The BBC’s current high-gloss drama The Deep (already taking pre-orders for DVD or Blu-Ray) is a high-gloss, high suspense techno-thriller which admirably shows off its post-Blakes 7 credentials by killing off one of the main characters at the end of the first episode. More preposterous than Spooks, and with more famous actors (James Nesbitt, Minnie Driver and Goran Visnjic), this is the second in the BBC’s summer series of high-budget high-impact entertainment, following hard on the heels of Sherlock.
Not that I’m complaining. But it does beg the question of why the BBC is showing its stuff in short bursts — three episodes for Sherlock, five for this — during August when, even with the wonders of iPlayer, most viewers can be expected to be on holiday for at least part of the period.
If you’ve not been following, there is just enough time to catch the first three episodes on iPlayer, with two more to come this week and the week after. If you have been avoiding watching out of the fear that it may be in some way connected with the lamentable 1977 adventure in silliness of the same name, you can relax. Actually, that was the main reason why I missed the opening two episodes when they were first broadcast. Fortunately, the programme makers are merely recycling the name, probably on the grounds that there will be absolutely no-one saying “I was disappointed, because I thought it was a remake of that great film…”.
Although we once more run the risk of being lambasted by the Americans for only making shows that last a few weeks, there is a compelling pace and tension in the decision to restrict this to just five episodes. If (like me) you got bored with Lost somewhere in the middle of the first series, then there is something utterly refreshing about a story which really advances week by week, and where you discover that it isn’t about what you thought it was at the start of the episode just half way through.
If you’re wondering if you might like it, I won’t spoil it for you, beyond saying that it’s about oil, Russians, illegal deep-water exploration below the North Pole, radiation poisoning, love, adultery, courage, and some new form of life. At least, that’s what I think it’s about so far, but I may discover that I am entirely wrong by the end of episode 4.
On radiation poisoning, the BBC are returning to one of their strongest suits across many years. If you remember Edge of Darkness — the original BBC version, not the lamentable Mel Gibson remake — you will recall the fear of radiation which permeates the (also short) series, right from the radiation warning sign on a train going north in the first minutes through to the final scene. Americans seem to go for the big explosion itself, as in Ben Affleck/Morgan Freeman Sum of All Fears. Perhaps the Greenham Common protests and the secret Thatcher-era information series Protect and Survive sensitised us all to the threat of radiation itself.
In keeping with classics like Edge of Darkness and Doctor Who and the Green Death, this is top-notch escapist thrills and chills telly, but with a strong linkage to serious issues of global importance. While stuff like the X-files, Dark Skies (no, no-one really remembers that series) and Lost fed a generation of Americans on the notion that there was a global conspiracy of big business conducting experiments with strange forces and/or aliens, The Deep is planting powerful science-based ideas about the world we live in into the minds of its viewers, and reminding all of us how it is possible — as long as the government continues to allow it — to inform, to educate and to entertain, all at the same time.
I’m just left wondering if the reason why we are having a rash of such high quality programming in the low season is that BBC bosses are making one last effort to persuade the increasingly Conservative coalition that public broadcasting really is one of our most precious national resources, before it’s too late.
More power to them, I say.