Paradox episode 1 review

The BBC's new mix of science fiction and police drama, Paradox, proves to be highly entertaining, but not for the right reasons...

That was just amazing. I’ve always wondered why the Zucker Brothers were never allowed to commission television drama, but surreptitiously, that’s now just what they appear to have been allowed to do. That’s the only plausible reason I can fathom to come up with the hour of ‘tense’, ‘gripping’ television that the BBC has served up with Paradox. You can almost hear the Bonekickers team exhaling a sigh of relief now that the baton has been passed on.

How on earth do you begin to explain it? You kind of figured that plausibility wasn’t high on the agenda at the script meetings when the early stages saw the batshit crazy character, Dr Christian King, getting a download of a picture that would form the heart of the episode. The picture featured, if memory serves, a coffee cup, a Frisbee that doesn’t melt in fire, a mobile phone and whatever else the BBC could rustle up from the prop cupboard. Depending on which theory you went with, the picture was downloaded via dial-up Internet as a result of some solar flare thing to a non-networked computer, or came as a result of a text message from God. Either way, it appeared to be in JPG format, so Dr King’s job then was to intrigue a dimwit police detective into investigating the matter further.

Right on cue, Tamsin Outhwaite’s D.I. Flint entered the room.

Seriously: Frank Drebin has got nothing on her. In she walked, looking at a picture that had a clock on it, that indicated it was the aftermath of a future event she was gawping at. Thus, she believed in double quick time that it was an image from a disaster yet to happen, and it was therefore her job to stop it from occuring.

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I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think that pictures coming from the future wouldn’t be the first thing that’d crossed my mind in this scenario. The notion that the time might have been altered on the device in question would have at least warranted a question, and yet it never seemed to feature on Flint’s finely-honed detective radar.

Before you knew it, not only had she decided that the whole thing was kosher, but she talked her boss into giving her the case, in spite of the potential for a big disaster in the offing. After all, you don’t want the experts called in if you suspect a major explosion is happening later that day. You just need whoever you can find in the staff canteen.

That said, as you got to know Flint’s character more, you realised that the frontal lobotomy was more severe than at first suspected. At pretty much every turn, Flint and her team treated logic by looking it in the eye and smugly gobbing in its face. Somehow, they managed to piece together that at an exact time, there would be a big explosion. And in a cross between a Final Destination movie and a filler episode of Casualty – with the help of some Chuck-style intersect flashes repeatedly battering us over the head with blindingly obvious clues – the key elements of the event slid into place. We knew when it would happen. We knew there was a truck driver at the wheel who’d been up on the Internet the night before (take that in any sense you like). You knew that his satnav was borked. You knew that his truck was thus set to go under a low bridge. And you knew that a train would be crossing the bridge at that exact moment.

In fact, I think the discovery of said bridge was the comedy highlight of the night. Two blokes looking for explosions in their finest anoraks? “Watch out for tripwires,” one of them said, unaware of the many cars that would have driven under said bridge beforehand. Watch for tripwires? I quite literally spat my beer out with laughter. It didn’t help, to be fair, that they’d been given the least sinister looking bridge I think I’ve ever seen on television to examine. They gave it their best shot, but if the whole episode had taken place on the set of Last Of The Summer Wine, they could have mustered up a creepier location. However, the way these two poked around with all the expertise of a surgeon who’d done their training playing games of Operation did not lead you to think that their investigation would be successful.

But – what’s this? Flint has discovered that there’s no train due at the time of the accident! Cue furrowed brows and worried looks. A spanner had clearly been thrown into the works, and it was going to take some clever script work to resolve that conundrum!

I like to think here that the plot was moved on by the combined sound of every viewer slapping their head in unison. It can’t just have been me screaming at the television, alerting Flint to the fact that the rail network and timetables are parts of a Venn diagram that don’t intersect very convincingly in this country. Yet, then you had to factor in that at no point did Flint think that CLOSING THE ROAD WHERE THE EXPLOSION WAS TO TAKE PLACE was even worth a breath of mention either. Or maybe even stopping the train? No, instead, the logical thing to do is to run after a truck shouting ‘please stop’ in a manner that made me think Frank Spencer had spawned a love child.

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Inevitably, the train and truck went up (if that was supposed to be the twist, it wasn’t, er, very twisty from where I was sitting), and Flint and the weary Scottish detective celebrated the death of 73 people in the time honoured fashion, with a good hard shag.

There was still time for King to generate some more stuff about strange forces or something, but seriously, any will to try and follow the plot had long since left. Don’t worry, though. King managed to download another picture to his intergalactic Facebook account, which means the Paradox crew can bugger around for another hour next week, failing to stop another disaster.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that the five episodes that the BBC has made of Paradox are as far as the story will go. Which might, in all honesty, be a bit of a disappointment. Because for long periods of the opening episode, I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. Heck, I’ve not even mentioned the plasma screens the Beeb rustled up just to show a big ticking countdown. The tension of the episode would have been crippled without those.

Yet I have to give it this: even though the plot was ridiculous, the logic holes were gaping, and the leap of faith you had to take required rocket thrusters on your feet at least, I did quite enjoy Paradox. It might not be for the reasons that the BBC intended, but I found myself barely able to take my eyes of the screen.

Feel free to use that quote on the poster if you want, BBC. I just can’t help wondering if Britain’s now found its very own FlashForward. I’ll certainly be tuning in again next week to find out.