There’s no mistaking the genre credentials of the team behind Da Vinci’s Demons: it’s written and directed by the Dark Knight trilogy’s David S. Goyer, produced by Doctor Who’s Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, production designed by Who’s Ed Thomas, scored by Battlestar Galactica’s Bear McCreery. Although the look and ambience veers towards The Tudors and The Borgias, there’s a perhaps surprising amount of Doctor Who in the portrayal of the young Leonardo – particularly the 21st century reinvention of the Time Lord. It would be fair to guess that Tom Riley wouldn’t need to give an audition tape if he went up for the part of the 12th Doctor: the verve and energy of his performance, coupled with the ability to deal with some quite stilted dialogue at times.
The CGI recreation of Renaissance Florence merges with the physical sets pretty well – there are a couple of scenes (one unfortunately, very early on, as Hugh Bonneville marches to his death) where its artificiality becomes too obvious – and assorted plot threads are set in motion during this first of eight episodes. With a second season already commissioned on the strength of the performance of this opener, it will be interesting to see if the Mithraic element becomes central to the whole series or just to this season: there are implications of time travel which might be one step too far for a general audience. Riley’s Leonardo, though, obviously has some superheroic powers already if he can survive an hour at the hands of his father’s guards with barely a bruise visible when he’s shagging his new mistress a few days later.
Verdict: If Starz greenlighted this instead of a fifth series of Torchwood, then on the strength of the opener, we have the better part of the deal. A good beginning, but the balance of the elements will be crucial to its success. 7/10