” which would seem to apportion blame equally to colonisers and colonised. This is, self-evidently, stupid.

The most egregious contortion the episode makes, though, is when the assembled cast start to discuss who’s going to guard the gate from now on. The Doctor points out that he is functionally immortal, compared to puny human lifespans; he can literally guard the gate forever.

Now, the moment he points this out the episode has written itself into a corner. Because, according to the logic of the story, this is actually the most sensible and the most moral course to take. The universe will be protected from the Eaters of Light for eternity, and the Picts won’t have to sacrifice themselves, generation after generation, any more, which is really what the Doctor is about. But the Doctor obviously can’t go and stand in a Scottish cairn for the rest of his eternity, because for one thing the BBC still has lots of perfectly good money to make from him.

The episode can only get itself out of this corner by making one of its characters do something, well, out of character. And because the Doctor is the Doctor and therefore an untouchable moral authority, it’s Bill who’s made to do the same thing she did at the end of The Pyramid at the End of the World: to whit, sacrifice a world – a universe, in this case – for love of the Doctor.

To put it another way: this smart, empathetic, deeply morally engaged character thinks the Doctor, after ten episodes, is literally worth more than the universe.

“This isn’t your fight,” she says to him, weakly, ignoring the fact that the whole point of Doctor Who is him getting involved in fights that aren’t his. And when she says “this isn’t your fight”, what she’s actually saying is: it’s these people’s destiny to sacrifice themselves. Let them die in a strange universe – despite the fact that you could defend the universe better than they could.

I’m sure this wasn’t the intended effect. I think this was hasty writing designed to bring about a specific ending, an undoubtedly resonant combination of symbols. That doesn’t change the fact that the episode fundamentally weakens Bill’s moral authority as the Doctor’s companion, as well as our perception of the Doctor’s moral judgement. It doesn’t work. And that’s a shame.

Doctor Who Review: Empress of Mars

First reactions to popular media can tell us a lot about what the work is trying to do, and also, if we can look beyond them, whether it succeeds.

Which is a pretentious way of saying: I liked Empress of Mars. In fact, my first thought after the closing credits was: “That worked!”

This episode is the much-anticipated One With The Ice Warriors. Briefly: when present-day NASA discovers that someone has written “God Save The Queen” on Mars, despite the fact that to their knowledge no human has been there yet, the Doctor and Bill go back to 1888 to investigate. They discover that an Ice Warrior awaking on Earth has persuaded a unit of the British Army – which, in true colonialist style, has called him Friday and made him a kind of pet servant – to travel to Mars in an Ice Warrior rocket, under the pretence that there are unfathomable riches there. In fact, Friday has returned to Mars to wake his Empress from a five-thousand-year sleep. This is, unsurprisingly, bad news for the British Army, who haven’t yet worked out how to get back to Earth, and moreover are disinclined to back down, having claimed Mars for Queen Victoria.

In other words, Empress of Mars is old-school Who, to go with its old-school monsters: a scenario with more than a whiff of the ridiculous about it; an old-fashioned science fantasy mystery; a stand-off in which the Doctor must intercede to avoid violence. It’s neatly plotted, with a finely-adjusted mix of sentimentalism and plausibility. It has characters we can root for, or at least understand, on various sides of the conflict. It works.

We should be cautious, when something works as well as this does; because a lot of narratives that feel like they just work at a fundamental level feel like that because they’re based on familiar, nostalgic narrative structures. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; just something we need to be aware of in encountering these texts; because it means that popular media can lie to us quite efficiently, looking superficially benign, neutral, even progressive, when in fact the assumptions of the underlying structure are deeply suspect.

So: Mark Gatiss* has given us an episode that feels very  Victorian, ideologically as well as aesthetically and thematically. It’s tempting to make comparisons with Thin Ice, the other historical episode of the season; but Thin Ice  did not actually feel very Regency, and was moreover actually aware of the unfairnesses inherent in the class system in a way that Empress of Mars emphatically is not. The emotional meat of Gatiss’ story is the power struggle between commanding officer Colonel Godsacre, a sensible man who nevertheless turns out to have been a deserter, and the technically loyal but hotheaded Captain Catchlove. Godsacre is outed as a deserter, and Catchlove takes control; it surprises no-one that Godsacre turns out to save the day.

