Shock Doc

It’s that time when things may have escalated to the (to quote Carole King) “it’s too late, baby” mode, that sixty-minute tick-down before what we pagans call the witching hour; in short, the uneasy thin line between science fact and science fiction (with a bit o’horror thrown in).  It’s the ELEVENTH HOUR, an X-Files/CSI hybrid, now on a two-disc DVD set from Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment/ITV Studios.  A limited 2006 series, comprised of four feature-length TV motion pictures, ELEVENTH HOUR was created, coproduced and coscripted by Stephen Gallagher, best known as one of the writing forces behind Dr. Who (the early 1980s editions).  This tough, gritty no-holds barred show stars the great Patrick Stewart as Dr. Ian Hood, a tough, gritty, no-holds barred Home Office genius, whose penchant for rubbing highly positioned muckety-mucks the wrong way is so perilous that he’s assigned a permanent bodyguard, the DFWM (Don’t Fuck With Me) snarky (at first) disbeliever Rachel Young (Ashley Jensen).  They’re a formidable team, especially when Young gradually comes around to Hood’s way of thinking, and the nightmarish realization that there is evil out there on a grand scale.  It’s a difficult show to peg, covering and (hopefully) solving genuine doomsday factors in our society via procedural sleuthing and high-tech science.  But have we let greed take control?  Are we beyond the crisis level?  These are the uncomfortable questions ELEVENTH HOUR asks, and, so reasonably that it’s often terrifying.

Mixed in with the renegade brilliant psychopaths are the avaricious right-wing government monsters, who willingly prey upon the UK’s 99% to line their pockets, throwing caution to the wind (the wind being the future of mankind).

While some of the initial entry’s dialog tends to be a bit preachy, it is a problem cumulatively rectified as the narratives progress and as the two leads evolve into an unstoppable force of camaraderie; sadly, then, the series abruptly ends – thus adding more frustration to the truly frightening scenarios.  It suggests (to my paranoid psyche) that the repellent powers that be stopped the production before it went too far.  Indeed, it’s astounding that a series with this plotline and a star of Stewart’s magnitude (a bona-fide saleable name on this side of the pond) never found a PBS satellite for US broadcast.  Hmmmm…makes one think, eh?  And these days, that’s extremely dangerous.

That said, it’s not all gloom and doom in ELEVENTH HOUR.  There’s some gallows humor and sexual tension (Hood interrupting Rachel during a much-needed shag).  Nevertheless, if your curiosity transcends your libido, here’s a brief rundown on HOUR‘s tense, volatile subject matter.

In Resurrection, the discovery of two dozen deformed babies and untold “compromised” fetuses lead Hood and Young to a maniac determined to conquer the world of human cloning.  Christened Geppetto by those in the know, this sociopath (a delicious performance by Jane Lapotaire) must be tracked down and stopped by the “volunteered” Professor and Rachel.  But, of course, in real life vs. reel life, you can’t always get what you want.

Containment unleashes a centuries-old flesh-eating virus when a landmark crypt undergoes renovation.  A near-dead, contagious worker releases air-borne particles that threaten to cause a nationwide epidemic that makes the Bubonic Plague look like a Mucinex commercial.

Krytos, the best episode in the series, has Hood confronting his one-time best friend (Donald Sumpter), another big brain, who seemingly has gone mad while on the verge of a major discovery.  The reason for their broken bromance was the demented prof’s wife (Susan Wooldridge, once Hood’s lover).  As Hood investigates, he uncovers that his old compadre is no crazier than he is, but rather furious that his horrifying research on global warming is already accurately encroaching upon civilization in lethal doses, and may be irreversible.  His warnings of ruthless mega-political factions who stand to lose millions if his findings are revealed and scoffed at – until his few contemporaries begin showing up accidentally dead.  Since this program aired, we’ve seen the increasing shrinkage of glaciers and coastlines at an alarming rate.  Like I said, the best episode in the series; also the scariest.

The final installment, Miracle, revolves around a tumor-afflicted boy (Matthew Williams) whose fatal disease mysteriously disappears.  Turns out, his trailer-park dad (Darrell O’Silva) fed him water from a river whose shoreline touches his property.  Soon, the countryside is flooded with Stage 5 cancer victims craving the magic elixir.  Hood knows that this miracle stuff is bollocks, and toils feverishly to find the reason for the child’s recovery.  Truth rears its ugly head when the side effects of the water take hold.  With results bordering on potentially terminal, Hood must work doubly-fast, as Rachel has taken a dose after earlier becoming deathly ill.  A sinister conspiracy unveiling the dumping toxic waste products may just be, too big to fail.

This is riveting, intelligent stuff.  It’s occasionally pretty grim, but certainly different and absolutely worth a peek.  In addition to those mentioned above, there are some wonderful guest stars gracing this quartet, including Roy Marsden, Claire Holman, Stephen Tomlin, Nicholas Woodeson, Clive Wood, Michelle Newell, Joanna Horton and others.  As indicated, the writing is generally excellent (Gallagher sharing scribe duties with Simon Stephenson and Mike Cullen); ditto the direction (Roger Garland and Terry McDonough) and superb Manchester location camerawork by Ben Smithard and Graham Frake.  The stereo-surround is top-notch, keeping with realism of the show, and features a creepy score by the appropriately named The Insects.  The Acorn DVD is terrific, ebullient in its palette of cold imagery, immaculately detailed.

Check it out, if you dare.

ELEVENTH HOUR.  Color.  Widescreen [1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 2.0 stereo-surround.  Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/ITV Studios. CAT # AMP-2480.  SRP:  $29.99.

eleventhhourcover

 

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