What's the Back Story?
As the opening credits to this BBC3 sci-fi sitcom remind us each week: "In 1991 the British government began a secret experiment to create the first human clone. Intended to be a prototype super-soldier, that experiment went horribly wrong. Now he and his creator are on the run, trying to find the keys to the clone's superhuman abilities before the government finds them and kills them..."
The esteemed veteran actor Jonathan Pryce plays Dr Victor Blenkinsop, the scientist who has mortgaged his whole life in the pursuit of creating the first human clone, while jug-eared newcomer Stuart McLoughlin (who's also currently in Little Dorrit) plays the clone, aka "Albert", a twentysomething more like Louis Theroux in search of someone to hug than Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator mode. Despite the obvious Frankenstein allusions, Cheers meets Third Rock from the Sun (with its confused aliens at large in Ohio) is probably a more accurate reflection of the fish-out-of-water comedy.
The Show's Pedigree
Friends executive producer Adam Chase wrote the show and recruited Ash Atalla and his fledgling production company Roughcut TV to help him make it. Atalla first came to prominence thanks to The Office and has since produced Channel 4's The IT Crowd.
Chase says his idea was too radical to be made in the US. "I'd been thinking of doing a sci-fi comedy for a while but was concerned about getting it through the American development process," he says. "Clone is extremely violent – people die every week. British audiences are very sophisticated." He was, however, shocked by the UK-sized budget (about £250,000 per episode), commenting: "Here, you get amazing creative freedom and a tiny budget."
The most eye-catching cast member is Pryce, whose Royal Court Hamlet at the age of 33 is widely considered one of the best ever. "I wasn't looking for a sitcom," he says, "but every time I thought I'd do Lear, someone else did it before me. This was McKellen's year and I thought I'd do a sitcom instead."
The other most prominent member of the cast is Mark Gatiss of The League of Gentleman, who plays Victor's would-be nemesis, Colonel Black of MI7.
Plot So Far?
On the run from Colonel Black, Victor and the clone have holed up in The Peanut, a Lake District pub run by barmaid Rose (Fiona Glascott), whose amazing memory has sparked Victor's nefarious interest. Victor is less paternal than selfishly ambitious towards Albert, hoping to turn him into the merciless killing machine originally ordered by MI7 and thus salvage his own life and scientific reputation. Sample dialogue – Victor: "You've been telling people you don't speak English?" Clone: "Yes, and the more I explain it to them, the less they believe it."
So Is It a Winner?
Three episodes in, and Clone is getting better as the series unfolds – a view publicly espoused by Pryce. Unfortunately, it's coming from a very, very low base and the reviews so far have been enough to make you feel sorry for it. Hugo Rifkind in The Times was the most generous when he wrote: "Clone is an oddity, in that half of it makes you belly laugh, and half of it is dreadful." Brian Viner in The Independent gave the show the benefit of the doubt, but found the second episode only confirmed his first impressions. "I decided not to rely on my first viewing of Clone, which I had dismissed as 'utter bilge', but to take a long, considered look at episode two. And, sure enough, I revised my opinion. It is total dross rather than utter bilge."
Simon Horsford in The Daily Telegraph reckons that "BBC3 has finally found something as desperately bad as Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps; the shock here is that this painful sci-fi 'comedy' stars an actor as highly regarded as Jonathan Pryce." The view from the blogosphere has been more forgiving: "It's not bust-a-gut hilarious and certainly doesn't break new ground," wrote www.xerode.net, "but as a sitcom it is better than My Family and My Hero."
CLONE ZONE: WHO'S WHO
Dr Victor Blenkinsop (Jonathan Pryce)
A modern Dr Frankenstein and the creator of the first human clone, Victor is willing to sacrifice anything and everything to achieve the glory he hungers for – something he can only achieve by fixing the clone and turning him into a super-soldier.
The Clone (Stuart McLoughlin)
Childish enough to make Tom Hanks in 'Big' seem like a fully rounded and mature adult, the first human clone was intended as a prototype super-weapon. Wholly innocent, he is fascinated by everything about our world – even the local pub bore.
Colonel Black (Mark Gatiss)
The head of MI7, Britain's most secret of secret services, the Colonel is a blood-thirsty, conscienceless adversary who will stop at nothing to locate and kill Victor and the clone. At the moment, he's only being kept at bay with foil from a chocolate bar that is blocking the clone's tracker signal.
Ian (Oliver Maltman)
Victor's loyal lab assistant and the Igor of this Frankenstein story. Willing to do anything to help his boss, which means he's frequently used as a punch-bag by MI7.
Rose Bourne (Fiona Glascott)
The owner and bartender of The Peanut, Rose possesses a photographic memory and savant-level maths. Victor realises she could be the key to unlocking the clone's dormant abilities. If only he could get a small piece of her brain...