It’s a predictable story, but then most Doctor Who episodes are when it comes down to it. What’s interesting about Empress of Mars is the way that it makes Doctor Who – a show that’s usually deeply mistrustful of traditional authority, especially military authority – co-opt the colonialist military values of the late Victorian period. The superior officer turns out to be morally superior, while the lower ranks are busy endangering the unit by trying to steal gems from the Ice Queen’s hive: officers are intrinsically worthy of command, soldiers intrinsically need to be commanded. Moreover, the episode is pointedly silent on the issue of Godsacre’s previous desertion, and in fact rewards him for symbolically undoing it – offering his life to the Ice Queen for the sake of his men in a gesture which turns out to be the key to the whole situation. By its silence, the episode supports the Victorian concept of desertion as a capital crime – a concept unquestioned even by Bill, who has developed over the course of this season into the progressive voice of the twenty-first century. Note: we have no details of exactly what Godsacre did. Did his troops die for his cowardice? Presumably the episode would have mentioned it if he had. And yet we’re supposed to make a moral judgement of him based only on the label “deserter” – a moral judgement that’s specifically Victorian.

I don’t think this necessarily has to spoil the episode for us. It is, after all, a non-trivial achievement to write something that so thoroughly enacts the mores of the time period it’s about; and it is a very well-structured episode of Doctor Who. But this season in particular seems to be feeling its way towards a more progressive vision for the show than I think we’ve seen yet in Moffat’s run, and I think it’s worth looking closely at where that works well, and where that throws up structural inconsistencies.

Next week: more historical high jinks, in what looks like Roman Britain. Hurrah!

*I just looked up the writer of the episode, and it surprises me that it’s Gatiss; his episodes are usually not so…coherent.

Top Ten Books That Would Make Good TV

  1. Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens. I think this is actually already a TV series – I mean, I doubt there’s a single Dickens novel that isn’t – but I haven’t managed to get my hands on it. It’s almost a truism to observe that Dickens is perfect for a TV series’ episodic, sprawling structure – certainly Our Mutual Friend needs more space than a film can give it.
  2. The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien. I had to think about this one a bit (and it’s never going to happen in any case, the Tolkien Estate being notoriously tight-fisted with the rights), but it’s an episodic narrative with a vast cast of characters and a number of narrative strands. It would be like Game of Thrones but without all the rape.
  3. Perdido Street Station – China Mieville. I cannot imagine any TV producer being brave enough to take on Perdido Street Station, with its particular brand of squicky violence and unromanticised reality, but I wish they would. The pulpy plot elements, the rambly narrative, the overbearingly Gothic-steampunk city of New Crobuzon? Yes, yes, yes.
  4. Saga – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. I don’t know why, I just think the high-speed zaniness of the graphic novels would transfer well to TV. (Maybe like Doctor Who but without all the sexism?) It makes a lot of play with different kinds of pop culture and the role they play in public dissent, too, which would be interesting to consider in a TV show.
  5. Bleeding Edge – Thomas Pynchon. Obviously, there’s a lot in Pynchon that couldn’t be captured visually, but that’s the case with pretty much everything else on this list too. But I can see a TV version of Bleeding Edge playing out like Dirk Gently, almost.
  6. Paradise Lost – John Milton. What? Paradise Lost would look fantastic on TV, all fire and brimstone and war in Heaven, and it has some pretty compelling characters too. If you can have Shakespeare on TV, you can have Milton.
  7. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers. Yes! It would be like Firefly but with aliens and fewer guns.
  8. Palimpsest – Catherynne M. Valente. I just read this, and it would make a terrible film but a great TV series (though I suppose it’s quite short). You could do a lot with the city of Palimpsest itself, and intertwining that with the characters in the real world would work really well on TV.
  9. Robot Dreams – Isaac Asimov. You know what would be good? A Twilight Zone-style anthology series featuring Asimov’s short stories, which all have that kind of conceptual twist you got in Twilight Zone episodes, when it turned out the person narrating the story was dead or something. Obviously, not that tone of twist, but structurally it’s the same thing.
  10. Temeraire – Naomi Novik. All the Regency society manoeuvrings are like a soap anyway. It would just have dragons in it too.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Sherlock Review: The Abominable Bride

“I’m your housekeeper, not a plot device!”

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss

Sorry, Mrs Hudson: as it turns out, you are a plot device. You and ALL WOMEN EVER.

