The Deep (Episode 1) - BBC (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
BASED on its enjoyable first hour, new BBC drama The Deep offers an intriguing mix of Solaris and The Abyss that looks destined to keep us entertained throughout its five episodes.
Starring former ER doc Goran Visnjic, James Nesbitt and Minnie Driver, the show follows the crew of an Arctic expedition as they’re sent miles below the ice to uncover the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of another submarine, as well as to uncover new and potentially Earth-saving life forms.
The first hour set the scene well, drawing cleverly on similarly themed movies and deftly mixing character building with moments of high tension.
Nesbitt’s Clem Donnelly, for instance, is still coming to terms with the loss of his wife on the previous submarine, while Visnjic’s Samson and Driver’s Frances Kelly are trying to keep secret their one night affair. Needless to say, tensions are running high among them even before their vessel has submerged.
When Raymond (Tobias Menzies), a mysterious last minute addition to the Orpheus crew, claiming to be a salvage investigator, is thrown into the mix, friendships and loyalties become increasingly strained.
Simon Donald’s script built the mystery surrounding the expedition nicely, offering teasing glimpses (via radar or flashing lights) or soundbites (via salvaged recordings of Clem’s wife’s final distress call) into what could be down below with the crew.
And it’s credit to the screenplay that we still don’t know… is it something alien? Or a rival expedition? It’s certainly something over-sized and unlike anything that’s been seen before…
Jim O’Hanlon’s direction, meanwhile, did a decent job of masking the limited budget… only occasionally showing the effects to be a little out of their depth.
The main cast members, too, made for a compelling central trio, working well together to create a bunch of characters who are worth rooting for, especially during the race against time scenarios that seem to be a feature of Donald’s screenplay.
In this first episode, for instance, Samson looked doomed when the one man submersible he was piloting almost ran out of air… a perilous situation heightened by the good work done by the cast members to make his character likeable from the outset. It was genuinely tense.
Whether the pace can be maintained throughout the remainder of the series remains to be seen, but episode one certainly did enough to guarantee a captive audience in spite of some flaws as well.
As good as the main trio are, other crew members failed to register as strongly, with Antonia Thomas’ Maddy an irritating cliché of a damsel-in-distress who seemed out of place among the supposedly expert marine biologists. It came as no surprise (and quite some relief) when she was found to be the first victim of a potential murderer among them.
Menzies’ shadowy villain is also a little too cut and dry at this stage, and could do with a little more shading like the main characters.
The script, too, has its moments of stupidity… churning out sci-fi techno babble concerning hydrothermal vents one minute, and ‘blockbuster’-style soundbites such as ‘welcome to the gateway to hell’ the next.
It suggests that The Deep could yet be caught between its desire to balance intelligent, spooky sci-fi with crowd-pleasing blockbuster elements.
Given its positioning amid the BBC’s summer schedule line-up, it would seem that’s kind of the point, offering a small screen guilty pleasure equivalent to some of its big screen counterparts that should just be enjoyed for what it is.
Taken on that level, it would appear well worth diving in for the remainder of the series.
The Deep is on BBC1 on Tuesday nights from 9pm.