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Eleventh Hour (2005)
Creator: Stephen Gallagher

review by Alasdair Stuart

Created by TV and horror veteran Stephen Gallagher, Eleventh Hour is a serious attempt to do something, which has never actually been done before; contemporary, science based drama. It's a supremely brave move, especially given how successful the previous two attempts at something similar (namely Doomwatch and Quatermass) were. However, Eleventh Hour scores vital points early on with its central premise. The series follows Professor Ian Hood (Patrick Stewart), a government science advisor and his Special Branch bodyguard, D.S. Rachel Young (Ashley Jensen). Constantly on the road and living out of hotel rooms, Hood is called in to deal with crises caused by the abuse of science or unethical experimentation. Young's job is far simpler: to keep Hood alive.

This unusual combination of cop show and thriller is an uneasy mix at first and opening episode Resurrection clearly shows the struggle to make the ends meet. The supremely gruesome opening scene sees police discover a field with 30 foetuses, wrapped in crucifixes buried in it. When the DNA is tested, each foetus is found to be identical.

This does a beautiful and gruesome job of setting up the idea of unethical cloning which, unfortunately, then degenerates into a fairly standard cop thriller. Hood and Young's search for the cloner, a scientist known only as 'Gepetto' is more Bond-movie than CSI and Gepetto's colleagues are straight out of central casting. There are a couple of memorable moments but Resurrection is ultimately a pretty standard pilot episode. Some elements work, other elements don't.

Containment is a vast improvement, opening as a group of workers renovating a church find a horribly decomposed body that's somehow still alive. Hood and Young arrive and begin co-ordinating with the local disaster management staff, only to have the situation rapidly spiral out of control. There's a nicely handled false ending halfway through, genuine tension throughout and the payoff reveals exactly how tidily plotted the entire episode is. Smart, grim and incident heavy, Containment sees Stewart and Jensen settling into the roles and both turning in excellent work.

Kryptos unfortunately, is the weakest of the four films. The moment you find out that the guest star, a climatologist on the verge of a breakdown, is Hood's former best friend every character beat is clearly mapped out. The central plot, dealing with the climatologist's discovery of exactly how catastrophic global warming will be doesn't help matters, given that there's nothing in his research that's particularly revolutionary. To make matters worse, he's clearly, from the outset, severely mentally ill and no one does anything to help him. Insult is added to injury by the unintentionally hilarious IT on display. For a show this concerned with contemporary science to make not one but two basic computer howlers within 20 minutes of one another is unforgivable and these factors combine to make Kryptos the one genuine failure in the series' run.

The final episode, Miracle, is anything but. Hood is incensed when newspaper reports begin circulating that a boy in Clayton, Yorkshire has been cured of cancer by drinking water. As cancer sufferers flock to the area, Hood and Young investigate and find, to their surprise, that the boy's doctor is as surprised as they are. Even more worrying is the fact that everyone who drinks the spring water is getting sicker...

Where Kryptos pads for an hour before finally getting to the plot, Miracle effectively gives you two plots for the price of one. The second half of the story sees it take an exponentially more sinister turn and the eventual reveal of what exactly is in the spring water shows a welcome understanding of and anger at the contemporary political situation. For the first time, we get to see Hood direct serious righteous anger at something genuinely wrong and the result is electrifying. Whilst the ending has one or two problems, which will instantly be apparent to the more conspiratorially minded amongst you, Miracle is the strongest episode by far and bodes well for a second series.

There's a lot to enjoy in Eleventh Hour, despite the problems. Stewart is on great form as Ian Hood, a character inspired by scientists such as Richard Feynman and Fred Hoyle. Hood is a belligerent, fiercely intelligent figure and Stewart clearly revels in playing someone so much more confrontational than the cerebral roles he's best known for. Jensen, riding high on her success in Extras, is a great foil for him. Deadpan where Stewart is emotive she has great comic timing and a natural authority that means she never looks like Stewart's subordinate. Unfortunately, she's also required to carry what scriptwriter Hank Azaria referred to as 'the idiot ball'. If a complicated bit of science is being done, Jensen is required to ask what's happening and there are several points in the series where the character's rank stupidity makes you severely doubt her competence. The fact that Jensen manages to register despite that is a credit to her talent.

Eleventh Hour is far from perfect but it is a hugely promising opening series. Brave enough to take some very dark turns and with a rich vein of black humour it's a courageous attempt to try something new and for the most part, it works, and it's worth your time.
Eleventh Hour





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