I just spent the last couple of hours trying to write a serious review of The Abominable Bride. It was quite good, actually. I was going to argue that the episode’s ridiculous metafictional reversals were part of an attempt on the writers’ part to discredit Conan Doyle’s body of work as no longer relevant and, of course, suggest their own as alternative.

But my heart wasn’t really in it. The Abominable Bride may be the worst thing I have ever seen on television, and if there is any coherent sense to be made out of it I don’t have the time or energy to tease it painstakingly out. I don’t think it deserves that kind of attention, much less rewards it.

The episode begins as a horribly campy Victorian tale featuring Our Heroes as they attempt to solve the case of a woman who apparently kills herself and then returns to murder her husband. This is a terrible idea. Cumberbatch and Freeman make a fantastic modern-day Holmes and Watson, but only indifferent Victorian ones, and you’re much better off watching Jeremy Brett in those interminable ITV episodes of Sherlock Holmes if Victoriana is what you’re after. The case itself is just awful, tedious watching: a Dr Hooper so transparently female that Sherlock must be blind not to see it, a not-very-scary ghost who we know from the word go is absolutely not going to be a ghost, which makes the transports of fear that Our Heroes indulge in over-the-top and ridiculous, a Mycroft who makes himself mordibly obese for a bet (because that’s funny, right?), a pointless conversation between Sherlock and Watson about whether Sherlock has ever you-knowed which fails to establish anything we didn’t know already.

That’s before we reach the frankly offensive denouement, when it transpires that the bride is actually a group of suffragists punishing abusive husbands by going out and murdering them. Moffat and Gatiss are clearly trying to prove their feminist credentials in the face of profound disagreement from many, many people, and it fails spectacularly when Sherlock proudly tells all the women that yes! the mighty Holmes agrees with their cause! go forth and multiply!

Thanks, Moffat/Gatiss/Holmes, but I don’t actually need you to validate my feminist rage, and nor does anyone else. That’s sort of the point.

Also, pro tip: it doesn’t really help your cause when you dress your feminists like members of the Klu Klux Klan.

But this is just not bad enough for Moffat and Gatiss; they have to go a step further:

“And he woke up and it was all a dream.”

Sherlock, it turns out, is working out a hundred-year-old case in his mind palace (which is swiftly becoming the most irritating way of representing abstract thought processes ever devised, and by the way real mind palaces do not work like that) in order to help him work out how Moriarty has come back from the dead to threaten England. The episode dips in and out of dream and reality for about half an hour, the net result of which is Sherlock realising that Moriarty is dead but has a lot of friends, which we already knew anyway. There’s also a dream-confrontation at the Reichenbach Falls which is probably supposed to reveal the deepest depths of Sherlock’s demons but actually just tells us that he really, really hates Moriarty, which, let’s see, oh, yes, we knew already.

There was more, but to be honest by this point I had given up the will to live.

My issue with all of this isn’t the dream-device per se, which can in the right hands be used to great effect; it’s that none of it feels very significant. It’s just showing off. It isn’t clever, or experimental, or bold; it’s a pair of showrunners who have created a very successful series not being accountable to anyone, and just writing whatever the hell they like because why not?

I sincerely hope the upcoming series won’t be more of this, because it’s just boring. Boring, and bad.

Review: Fly By Night

“Sacred just means something you’re not meant to think about properly, an’ you should never stop thinking!”

Frances Hardinge

Fly by nightThis review contains spoilers.

Fly By Night, Frances Hardinge’s first novel, is the story of a twelve-year-old girl, Mosca Mye, who seizes the chance to flee her damp, dull little town and her neglectful, exploitative uncle and aunt when one Eponymous Clent, professional poet and liar, strolls into town. When he inevitably gets himself into trouble, she rescues him with the help of her vicious pet goose Saracen, and, entranced by the exotic words he brings into a life mainly characterised by workaday terms, follows him to the vibrant and bustling city of Mandelion, a city rife with the politics of the Guilds, where the wrong words are profoundly dangerous, where the Guild of Stationers burns any book not sanctioned by them; a city that has succumbed to censorship through fear of a distant and unmentionable evil. Mosca, Eponymous and Saracen soon find themselves entangled in the dangerous politics of this city, and what follows is a wondrous, steampunky romp through coffee-houses and marriage-houses and public houses and great houses.

