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High drama and low acting dog the BBC’s latest cop show

The BBC's barmy new "high-concept" drama series Paradox (Tuesdays, 9pm) is written by Lizzie Mickery, who also gave us Messiahs 1, 2 and 3, and stars Tamzin Outhwaite, one of the least charismatic actors ever to grace our screens. Dear me, she's dreary. Her voice - close your eyes and she sounds not unlike Roland Rat - is always the same, even at moments of high drama.

In Paradox, which is full of moments of high drama, she plays DI Rebecca Flint, a powerfully determined cop with a nice line in boxy black suits and court shoes (she can run in court shoes, natch). Flint is forever shouting orders, or explaining important evidence-based connections aloud to her (male) underlings, and Outhwaite delivers pretty much every one of these lines in the same tone as she used to say "Do you want mushy peas with that?" when she was in EastEnders. But perhaps this is unfair. Given some of the police I occasionally catch on Crimewatch - "This was a 'orrible crime. We are seeking a exceedingly daaaangerous man" - Outhwaite's chip-shop manner is, even if only by accident, one of Paradox's few concessions to reality.

Flint has been despatched by her boss to some sort of secret MoD monitoring centre where a "space scientist", Dr Christian King (Emun Elliot), keeps receiving computer-generated images that purport to come from the future. These images contain clues which reveal imminent crimes and disasters that Flint and her team must try to prevent: yes, it's Philip K Dick meets Juliet Bravo. However, in part one, thanks to the need to let viewers know that King's photographs are not part of some elaborate hoax, naturally, Flint singularly failed to achieve this, and the pressure is seriously going to be on in the second episode (1 December).

King is troubled and satanic-looking, and a total smart alec. I knew a few boys just like him at university. But he is also the sexiest physicist who ever lived, and it is clear that, before long, he and DI Flint are going to be visiting a new and exciting astral plane together (feel free to insert your own big bang joke here). This, in turn, is going to cause a certain amount of trouble with the man with whom she is currently enjoying rather more earthbound relations: DS Ben Holt (Mark Bonnar), a chap who also happens to be in her employ. King and Holt are both Scots, so the locking of their horns could be very bloody, and will no doubt involve a bottle of whisky somewhere along the line.

The whole thing is quite Looney Tunes, but that wouldn't matter if we were in safe hands scriptwise. Doctor Who is Looney Tunes, as is True Blood, HBO's great vampire drama, and any number of other shows one could mention. But there is something weirdly pedestrian at the heart of this. To cut a long story mercifully short, the first "disaster" involved a man driving a container full of explosive gas into a railway bridge: he was sleepy, having naughtily devoted the time when he should have been resting before a long shift to meeting up with an internet date. En route, he yawned a lot and, I'm afraid, so did I. Where was the dastardly plot? More to the point, it's difficult to see how a writer who gave us the clichéd dialogue we had to tolerate in part one is going to be able to deal with the bigger mystery at the heart of her complicated conceit: who, or what, is sending these pictures, and how?

As the first episode drew to a close, Flint (the clue's in the name) and King (ditto) had an unendurably clunky conversation about aliens and, er, God. Flint suggested that only God could see the future, at which point King turned his chocolate-drop eyes fiercely on her and said: "I'm a physicist. Proof means something different to me." She didn't call him on this piece of gobbledegook; possibly she was too busy imagining what he might look like without his clothes on. Meanwhile, the other man on her team, DC Callum Gada (Chike Okonkwo) could be seen reverentially tucking in his children and - oh, please, no! - kissing the crucifix that hung about his neck. Paradox? That isn't the word I would use.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 30 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Left Hanging