Master thespian though Patrick Stewart may be, he’s acquired so much baggage from playing Jean-Luc Picard and Charles Xavier that no one can be blamed for being less than enthusiastic about seeing him in yet another science fiction series. The Stewart we see in Eleventh Hour, however, has a toughness that’s seldom been in evidence since his early roles in I, Claudius and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, though traces of a Picardesque compassion show through as well.
The combination is particularly well suited to this inventive spin on The X-Files. Like Fox Mulder, Stewart’s professor Ian Hood investigates bizarre cases for his country’s government alongside a considerably more skeptical female sidekick (Ashley Jensen, of Ugly Betty and Extras). The difference is that Hood’s cases are all within the realm of scientific possibility and usually involve unethical experiments run amok. In the first episode, Hood learns that a series of dead fetuses popping up around the countryside are medical waste from a back-room cloning project. The trail leads him to a sketchy doctor who hires young women to bear children for wealthy couples, telling them they’ve been impregnated with donor sperm when they’ve in fact been implanted with cloned embryos.
Four 90-minute episodes were produced before the series’s high budget and low ratings got the series killed by Britain’s ITV network. Controversy may have been a factor—the premiere’s endorsement of stem-cell research, and the way subsequent episodes approach global warming and nuclear proliferation, led some British conservatives to slam the series as unabashed propaganda. But creator Stephen Gallagher has clearly done his homework and then some, and the backlash simply proves that Americans hardly have a monopoly on the denial of politically inconvenient scientific facts. — Andrew Johnston