'The Watch' - the Television Series

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Terry Pratchett's Television Adaptations
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Somewhere in a distant secondhand dimension
- Opening Text

The Watch is a controversial fantasy television programme that shares its title and character names with those created by Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld series of novels1. Developed by BBC America following a nine-year gestation period in which the original concept was distorted beyond almost all recognition, eight 42-minute episodes were broadcast in 2021 to a predominantly negative reception. Loosely inspired by the plot of Guards! Guards!, the eighth Discword novel and first in the City Watch series, the series has been disowned by Terry Pratchett's family and friends.

Watch Out! The Plot

The series is set in a grungy fantasy city named 'Ankh-Morpork' dominated by brutalist concrete and neon lights. The City Watch are the last remaining policemen in a city in which crime is licenced and controlled by organised criminals such as the Thieves Guild and Assassins Guild. At the time that an idealistic human raised by dwarfs in a remote mine in the country named Carrot Ironfoundersson is sent to join the Watch, unaware that the Watch is a shadow of its former self and considered an inactive, incompetent anachronism with only four members, a library book is stolen from Unseen University's magical library. Drunk, depressed and cynical, Captain Vimes is ordered to find the missing library book by the city's ruler, Lord Vetinari. Soon he is embroiled with a plot involving a former friend believed dead and a magical dragon that threatens to encompass the whole city. Can he and his incompetent crew save the day?

You Have Been Watching: The Cast

Captain Sam Vimes (Richard Dormer)

The head of the City Watch. Drunk, dejected and defeated by having no role to play in the city he loves, he is first seen trying to urinate on a dog. Fortunately he slowly transforms, clawing himself back up to respectability, to finally become a force to be reckoned with. He always finds a home in the Watch for anyone who has no-where else to go and have been rejected by their homes.

Lady Sybil Ramkin (Lara Rossi)

The richest woman in the city of Ankh-Morpork, she is outraged at how the city has degenerated into a hive of scum and villainy and has the determination to try and make the city a better place. She has a complicated history with the Watch and likes to act like a highly-beweaponed vigilante but is determined to help with their investigation. Her other passion is raising little swamp dragons. The love interest for Captain Vimes, Lara Rossi is 18-years-younger than Richard Dormer and considerably younger and thinner than described in the books. Her portrayal makes it clear that she wishes she was in an action or superhero film instead.

Constable Carrot Ironfoundersson (Adam Hugill)

A human raised by dwarfs, he was sent to Ankh-Morpork because his foster-family feared his strength and height. Idealistic and naïve, though suspicious, he becomes the Watch's catalyst for change.

Corporal Angua von Überwald (Marama Corlett)

A werewolf who loves shooting pigeons and fears being the monster others often see her as being. Everything that made Angua a unique character has been jettisoned in order to make this adaptation's Angua a generic werewolf. As Corlett is very short it was assumed in early-released photographs of the cast that she would be playing Cheery, who in the novels is a dwarf.

Corporal Cheery Littlebottom (Jo Eaton-Kent)

A transgender non-binary character, Cheery is the Watch's forensics officer. In the novel Cheery is a female dwarf who was raised in a society in which all dwarfs are male, yet in the television series dwarfs are indistinguishable from bearded humans. Jo Eaton-Kent has received praise for being a non-binary actor playing a non-binary character.

Carcer Dun (Sam Adewunmi)

A villain who had grown up with Vimes and led a gang. He asked Vimes to infiltrate the City Watch and kill Captain John Keel when they were young in order to release arrested gang members, but instead Vimes joined the Watch for real and, after a fight, Carcer fell to his believed death off the topic of Unseen University's Tower of Art. He has reappeared 20 years later, unaged with previously unknown magical powers and a design to destroy the world.

DEATH (Voice: Wendell Pierce, Body: Craig Macrae)

Anthropomorphic representation of the Grim Reaper, a seven-foot-tall skeleton with glowing eyes and strong American accent who spends most of his time complaining that people never think about him. While he takes the role in a new direction, Wendell Pierce fails to match the gravitas of previous actors to have voiced DEATH, namely Sir Christopher Lee and actor Brian Cox.

