Note: some spoilers here. Not huge ones.
I’m loving my BBC iplayer subscription, because it turns out there’s a bunch of BBC science fiction that hasn’t been picked up by Australian tv. Outrageous! The series we’ve just finished is The Deep, a submarine adventure under the Arctic. Be warned: if you don’t want your characters to be hurt, don’t watch this. If you don’t like the uncertainty of Spooks then this is probably not the show for you. Just saying.
The series opens with a marine biologist (I think), Catherine, in a little sub around a thermal vent in the Arctic. And something goes wrong. Flick forward six months and the biologist’s husband Clem is about to go out on a new mission to the same area to continue her mission… but then they get politely hijacked and told they have to go looking into what happened to Catherine and her crew. Basically the rest of the story – there’s five episodes – follows the deep-sea, under-ice adventures of the Orpheus (hello, classical imagery). One spoiler I think it’s important to put up front is this: from the first episode, I found it impossible to tell whether this was going to turn into a version of The Abyss, with aliens or Atlanteans responsible for the mishaps. But no. Instead, this is very much a science fiction thriller, with the story firmly entrenched in human politics, human problems, and very real human ambition and greed.
The story: is tightly, and I thought largely well, written. There are a few sub-plots but they are all ultimately tied into the over-arching issue of survival, immediately and long-term. There are betrayals and tragedies, unexpected friendships and some really, really cool twists.
The characters: largely enjoyable, if not always likeable. Frances (Minnie Driver) is the captain, generally as autocratic as she needs to be but occasionally lets personal considerations get in the way. I do not think that this a reflection of her being a woman – and I thought long and hard about that – there are plenty of examples of men acting likewise, and she is certainly never decried within the show for being weak as a consequence of having boobs. James Nesbitt is Clem, the engineer on the Orpheus, who is a bit mad with grief at being a widower and definitely the most irrational of the lot; there are times where he acts really quite irresponsibly, making me uncomfortable. But he’s sympathetic as well as unpredictable, and probably one of my favourites. The other main character is Samson (Goran Visnjic), whose accent bothered me greatly because I could never place it. I could never quite figure out his exact role on the boat, either, since he seemed to take on medical roles, and be the driver of the mini-sub, as well as doing some biological research stuff. It’s possible I just missed which one was his primary occupation. Anyway, Samson was for me the hardest character to bond with – he’s got various personal conflicts, and seemed to vacillate personality-wise. Of the minor characters Tobias Menzies as Raymond, the salvage/insurance dude along for the ride to investigate what happened to Catherine et al, is most awesome. He’s really hard to pin down regarding motives and attitude – really cleverly written – and Menzies is brilliant.
I can really recommend this if you’re after 5 compulsive hours of submerged adventure. And I do mean compulsive; the end of episode three made me immediately need to watch episode four because it was such a cliff-hanger. It’s not a completely happy story, by any means, but it’s worth it.