My enjoyment of the witty exploitation of the dramatic possibilities that the many doors of the Ministry of Time opened up, in the earlier episodes, was spoiled by the shocking amateurishness of this story.
This was an incompetent, unamusing and entirely undramatic attempt to create a 'Groundhog Day' scenario around the Spanish Inquisition. Dark, dismal and merely repetitive, the action founders in the historical obscurantism which is creeping into this series. There is an unfortunate schoolmasterly respect for Spanish history that prevents very much creative 'mucking around' with events. They even tried a Monty Python reference to liven things up, with the agents - instead of the unexpected Spanish Inquisition - repeatedly bursting through the doors to surprise the Inquisition's trial of a Jew - but this fell flat because of the uncomfortable atmosphere of deference to the religious dignity of the fanatical Torquemada.
This respectful reserve when dealing with history had already made for a queasily ambiguous portrayal of Generalissimo Franco in the otherwise good previous episode. It strikes me that the tweedy pipe-smoking Minister of Time looks like a schoolteacher because that is how time-travel has been conceived: As a history lesson with dressing-up as visual aids.
The following episode - an interminably rambling and incomprehensible farrago about the possession of a lost receipt for Picasso's 'Guernica' during the Civil War - is largely a lecture on art history, with a few flashes of interesting dramatic possibilities that are unerringly stifled in acres of po-faced exposition and half-baked, puerile humour.
Also, letting loose a trio of ill-assorted refugees from random ages of history in another time seems increasingly to run the extremely rash risk of chronoclasm; besides which, one or two characters seem always to spend many scenes relegated to redundant observer status, or going home to mum. Bad writing.
The very worst failure of the Inquisition scenario, however, is the unforgivable marginalisation of the learned Jew, the supposed object of this rescue drama, in favour of the pitifully inadequate scenes of the trial and auto-da-fé. The Jew, moreover, is the author of the (fictional) 'Book of Doors' upon which the whole Spanish secret of access to portals into the past depends, and thus we expectantly await exotic revelations of the ancient mysticism of Spanish Jewry - only to be utterly disappointed.
What cries out to be the whole dramatic centre of this episode has been displaced by some inexplicably respectful fascination of the writers and producers for the collective Iberian nightmare of the Catholic Inquisition.
What started out so well is falling apart in the hands of creators fatally averse to the historical freedom promised by their own scenario: Is it a Spanish thing, this stifling reverence for history? Does the burden of such a terrible history still crush the soul of modern Spain? If the writers take such scant pleasure in their own creation, it is no wonder Spanish audiences failed to appreciate it. They'd had enough in the schoolroom, already.
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