Lord Vetinari (Anna Chancellor)

Ruler of Ankh-Morpork. In the novels Vetinari is male, manipulative and a Machiavellian force to be reckoned with. In The Watch she is female and first seen in a tunnel worrying about cracks in the cement. In many ways it is a shame that Anna Chancellor didn't play a female Archchancellor character instead as her name would have made her ideal.

Sergeant Detritus (Voice: Ralph Ineson)

A troll who came to work for the Watch having spent most of his life stood in one place supporting a bridge.

Others

Other characters include Doctor Cruces (Ingrid Oliver), the Head of the Assassins Guild, who is another character who has changed gender for this adaptation despite the Assassins Guild Diary being full of female assassin characters who could have played this role. Another assassin character is Inigo Skimmer (Paul Kaye). Ruth Madeley, an actress with spina bifida, plays Throat, an important figure in Ankh-Morpork's criminal underworld. Presumably she is meant to be loosely based on Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, a sausage-selling conman who is always engaged in get-rich-quick schemes that backfire. Sadly Madeley's impact as a terrifying gang boss is immediately undermined as instantaneously after being introduced her character is pushed in her wheelchair against her will into a crate and trapped inside.

Instead of being Vetinari's male secretary in this adaptation Wonse (Bianca Simone Mannie) is a woman who works at Unseen University as a cleaner but has strong magical powers that imply she could easily be much more. A member of Carcer Dun's gang, she feels that Vimes betrayed her. Despite playing an important role in the story her character and motivation is never really established. The Archchancellor of Unseen University is played by James Fleet instead of Anna Chancellor. The Librarian appears briefly but disappointingly does not play a noteworthy role and his earlier transformation into an orangutan is different to in the novels. Joe Vaz plays Urdo van Pew, the President of the Thieves Guild while Matt Berry voices Gawain ('Wayne' for short), a magical sword.

Diversity: The Boys Watch the Girls while the Girls Watch the Boys who Watch the Girls go by

The series' producers seem smugly self-satisfied that they assembled what they consider to be a diverse cast. Presumably in order to make the show appeal to a 21st Century audience the cast have more racial and gender diversity than in the original books, though at the expense of being less diverse with regards age, weight and species, as few non-human characters appear. The Watch features no actors older than their mid-50s in a major role. The previous Discworld adaptation, Going Postal, had featured a much wider age-range with regarding the ages of the actors involved, including two actors in their 80s playing important parts.

The producers also forgot that assembling the cast is only half the work. The show does not give the cast much to actually do, and that while having a diverse cast is all very well, in order to have an impact the cast need to play well-rounded and fully developed characters, not mere tokens. Changing characters' class, race or gender can work when done well and creatively and with a clear purpose. Terry Pratchett created a vast number of strong, well-rounded and popular female characters but instead of The Watch featuring those, the names of male characters are taken and used to create new bland characters. The only apparent purpose to this seems to be to alienate core fans.

All Along the Watchtower: Popular Places

Places in Ankh-Morpork that appear in this series include:

  • Unseen University, including:
    • The Tower of Art
    • The Library
  • The Broken Drum
  • The Watch House
  • The Tanty (Gaol)
  • The Assassins' Guild
  • The Musicians' Guild

Watchmaker

Following the warm reception to Sky's trilogy of Discworld adaptations (2006-2010) in 2011 it was announced that Terry Pratchett had formed his own production company called Narratavia headed by Rob Brown, who had been behind Sky's adaptations, along with Rob Wilkins. There was an initial blaze of publicity promising that Pratchett would be overseeing a 13-part television series based on his Ankh-Morpork City Watch stories, to be called The Watch2 with Terry Jones expressing interest in writing scripts, alongside Gavin Scott and Rhianna Pratchett, Terry's daughter. Originally it was intended that Sir Terry would provide a general overview of what each episode would contain with the writers adapting his vision. This project stalled as secure financial backing was required.

