Since the BBC can’t be bothered to make enough Doctor Who for a single year – even when that year is the run-up to the 50th anniversary – it appears that we’ll have to get our SciFi/Fantasy genre quota elsewhere.
Previously, Merlin was filling some of that gap but now that its gone, the mantle falls to Atlantis.
Tonight marked the premiere episode, the Earth Bull.
In it, our young hero, Jason, is searching for his father’s wrecked (or perhaps just lost) undersea craft. He dives to the same place his father disappeared and is whisked through a magical gateway – away from our world to the city of Atlantis.
Here he learns that this was his home and that his father took him away to the other world to protect him from powerful enemies. Now that he has returned, he has a destiny to fulfill.
First up, he and his two new pals, Pythagoras (yes, that Pythagoras) and Hercules (maybe not-so-much the one of legend), are sent to the Labyrinth to battle the Minotaur.
As an hour of television, it kept me entertained and my kids quiet, so I suppose it did what it was supposed to do.
Greek mythology is a subject rich with stories and for some reason, I felt that was a weakness in this first episode. Apart from the names of the characters, it was the standard minotaur tale – with little of its own story to distinguish itself. Unlike, for example, the Percy Jackson series of books, which re-rell the old myths with a modern twist and a better over-arching story. Perhaps Atlantis will pick up as it goes along. I hope so.
In addition to battling the Minotaur in the bog standard way, Jason also connects with the Oracle of Atlantis. Want to guess how that goes? Yep, she foretells the future, but does so in cryptic ways that don’t help.
I don’t know why I’m so down on it. I love Greek mythology! I just feel it hasn’t brought anything new to the table so far and the backstory of Jason coming from our world and time seems forgotten already. Yes, he’s still questing after his father, who might be dead, but the trappings of our world seem to have vanished with Jason’s clothes and a passing line of dialog, which I paraphrase as, “I just really feel at home here.”
I’m a little unsettled by the choice of supporting characters. We have established in the world of Atlantis that mythical creatures exist and that curses, enchantments and oracles are all real. Any mythological convention they wish to use is available to them. Why then did they choose to include Hercules, but then (apparently) decided to make him a mortal instead of a demigod – and a cowardly, drunken one at that?
On the other hand, the third of our triumvirate is Pythagoras, the famous triangle-obsessed mathematician. Clearly the real Pythagoras didn’t live in the entirely fictitious city of Atlantis, and yet, here he is. This curious mix of historical and mythological characters somehow doesn’t work for me.
One thing I will say, the BBC has come a long, long way since the days of Doctor Who in the 60’s. The production is sumptuous, as we’ve come to expect. The location filming is in Morocco and they use the locations well. Similarly, the actors turn in perfectly serviceable performances.
Only the CG effects were a bit dodgy. The two-headed lizard in bright daylight wasn’t too bad, but the hunting lions at night didn’t look good at all. Wisely, perhaps, the director chose to take a page out of old school television and film and kept the Minotaur hidden and obscured. The production didn’t suffer for it, in fact, it built a little bit of genuine tension.
Will I be back next week for the second episode? Yes, I suppose I will – but I’m looking for something above and beyond just another retelling of mythology.