The team behind the highly successful Merlin have applied a similar formula to the Ancient Greek myths for this new Saturday evening series. It gets off to an exposition-heavy start – pretty much unavoidable, given how much needs to be established – but still finds time for a quick adventure before the closing titles.
The conceit is that a stranger arrives in Atlantis, who has much more knowledge about myth and legend than the inhabitants have – in fact, I suspect his knowledge is going to expand and contract as each story requires. There are a number of times where Howard Overman’s script goes against expectation (assisted in one of them by some nice misdirection, both visually and on the music soundtrack), but inevitably there are some ‘cute’ gags – one, about Pythagoras, pays homage to Blackadder Back and Forth.
The combination of location filming in Morocco and studio scenes in Wales seems to work okay; although some of the effects don’t quite work as well as they could, it’s early days. The team has clearly learned from the years on Merlin as to what is achievable and what isn’t in this respect, and are willing to push the envelope on a TV budget. From the throwforward at the end, there are some well imagined creatures coming.
The producers have assembled a strong cast, with Alexander Siddig, Sarah Parish and Juliet Stevenson all making their mark in short scenes. Of the central trio, Mark Addy as Hercules is the most relaxed, but as the episode progresses, the relationship between Robert Emms (Pythagoras) and Jack Donnelly (Jason) starts to gel – and in the latter’s case, he starts to mount a challenge on Bradley James’ place in viewers’ affections.
Unlike Sky 1’s Sinbad last year, Atlantis is squarely aimed at a family audience – there aren’t any on-screen hangings or beheadings. Plenty of mysteries are set up – not least about Jason himself, and how he came to Atlantis – and this time around, the producers have no need to feel beholden to any particular rendition of the story (not that they did on Merlin, but there were certain key moments that had to be seen). One request though – at some point can we please have a mad character who declares that “nothing in the world will stop me now”?
Verdict: A decent start which should bring audiences back to find out more about both the mysteries and the characters. 7/10
Atlantis starts on September 28th at 8.25 on BBC One, and on November 23rd on BBC America.