Following Terry Pratchett's death in 2015 the adaptation rights were sold to BBC Studios, and were later passed to BBC America. In March 2018 BBC America announced that they had the rights to make the series, with Narratavia's Rob Brown resigning. Simon Allen was appointed the series showrunner and Rhianna Pratchett issued a statement in which she explained that they no longer had the rights to control the adaptation. She later issued a statement,

Look, I think it's fairly obvious that 'The Watch' shares no DNA with my father's Watch. This is neither criticism nor support. It is what it is.

Neil Gaiman who co-wrote Good Omens with Terry and successfully adapted that novel for television agreed, saying,

It's not Batman if he's now a news reporter in a yellow trenchcoat with a pet bat.

Who Watches the Watch? Review

While it is said that even a broken watch tells the right time twice a day, that only applies if it isn't a digital watch. Whenever a book is adapted for the screen changes and compromises have to be made in order to fit a complex story into the available running time. This means that audiences should expect some minor matters to be different, characters combined or changed. Trivial differences such as the television adaptation placing the Assassins' Guild and Musicians' Guild buildings next to each other or changing Ankh-Morpork from being surrounded by cabbage plains to being in the middle of a desert despite this contradicting the official Discworld maps do not matter. The design does not have to perfectly match the Discworld illustrations of Paul Kidby or Josh Kirby. What is fundamentally important is whether the series captures the spirit of the original. And this does not. Not at all, not by a long way.

It does include some elements of other City Watch novels, with the time-travelling character of Carcer coming from Night Watch, the 29th Discworld novel, which also featured Sergeant Keel, the watch officer who taught the young Vimes everything he knew, who is the model for Captain John Keel (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) in this series. The members of the Watch are also significantly different. In the first City Watch novel, Guards! Guards!, the Watch consists of Captain Vimes, Sergeant Fred Colon, Corporal Nobby Nobbs and Carrot Ironfoundersson, with Detritus the doorman of the Mended Drum pub. This adaptation does not include Colon and Nobby and instead has Angua, with Detritus the Watch Sergeant – both of whom joined the Watch in Pratchett's 15th Discworld novel Men at Arms, along with Cheery Littlebottom who first appeared in 19th Discworld and third City Watch novel Feel of Clay. Even science-spinoffs The Science of Discworld series are mentioned in passing as the archchancellor admits he steals much of his electrical inventions by spying on our Earth, that they call 'Roundworld' despite never mentioning that their world is a disc on a turtle.

Vimes and Carrot are the characters who are closest to their novel counterparts, while other characters have been changed substantially. Sybil has trace elements of her original character though has been made to be a much younger, tougher vigilante female character. Angua particularly suffers from having her complex backstory bulldozed in order for her to be portrayed as a small generic werewolf identical in every way to all other female werewolves seen on television.

This is not the first adaption of Guards! Guards!, with other adaptations including an audiobook, comic and even Terry Pratchett's Discworld - the Computer Game (1995). All of which are better. There are, in fairness, some good things that must be said about The Watch. In the title sequence both the words 'The' and 'Watch' are spelt correctly.

The series itself acknowledges in its introduction text that it is 'secondhand'. Unsuitable for pre-teens, there are elements that can be enjoyed on their own terms as an independent cyberpunk fantasy. That said, there can be no denying that if the characters' names were changed, there would be no way for a casual viewer to realise that this was supposed to be adapted from Discworld. While this makes a reasonable fantasy police series that should have been allowed to stand on its own merits, the truth is it is not Discworld.

141 main novels published between 1983-2015 plus numerous spin-offs.2In The Art of Discworld, Terry Pratchett said of Commander of the Watch Samuel Vimes, 'I've always imagined him as a younger, slightly bulkier Pete Postlethwaite' while Captain Carrot was described with the words 'I feel the closest film star would be a young Liam Neeson'.

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