mon 21/09/2020

Paradox, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Paradox, BBC One

Paradox, BBC One

Beeb's futuristic cop-opera lacks transatlantic pizazz

The best thing in Paradox so far has been the enormous explosion that provided the climax to episode one, as a train stranded on a railway bridge was incinerated by an erupting chemical tanker. A dramatic aerial shot captured an angry pillar of smoke and flames shooting hundreds of feet into the air, against a backdrop of lush Lancashire countryside.
But some fine camerawork aside, this new “high-concept, high-octane investigative drama” is caught between being a conventional domestic police show and a boundary-stretching trip into the paranormal. Baffled by its own premise, it seems to have settled for being both things simultaneously, with street-level scenes of Manchester detective work alternating with sequences set in the plasticky-looking laboratory where the the aloof, unpleasantly voyeuristic scientist Dr Christian King (Emun Elliott) is running some kind of space observation programme. It’s like The Bill meets Space 1999.

It’s the police unit run by bossy DI Rebecca Flint (Tamzin Outhwaite) which gets the call when Dr King’s computers receive mysterious photographs apparently foretelling imminent disasters. After the predicted train explosion in episode one came true, naturally the cops had to take seriously the forecast of a death by drowning in last night’s episode two. It was a serviceable enough story of a teenage boy being abducted by a predatory older man living a few doors away on his housing estate, and the eerie photographs gradually gelled into a coherent plan of the crime. Since the photos arrived bearing a helpful time-stamp, urgency automatically intensified as zero hour approached.

But while the manhunt drama functioned well enough in itself, it existed more or less in isolation from Dr King and his weird science, about which we still know almost nothing after two episodes. The police might as well have been tipped off by a humble anonymous phone call, which calls into question how much effort really went into exploring the structure and implications of the original idea.

All of which prompts us to consider the ways in which the Americans do these things so much better, since Paradox bears uncanny resemblances to several current American productions. Its messages-from-the-future theme carries obvious echoes of FlashForward, just celebrating its mid-season point on 5 after kicking off in late September. In last night’s Paradox, Dr King raised the possibility of the existence of parallel universes, already a favourite preoccupation of Fringe (Sundays, Sky1). Meanwhile, the intense solar flare activity which has apparently triggered the inexplicable events in Paradox also happens to be the cause of the earth’s destruction in Roland Emmerich’s CGI-on-steroids epic, 2012.

But Paradox feels mundane and unambitious alongside its Stateside siblings. A mere glance at its scale, or lack thereof, tells the story. Paradox is only five episodes long, whereas a season of an American series can stretch to 25. The difference in scope for exploring plotlines and developing character arcs is incalculably vast, so where Paradox offers us an is-it-over-or-not relationship between DI Flint and DS Ben Holt (Mark Bonnar), FlashForward explores a spectrum of relationships spanning different generations and continents, all under the umbrella of a slowly-unrolling giant conspiracy. Then again, Paradox is written single-handedly by Lizzie Mickery, as opposed to Hollywood’s rotating teams of writers.

Perhaps this is grossly unreasonable, like comparing golf balls with water buffalo, but it has become a familiar drawback of British TV drama. Funding is always an issue, but not nearly as much of one as the shortfall in vision, imagination and a determination to work at an idea until it’s the best it can possibly be. The paradox is that you end up with less than you started with.

Paradox continues next Tuesday at 9pm on BBC One. Also on iPlayer

Share this article


Personally, I would argue that the criticism of Paradox is a little too severe. I have watched both this and FastForward, but lost interest in the latter after 2 episodes. There are times when the length of US series can become too much of a commitment, especially those where, in theory, every programme contains some 'crucial information on the major arc'. Sometimes all you need is something short and sweet, which Paradox provides. You can have too much character revelation and multi episodic arc development. Irrespective of whatever criticism you can level at supposed plot incongruities etc, Paradox has kept me entertained for 4 weeks, and wanting to watch the next, and final, episode, which is more than can be said for 90% of current TV. That also includes all US imports. I watched the first series of Murder One with the same enthusiasm - gives away my age. but hopefully indicates that I do have standards!!

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters