Dinosaur, Myths and Monsters (BBC4) and The Body Farm (BBC1)
Rachel Cooke is only mildly entertained by a dinosaur documentary.
Are the proposed cuts to its output already secretly under way at BBC4? I ask only because in Tom Holland's mildly interesting TV essay, Dinosaurs, Myths and Monsters (14 September, 9pm) the historian was filmed bashing one plastic stegosaurus furiously against another as if he were seven years old, and the table outside a Greek restaurant where he was doing this just another living room carpet. Truly, I would love to have been a fly on the wall when his director suggested using this device (Holland was trying to illustrate some slightly vague-seeming point about the similarities between dinosaurs and shield-bearing ancient Greek warriors). How on earth did the conversation go? Did the director make the argument that most of the film's budget had been spent on the team's easyJet flights to Samos? More to the point, did Holland protest, fearing he would look silly, or did he regress perfectly happily?
Toys aside, the film was a game of two halves - the result, perhaps, of too little interesting material being stretched too far. At first, I enjoyed it. How fascinating to discover that Native American myths might have originated in the giant fossils its storytellers found out there on the Great Plains. The Sioux spoke of "thunder horses", creatures that galloped over storm clouds, and of "thunder beasts" - pterodactyls and brontosauruses in poetic disguise (though paleontology has rather moved on since my day: it seems pterodactyls are now known as pterosaurs, and the brontosaurus as the apatosaurus). Personally, I would have liked to hear a lot more about Othniel Charles Marsh, the first director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, who hung out with Buffalo Bill, and who was known by the Sioux as "he who digs up bones".
However, Holland promptly ditched this thread and headed for Greece and its myths, at which point my interest waned. Yes, griffins do look rather like fossilised dinosaur skulls. But my appetite for TV historians droning on about Homer - a new one seems to clamber up some Cretan hillside every other week - is, I must admit, increasingly limited.
Meanwhile, on BBC1, bones of a more modern vintage. Waking the Dead, the series in which Trevor Eve and his marvellous hair solved cold cases with the help of a large sheet of glass (on this glass Top Clues were scribbled) has given birth to a spin-off called The Body Farm (13 September, 9pm). It's amazingly awful. The forensic pathologist Eve Lockhart (Tara Fitzgerald) is now heading up her own private lab (the body farm of the title, which is deep in the country behind barbed wire and stuffed to the brim with dummies - sorry, I mean bodies - in various states of decomposition), aided by a team of clever freaks, one of whom is called Oggy, and is clearly deranged (his madness is tolerated on account of his way with maggots and DNA). Except, of course, that the demands of drama being what they are, she cannot simply stay inside her research facility, faffing about with swabs. She must get out and visit crime scenes and do the police's work for them (the police, in this instance, being represented by only one individual: Keith Allen). And all without Trevor's glorious mane to protect her!
But, no matter. Naturally, she is even more brilliant now than she was in Waking the Dead. She knows the Latin names of flies, and everything. Enthusiastic? Yes, that too. "Wait till you see it!" she says to a colleague, as if a carrion-strewn tower block flat was a suite at the Four Seasons. Plus, she has more gadgets than the cast of Star Trek. Stuff is always being "paged through" to her computer and, unlike my emails, it downloads instantaneously.
Sadly, though, the effect of her genius, energy and sci-fi technology is to drain the show of all its drama - no forensic mystery, you see, lasts longer than about five minutes - with the result that the viewer is left wondering what all the blood and guts on display is for, exactly. Is it gore for gore's sake? I fear so. And given that the series has started with the remains of two bodies smeared on every available surface of one small room ("major maggot mass!" chirruped Eve, as if she was recommending a new perfume), this gratuitous tendency is bound only to get worse. Yuk.