For years now, the BBC have marked a clear slot in their schedules: Historical-looking family action-drama airing when Doctor Who isn’t on. Their first try was Robin Hood, but faring rather better was Merlin, providing five series of passably entertaining homoerotic dragon fighting.
At Christmas last year, Merlin came to an end, the BBC need something new to fill this hole, and so we reach Atlantis. A young lad called Jason finds himself in the ancient lost city, searching for answers about his past and meeting… seemingly every famous ancient Greek, real or fictional. Can it fill the Merlin-shaped hole in our hearts?
Spoilers follow, watch the episode on iPlayer if need be.
The Merlin/Sinbad Axis
First, the good news: Atlantis is nowhere near as poor as Sinbad, Sky’s attempt to get in on this action last year. It establishes its cast quickly and confidently, although does fall into the trap of having them act like best friends when they’ve known each other five minutes. You can get away with this when time passes in the script to let them bond, but here it looks odd. Nonetheless, I do love the fact that Pythagoras is a main character. Got a massive laugh from me.
The production values are a step up from Merlin, the monsters look good, although there are still shaky shots where the CGI beasties interact with human performers, especially during the climactic Minotaur fight. The story is clear and easy to follow, the scattered attempts at humour mostly work.
Acting also strong for the most part, although frustratingly the weakest link might be Jack Donnelly as the lead character. He does earnest well enough and performs the heaving topless scene with gusto, but seems a bit wooden on deeper emotions.
Atlantis – The Lesser Known Prince of Persia Sequel
And yet, and yet. There is a lot technically admirable about Atlantis, but just off this first episode, it hasn’t quite gelled yet. The dramatic stuff is too silly and cartoonish to take deadly seriously, the humour too sparse to be pure fun. The action sequences are also very video-game, and take a huge visual shift from the rest of the show.
Obviously, debut episodes aren’t always fair representations of the whole series, and hopefully there will be better to follow when they settle on a tone. Technically, this wasn’t a bad episode, but as a whole experience, needs work. The first series of Merlin wasn’t great either, hopefully it’ll grow into something fun over time.
Also, was Atlantis once planned to be broadcast in 3D? There were a lot of items thrust towards the camera in various shots. I’ll leave you on that deep thought, and hopefully we’ll see something truly amazing next week. Did you watch Atlantis? Is it the new Merlin?