Rebooting a popular entertainment franchise can look like a strong plan. For a start, producers and investors are more easily persuaded that there is an audience for a proven brand like Bond, or Doctor Who. Then of course, with the right writers and directors, they truly do sometimes fly again; refreshed and newly relevant.
But Bergerac? News that the Jersey-based detective is soon to return and will roam the Channel Island fighting crime, as he did in the 1980s, has painted such a problematic picture that it raises alarm bells about the whole notion of reviving slumbering screen heroes.
The Jersey post office has just issued a batch of commemorative stamps to mark the show’s 40th birthday, and perhaps we should leave it at that? Particularly as the streaming service BritBox recently had to issue a warning about the content of an episode from 1983 in which a beauty contestant played by Joanne Whalley is treated with scorn when she reports a rape.
Charming though John Nettles usually was as Bergerac, surely the effort to make this character conform to our modern understanding of a crime drama, or of what a middle-aged male can be shown to do, or even of what Jersey is, might break us all in the process.
The producers say they have not yet started talking “names”. But, Brian Constantine, one of those behind the reboot, has said there is interest from some hefty talent.
Nettles is no longer in the frame. He is now in his late 70s and has long since happily shaken off not just the leather-jacketed dynamism of Bergerac but also the cosy trappings of Midsomer Murders’ Inspector Barnaby, who was reincarnated as Neil Dudgeon in 2010 (I know, he plays Barnaby’s cousin, another Inspector Barnaby).
Constantine told BBC Breakfast last week that, with all the tricky legal elements of securing the Bergerac rights out of the way, his team are now enjoying “the exciting bit, where we’re really getting our teeth into what the show is going to look like”. So a fashionable gender swap has not been specifically ruled out.
Tempers are already flaring in response to the suggestion that Bond should become a woman. While Lashana Lynch has enjoyed a brief spell with the 007 badge in No Time to Die, the rumour that she might succeed Daniel Craig permanently in the part has gone down badly with some. Current betting puts Tom Hopper, star of The Umbrella Academy, at the top of the likely lads. Producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli are said to have drawn up a shortlist, and below 36-year-old Coalville-born Hopper, informed speculation now places Bodyguard star Richard Madden and then the long-term favourite Tom Hardy, with James Norton, late of Grantchester, down there below at 6-1 at William Hill.
Lynch is still in the running at 12-1, but since Craig has already taken Bond as far as seems feasible along the road to metrosexual sensitivity, what is the point? He has also made the argument that if the role loses every association with Ian Fleming’s chauvinist original, there is little point calling him Bond.
Doctor Who fans are in a similar flap. These “regenerations” seem to crop up at the same time, prompting the thought that the head-hunting missions could amalgamate. If the aim is to excite a curious audience, then perhaps they should mix it up. Possibles to take over from Jodie Whitaker’s Doctor when the series returns to writer Russell T Davies next year, after a trio of specials, include Lydia West, the 28-year-old actor who has appeared in other recent Davies hits. Olly Alexander, West’s co-star in Davies’ drama It’s a Sin, is current favourite to be the 14th actor in the role.
How about giving Alexander the Bond gig and letting the strapping Hopper slide into the Tardis? Then we can create several totally new female or gender non-binary characters to stride into other adventure stories. Bond was once a splendid thing: flawed, surly, domineering. Let him rest among the fishes. We still have all the films, after all.
And The Doctor, whichever your own best version of Gallifrey’s time traveller, has entertained us all for eons now. Could she/he not hang up the sonic screwdriver in the tool shed of the ages for a century or two? There must be new ways to thrill us. These stories have already become too self-reflective and the comparisons too divisive.
Is it absolutely necessary to have to continue ranking a back catalogue of Doctors and Bonds into the mid-century? Time for a new dawn, is it not? Or perhaps Bergerac 2.0 will surprise us.