It’s worth, I think, examining the significance of the name Mosca for just a minute. “Mosca” means “fly”, of course; Our Heroine is so named because she was born on a day sacred to Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butter Churns. (I’ll come back to this, because I think it’s important to Hardinge’s feminist agenda in Fly By Night.) But Mosca has literary roots, too: he’s the trickster-servant of Ben Jonson’s rich old prankster Volpone in his 16th-century play of the same name. Jonson’s Mosca weaves words into traps, creating a glorious tapestry of falsehoods, playing on the greed of those around him to win riches for himself and his master.

This may sound like a far-fetched comparison for a middle-grade novel involving a girl with a pet goose, but it would seem more far-fetched to me if Hardinge, who read English at Oxford, were unaware of the significance of the name, which, after all, is hardly a common one. Besides, Fly By Night does feel intensely Jonsonian, sharing many of the concerns of his city plays: an interest in words and how they can be used to deceive and to create, an intense and joyous depiction of the anarchic energies of the city, a careful amorality which allows people to be people, not straightforwardly “good” or straightforwardly “bad” (mostly).

Mosca wet her lips, took a breath and began to speak. She pulled out rags of wedding words she had heard by listening through the thin marriage-house walls. She patched them with pompous-sounding phrases from her father’s books. She stitched the whole together with the scarlet thread of her own imagination.

Here, Mosca and her Jonsonian namesake seem almost to come together. The posthumous wedding ceremony she creates for her friend the Cakes, who lives in secret shame because her parents were not married, has a palimpsestic, stitched-together quality which bears a heavy resemblance to similar ceremonies concocted by that other great Jonsonian trickster, The Alchemist’s Subtle, who mashes up alchemical texts, popular literature, Biblical exegeses and thieves’ cant (this last is something which Fly By Night is particularly interested in) to con gullible Londoners out of considerable amounts of money.

The difference lies in the intent; and this, I think, is the crux of what Hardinge is doing in Fly By Night. For while Subtle’s purpose in conning his “gulls” is essentially greed, Mosca is creating her imaginative tapestry at least partly for altruistic reasons, to help the Cakes feel better, and to gain her esteem. While both Moscas, and indeed Subtle, are amoral to some extent – in that we find ourselves rooting for them despite their often questionable actions – Jonson never intends us seriously to excuse the actions of his liars. Volpone‘s Mosca is tried and punished for his lies; Subtle’s con ultimately fails, his anarchic potential contained by the play’s obvious artifice. Hardinge’s Mosca, on the other hand, is very definitely valorised by her story: her ending is left open, the anarchism of a girl who can think and speak for herself remaining uncontained and full of dangerous potential:

“What can I offer a secretary but a life of sleeping in hedges, chicken stealing and climbing out through midnight windows to avoid paying innkeepers in the morning?”

Nothing, except…loose strands of possibility snaking like maypole ribbons. Roads fringed with russet bracken, roads sparkling with frost, hill roads split with the rising sun, forest roads livid with fallen leaves, the Crystal Court with its million windows throwing tiaras of rainbow colour upon the floor, ladies with legends of days past embroidered along their trains, wine as dark as blackberry juice sipped under a green-fringed canopy, accents as strange as a walking cane worn by another hand, estuaries bold with man-o’-war ships and perhaps beyond it the shimmering, much-dreamed-upon expanse of the sea…

Jonson was an upper-class, classically-educated man who may have loved words, but decidedly did not love those who used them for less than honest ends (as, for instance, Eponymous Clent does in this novel). His plays feature, and often admire, the small and voiceless of his society; but they always contain and judge them in the end. Hardinge, on the other hand, gives a voice to these voiceless and refuses to judge them for what they say: her rewriting of The Alchemist and of Volpone places the voiceless front and centre, and if it doesn’t give them power, exactly, it gives them agency, possibility, potentiality in a way which Jonson doesn’t. Which is why it’s important that Fly By Night switches the gender of Jonson’s Mosca: because who, in Jonson’s world and in the vaguely seventeenth-century setting of Hardinge’s novel, is less powerful than twelve-year-old girls?

There’s something that needs to be said with regards to Mosca’s characterisation about the role of niceness in femininity. Mosca is not nice. She is named after a fly-god. She has a “ferretty face”, she wears breeches under her skirts (a habit left over from her home town, where young girls frequently wear breeches because it’s simply more practical in a place that’s about 50% water), she reads. She steals, she lies, she tells tales – because she has to, because she is “unloved”, because she has no other choice, and Hardinge refuses to punish her for it as Jonson punishes his characters. It would be wrong to call Mosca a Strong Female Character: she is an imperfect female character and she is a real female character, neither sanitised nor demonised.

