The Deep - Complete Season Review (BBC)
Review by Jack Foley
BBC drama The Deep makes its way into DVD having flattered to deceive during its four episode run.
Billed as a tense sci-fi pot-boiler with contemporary resonance, the five-part series boasted a top cast – led by James Nesbitt, Minnie Driver and former ER star Goran Visnjic – and state-of-the-art effects. The opening episode even hinted at elements of classic films such as The Abyss and Solaris.
But alas, expectations fell horribly short… as The Deep ended up being a terribly disappointing experience – water-logged by a cliché-ridden script, shoddy plotting and weak characterisation.
The show was mainly set within the confines of the state-of-the-art research submarine Orpheus, as Captain Frances Kelly (Driver) leads a team of scientists deep below the Arctic ice to follow the path of an earlier, disastrous expedition.
Their mission is two-fold: to discover what happened to the previous mission and to search the final frontiers of Earth for unknown and remarkable life forms, attempting to find the solution to the world’s escalating energy crisis.
Enduring crushing pressure, boiling vent gases, freezing temperatures and total darkness, the Orpheus arrives at the Lomonosov Ridge, an enormous area of sea bed which is disputed territory, currently under the United Nations’ jurisdiction.
Nobody comes here. But there is something else out here: something huge and bewildering. And, as the Orpheus crew struggle for survival and attempt to unravel the mystery, they uncover secrets more terrifying than they ever could have imagined…
The above synopsis suggests the possibility of alien life forms and something quite sinister. Unfortunately, what it boils down to is competing Russian scientists and even larger research vehicles with a nuclear reactor posing a threat to everyone’s safety.
The crew of the Orpheus itself are also a rag-tag bunch of stereotypes who are largely straight-jacketed by genre convention. Driver’s weak-willed captain, for instance, is having an affair with Visnjic’s technical expert, while Nesbitt is on a personal mission to find out what happened to the former expedition, which was led by his late wife (Orla Brady). He remains convinced she did not perish.
The remainder of the crew is rounded out by the likes of Tobias Menzies’ sinister company man, with his own reasons for being there, and Sacha Dhawan’s fellow scientist.
Admittedly, the opening episode showed signs of potential, especially in its use of claustrophobic, race-against-time scenarios and its mix of personal and political storytelling. But it quickly lost its way.
Simon Donald’s script failed to make the most of its set-up, becoming bogged down by repetitive scenarios, uninteresting ‘science’ and poorly fleshed out characters. Attempts to broaden the show’s scope by adding intrigue at both a UN station above the ice and back at Nesbitt’s family home also felt half-hearted and unnecessary, bringing in characters we simply didn’t care about who were too poorly developed.
The Russian contingent, meanwhile, fell into two distinct categories: sneering villains or sympathetic co-heroes, but few really added any emotional depth to proceedings.
Rather, with each passing episode, The Deep grew less and less interesting or intriguing, with one race-against-the-clock scenario replaced by another, and believability regularly thrown out the window.
Sacrifices made by certain characters for the greater good had no emotional impact, especially once Donald’s screenplay started flouting the rules of reality. It’s all very well asking viewers to suspend belief, so long as the scenarios are believable in their own right.
With The Deep, characters threatened to perish from the cold inside a mini-sub one episode, only to be seen manning the vessel without even a coat or much power the next. Another, who was overcome by radiation poisoning and at death’s door one minute, also discovered unlikely bursts of energy moments later.
Such inconsistencies drew you out of proceedings and exposed the programme’s flaws in increasingly ruthless fashion… culminating in a supposedly breathless final episode that felt more like a relief from the tedium.
We won’t reveal who does or doesn’t survive, or say too much more, suffice to say that at a time when the quality of TV writing seems to be on the rise in general (on both sides of the Atlantic), The Deep was a rare blip on the horizon that proved itself to be totally out of its depth.
Given the quality of the cast and creative team behind it, that was all the more disappointing.
Episodes/No of discs: 5/2
UK DVD Release: September 27, 2010