His Dark Materials – Season 1

We are truly living in a golden age of science fiction and fantasy television. Good Omens was delightful. The Expanse continues to go from strength to strength. Watchmen is an unexpected surprise. And in addition we have Philip Pullman adapting His Dark Materials for the BBC.

It is a very long time since I read the books. Heck, I reviewed them in Emerald City. Checking back on what I said, I can see that I loved them. I have also read a huge quantity of books since then and consequently couldn’t remember much of the story. Therefore I have come to the TV series fairly raw. I’m certainly not going to comment on whether or not this is a faithful adaptation. I’m sure that people who know the books much better than I do are supplying that viewpoint.

I must admit that I was a little perturbed that there were only 8 episodes to cover three novels, but I see that this has only taken us half way. There will be a second, 8-episode series next year. This may finish the story, as the first season has included some elements of the second book, The Subtle Knife. Personally I like the fact that they have woven the start of Will’s story in with the narrative of The Golden Compass. I remember finding it quite jarring to start book two and find that it was all about Will, not Lyra.

One thing that I did notice is that the plot coincidences that troubled me when I first read the books still trouble me now. In The Golden Compass Lyra keeps getting into trouble, and each time this results in her being just where she needs to be in order to further the plotline. No one is perfect, not even Philip Pullman.

I was really pleased with the visual effects. The bears looked great, and the dæmons were mostly good too. It did seem that when there was a crowd scene that dæmons were often only visible for major characters, which I guess was a cost-saving ploy. I’m not going to complain too much if that allowed them to get the other effects right.

I liked the steampunk styling of Lyra’s world, though there were times when the Magisterium’s military reminded me slightly too much of SHIELD. Oxford was, well, Oxford. There are definite advantages to being the BBC and being able to just walk in and film in such a photogenic place.

As far as the cast goes, I thought that Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby were absolutely brilliant. James McAvoy does a decent job as Lord Asriel, but inevitably he always ends up looking like Charles Xavier making yet another dodgy decision. Ruta Gedmintas doesn’t look quite Finnish enough for Serafina Pekkala.

Overall I really enjoyed it. It took me two episodes to get sucked in, but after that I binged the rest. The next season will, I think, have a lot more challenges. They have done a good job of setting up the basic theological argument of the story, but there’s a real chance that everything might go off the rails once we get Metatron involved. I’m assuming that Pullman would not have agreed to do the series if they hadn’t promised to stay true to his vision, but how much of the theological argument will find its way into the rest of the story remains to be seen.