Issue 108:2017 06 08:RoboVicar (Neil Tidmarsh)

08 June 2017


Move over, Father Brown and Grantchester, there’s a new holy sleuth in town!

by Neil Tidmarsh

Ok, you directors of the BBC, ITV, Chanel 4, Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, let me pitch this block-busting idea to you.  It’s a perfect mash-up of sci-fi/detective/reality tv – imagine Transformers meets Grantchester meets Made in Chelsea.  Irresistible, huh?

What’s that, you say?  Unlikely?  Far-fetched?  Unbelievable?  Not at all.   Let me explain.  The idea’s firmly based on two stories in the news this week:

First, from Germany, comes the story of BlessU-2, a robot pastor which welcomes worshipers to a protestant church in Wittenberg, birth-place of the Reformation.  It’s supposed to remind us of Martin Luther’s crucial use of new technology (printing), as part of the celebrations for the 500th anniversary of his break with Rome.  BlessU-2 can speak in a male or female voice to bless you in seven languages.  The blessings can also be printed out via a touchscreen on its chest.  Oh, and its hands light up when it raises its arms.

Second, from the United Arab Emirates, comes the story of ‘the world’s first autonomous police robot’.  It’s just gone on duty outside the world’s tallest building – the 828m high Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It can salute, it moves on wheels, it has a camera which sends live footage to an operations base, and citizens can communicate with it – to make enquiries or report crime – via a touchscreen on its chest.  Being autonomous, it’s one step ahead of the remotely-operated Chinese police Anbot which went on airport duty last year (though the Anbot remains the only armed police robot currently in use – it packs a Tazer).

Now, put these two together and what do you get?  A crime-fighting vicar robot!  A new type of hero for a new type of tv series!  Genius!  Guaranteed to work miracles with your Saturday night viewing figures!

But what sort of crimes will this mighty but righteous wonder of futuristic technology fight?  What sort of mysteries will it solve?

Here we come to the third strand of this idea’s Unique Selling Point: real life crimes!  Real life mysteries!  This week’s news is jammed full of just the kind of crimes and mysteries which would get our sanctified but mechanical hero’s antennae twitching.  There’s more than enough to fill every episode of Series One already.  Let me list them:

Episode One – The Case of St John Bosco’s Missing Brain.  Last weekend, a glass case containing a priceless relic – the brain of a nineteenth-century saint – disappeared from a church in Castelnuovo in north Italy.  The police think it was stolen by a thief pretending to be a pilgrim.  It’s feared that the wretch responsible intends to demand a ransom or, even worse, will use it in black magic rituals.  It’s not an isolated incident.  Other recent cases include the theft of a phial of Pope John Paul’s blood in 2014, the reputed theft of Christ’s foreskin by a priest in 1983, and the theft of St Anthony’s chin from a church in Padua by three armed and masked Mafiosi in 1991 (their boss wasn’t happy – they were supposed to steal the saint’s tongue, but they messed up).  The chin was recovered by the police (just as it was about to be sent off to South America) – our robot hero could surely do the same for St John Bosco’s brain.

Episode Two – The Case Of Bishop Nektary’s Toyota Land Cruiser V8.  Rumours and gossip spread through the Orel region of Russia recently when the bishop was seen driving around in a car worth thirteen times Russia’s average salary.  His diocese was quick to explain that it was a gift from an agricultural company to enable him to reach his flock in even the most remote villages of the region.  But other mysteries emerged; this week the regional news website Orlovskiye Novosti claimed that it had received a letter from the bishop demanding the removal of an article about his car and threatening legal action.  But the diocese claims the letter is a fake…  Something for our tech hero to warm his silicon chips on.  And while he’s at it, he can examine a few other mysteries of the Russian Orthodox Church.  In 2012, a priest wrote-off a BMW Z4 roadster in Moscow.  What was he doing in such a car?  Why did it crash?  Why did it have diplomatic licence plates?  And from the same year, the mystery of Patriarch Kirill’s disappearing watch…  Someone, outraged, pointed out that the church’s humble leader seemed to be wearing a £20,000 Breguet watch in a photo.  But there was no watch visible in subsequent editions of the same photo.  Strange!  If you looked carefully, however, a faint reflection of the watch could still be seen on the shiny surface of the table at which the Patriarch was sitting…

Episode Three.  The Case of the Church of Scientology in St Petersburg.  Still in Russia, the security forces this week raided the headquarters of the St Petersburg branch of the Church of Scientology and the homes of various members of this US sect (investigating allegations of hate crimes, illegal business dealings and extremism) and… well, that’s it.  Nothing else to report.  And that’s the mystery!  This is the Church of Scientology, founded by L Ron Hubbard, remember, the master of science fiction and fantasy.  We’re talking about alien interventions and extraterrestrial civilizations here, about initiates endowed with occult psychic powers not of this planet.  And yet we’re supposed to believe that nothing happened when Russian security forces defiled its precincts?  Someone must be hiding something.  Who?  And what?  The truth is out there, and our RoboVicar will find it…

Hang on, where are you going?  You’re leaving?  No, please, sit down!  Don’t go!  You haven’t heard Episode Four yet!  Listen..!  No, wait!  What’s the matter?  You don’t like the idea?  You don’t think there’s an audience for it?  You’re not Scientologists, are you?  Not all of you, surely?  Ok, tell you what, perhaps we could get Tom Cruise in; Tom could be RoboVicar’s bishop, his boss… And just think how cheap RoboVicar would be – you wouldn’t have to pay an actor!  Anyone interested?  No one?  That’s a ‘no’, then?  Not even a maybe?


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