Tuesday, October 01, 2013


For the past week or so, I kept seeing adverts for this show, and kept meaning to set the digibox to record it. I think promptly forgot to do so on Saturday. Still, thanks to the magic of iPlayer, that wasn't really an issue.

To a certain extent, I pity any new fantasy TV series. They inevitably get compared to "Game of Thrones", and the comparison is inevitably "not as good as". This despite the fact that they're very different shows doing very different things... and also that "Game of Thrones" really isn't quite the work of genius that it's made out to be.

As for "Atlantis", I enjoyed it... mostly. It's certainly better than "Robin Hood", though not yet as good as "Merlin" was at its best. (In particular, "Merlin" really benefitted from Anthony Head and Richard Wilson giving it some much-needed gravitas, in the same way that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan elevated the "X-Men" movies above standard comic-book fare.)

It is true that they've really mangled Greek myth, to the extent that the show is less authentic than "Hercules: the Legendary Journeys". It's also true that, some few trappings aside, the characters have a far too modern sensibility. And there's too much of the "manly men save the day" about it - though it's just possible that that might change a bit down the way.

But I liked their take on Hercules (despite mis-spelling his name again). It actually makes sense that, if his strength comes from being the son of a god, he doesn't need to be the ripped titan we usually see. And I liked most of the chemisty between the cast - the three leads in particular go well together.

All that said, there's one thing that really bothers me about the show. In fact, one single word... Pythagoras.

There are three reasons I object to his inclusion, two of which would have been trivially fixed. In most respects, the answer to "what's in a name?" really is "the difference between an enjoyable show and a hugely annoying one."

My first objection to them using this character is that, unlike Minos, Hercules, and the rest, Pythagoras actually was a real person. And so, where you can basically do whatever you want with the other characters, settings, and events (such as giving Jason Theseus' job of killing the Minotaur, moving the whole thing to Atlantis, or mis-spelling Heracles). But, with Pythagoras, you don't get to do that. If you're going to use real people, you've got to get them right. (And, incidentally, the reason it's different when Doctor Who uses Churchill or other figures is this: such characters are always guest stars appearing in the occasional episode; here, it's a major character due to appear in every episode.)

My second objection is that it's evident that the writers know roughly one thing about Pythagoras: he's "the triangle guy". After all, that's literally the first thing Jason says on learning his name, and it's something that they gets repeated several times in the episode.

But Pythagoras was no more "the triangle guy" than Archimedes was "that bath guy" or Newton was "that apple guy". In each case, that's the thing they're most famous for... but in each case it was a comparitively tiny aspect of a lifetime's work. Constantly repeating it as some sort of joke was really irritating.

(And it was all so unnecessary. Just change the name, drop the triangle 'jokes' and you've got a much better show, and actually lose nothing in the process.)

My third objection, though, was something that couldn't be fixed just by changing the name. As noted, that "triangle guy" thing was repeated several times. At least one of these took the form of Hercules suggesting that Pythagoras bore the minotaur to death by telling it about triangles. And similarly, when Jason takes Pythagoras' place in the labyrinth, his justification is that Pythagoras great legacy is that millions of school-children will be bored learning his theory. It's a joke, see?

Well, ha. Bloody. Ha.

Yes, I get it. Maths is hard. Chuckle. Maths is boring. LOL. Oh, it's so funny. Indeed, I fear my sides have split.

So, what we have here is a show where manly men go off and have adventures, where women exist (it would seem) to look good, to be rescued, and if they're very lucky, to give the hero some magic token that preserves his life. Sort of. A bit. Oh, and where we once again get to play "let's laugh at the geek!"

Dear BBC, thank you so very much for that new and interesting bit of banter. I've never seen that done before! (And never mind that "Pythagoras' legacy" includes the computer on which this script was written, the building in which it was written, and any and all food that the writer consumed when doing so. See, that's the thing about foundations of mathematics - they affect everything that comes after. And even that's ignoring the significant impact that Pythagorean philosophy had on Plato, and consequently on Western thought as a whole.)

As I said, it's mostly a reasonably entertaining bit of fluff entertainment, the very thing to hold down the "Doctor Who" slot until DW is back. Except for that one blemish that just ruins it. It's such a shame.

#45: "Johnny and the Dead", by Terry Pratchett
#46: "Johnny and the Bomb", by Terry Pratchett

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