And this, it seems to me, is ultimately what Hardinge’s project is in Fly By Night: rewriting Jonson’s male-dominated, cautiously self-contained plays to open up their anarchic potential, to expand on everything that troubles Jonson and his contemporaries: the rising poor, able to think for themselves, to transgress the boundaries set for them.

In case you couldn’t tell, I loved Fly By Night; it’s exactly the kind of book I hoped it would be, a twisty and beautifully-written steampunky yarn with a current of thought running deep below its surface. Possibly one of my favourites of 2015.

Top Ten Books that I Bought for their Titles and/or Covers

“If you’re not careful, time will take away everything that ever hurt you, everything you have ever lost, and replace it with knowledge.”

Charles Yu

In no particular order:

  1. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe – Charles Yu. I read this earlier in the year – because, seriously, how could anyone resist the promise of that title? – and it was truly fantastic. See? Gambles do pay off, sometimes.
  2. A Novel Bookstore – Laurence Cosse. The blurb did not wow me, but it had “bookstore” in the title, and that was enough for me. And it is a very lovely book about books which I heartily recommend to everyone ever. (I actually recently sent a copy to my grandmother.)
  3. How Not to Write a Novel – Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. Huh. I guess I’m a sucker for pseudo-self-help books. Anyway, How Not to Write a Novel is a very funny and useful guide to Things You Probably Shouldn’t Do if You Want Anyone to Buy Your Book.
  4. Victorian Sensation – Michael Diamond. Actually, I didn’t buy this one; it was in my college library. But I read it for this spectacularly retro cover. It was quite a good read, too.
  5. The City of Dreaming Books – Walter Moers. I mean, books. And it has an awesome and fun-looking cover. It was not as good I was hoping, though.
  6. By Light Alone – Adam Roberts. I just adored the Art Deco, steampunky feel of this cover; it really stood out in the bookshop. Another one which was unfortunately mildly disappointing (but worth owning just for that cover!).
  7. Magyk – Angie Sage. The cover of this book is so lovely. I adore covers made to look like old books. Plus, the book, a gentle fantasy about a seventh son and a slightly evil government, is sweet and original and nice.
  8. The Diamond of Drury Lane – Julia Golding. This is going back quite a few years now, but for a long time I had a slight obsession with the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane because I went to see the musical version of The Lord of the Rings there and this obviously meant that everything that had happened there ever was automatically awesome and deeply interesting. I don’t remember very much about the book, but I think it was quite good.
  9. Wicked Lovely – Melissa Marr. I think it was a combination of the cryptic title and that atmospheric orange wash that drew me to this one. I remember almost nothing about the quality of the book, though.
  10. The Looking Glass Wars – Frank Beddor. An Alice in Wonderland retelling? Sold! Pity the execution wasn’t terribly good.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

 

The Last Kingdom Review: Episode 1

“A village can be rebuilt; a warrior can die only once.”

Stephen Butchard

The Last Kingdom seems to be the BBC’s answer to Game of Thrones. Based on a Bernard Cornwell novel, it’s a story of the last Anglo-Saxon kingdom to stand against the Danish invasion of the late ninth century, following as it does Uhtred, the son of a Saxon nobleman, who’s taken hostage by the Danes and brought up as one of them.

This first episode seems to trace, then, a kind of cultural blurring which feels quite relevant right now, in an age when politicians are once again seeking to define what it is to be British (and not really succeeding). A story full of betrayals and changed allegiances, it seems to be groping towards a discussion of how invasion (or migration) attacks the boundaries between Them and Us: far from adhering slavishly to these boundaries, characters are constantly using the gaps between them as leverage for their own schemes and plots, manipulating identity politics to gain revenge, or money, or power, or land.

The episode doesn’t go as far as it could in this line, but then it is a first episode, so I can forgive it that. However, I can’t forgive it the fact that it gives us a “historical” narrative in which women are literally only there to be slept with. I had enough of this shit from Game of Thrones, and even that let its women have proper opinions. Sorry, Kingdom; however interesting your thoughts in migration are, I won’t be coming back to be patronised.