Discworld fans are right to be nervous about the BBC's 'punk rock' The Watch

Terry Pratchett’s books about Ankh Morpork’s City Watch have been adapted into a ‘punk rock thriller’ – and some are not happy

We Terry Pratchett fans have been lucky in recent years. We were given Good Omens, which thanks to co-author Neil Gaiman’s shepherding and incredible performances from David Tennant and Michael Sheen, was a joy to watch. And we were told that BBC America was developing The Watch, a series based on Pratchett’s stories about Ankh Morpork’s City Watch. Yes, we were a little nervous to read that Pratchett’s fierce, dark, sardonic stories were to become a “startlingly reimagined … punk rock thriller” that was “inspired by” the books. But we stayed faithful, for it was promised that the show would “still cleav[e] to the humour, heart and ingenuity of Terry Pratchett’s incomparably original work”.

But nerves were jangling even more fiercely on Friday as the first glimpses of the forthcoming show were shared by the studio. They look … kind of cyberpunky? Is that electricity? Where is their ARMOUR? Should we have been more wary about that “inspired by”?

Jo Eaton-Kent as Constable Cheery and Corlett as Corporal Angua.
Jo Eaton-Kent as Constable Cheery and Marama Corlett as Corporal Angua. Photograph: BBC America

As Discworld began to trend on Twitter on Friday morning, fans shared their panic over the startling reimagining. “I’m a bit worried this looks more Fifth Element than Discworld,” said one. “Like, I LOVE Discworld. I LOVE cyberpunk. But I also like windy days and fireworks, I wouldn’t try to combine the two,” said another.

“That’s ... not Discworld. My immediate reaction was ‘post-apocalytpic sci-fi’ and then I saw it was The Watch and my brain rebelled,” said a third. “Oh, you thought this was Discworld? Sorry you read that wrongly, it’s actually set in Dicksworld, a generic sci-fi universe entirely populated by dicks,” wrote another worried fan.

Pratchett’s daughter Rhianna, and his long-term friend and assistant Rob Wilkins, who still runs Pratchett’s Twitter account, did not comment directly (they’re not involved in the adaptation). But both – in an impressively subtle piece of shade-throwing – shared a link to Ursula LeGuin’s legendary take-down of the appalling adaptation of her Earthsea books.

“I don’t know what the film is about. It’s full of scenes from the story, arranged differently, in an entirely different plot, so that they make no sense,” wrote LeGuin. “When I looked over the script, I realised the producers had no understanding of what the books are about and no interest in finding out. All they intended was to use the name Earthsea, and some of the scenes from the books, in a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence.”

I’m still holding out hope that the script for The Watch will make this cyberpunk version of Discworld work when it airs later this year. Some of the ideas are great – Anna Chancellor as Vetinari? I’m here for that. But it’s a small, flickering sort of hope. The sort of hope that was crushed by the horrific adaptation of Susan Cooper’s glorious The Dark Is Rising and the terrible film of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower – over which I can’t even console myself with a possibly better television adaptation, because Amazon has cancelled it.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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