I’ve loved the Philip Pullman books for a very long time, and The Golden Compass, despite all it’s flaws and shortcomings, did a better job of introducing Alternate Oxford than the BBC version managed last night. However, in everything else, the BBC/HBO series is light years ahead of anything I suspect could or would have been considered possible a decade ago.
These books have always been subversive and courted controversy, that’s what made them so very compelling. Alternate worlds, ruled by evil men, where normal people are used as pawns and cyphers. So what if your soul has an animal form? Those feelings and beliefs manifest regardless, and in the world of Lyra Belacqua it is the importance of innocence before corruption that makes the narrative so very seductive.
In that regard, last night, the pre-credits sequence mattered a very great deal.
The time and care that’s been taken to get this adaptation right is apparent in every single scene, particularly when we are introduced to the Gyptians for the first time. The pace and plotting of the episode is tight and cleverly ties together the abduction of Lyra’s only friend Roger with the growing crisis of missing Gyptian children. No, Gobblers aren’t just a children’s story in this world. Evil lives in plain sight.
What sold me in this first episode, without doubt, was the first time we see the Magisterium in London, which if it wasn’t imposing enough from the outside… well, within shows a truth that screams totalitarian regime. Men love to build massive monuments to their own perceived superiority, after all; we can tell immediately who is good and bad. Casting and adaptation really are both spot on.
I didn’t notice CGI at all in any of this, for the record. That’s how good it was.
Knowing how this story ends however is no issue: in fact, that only further increases my anticipation of what I know is already coming: Book Two’s being worked on. If this kind of narrative is being considered for TV adaptation, it gives me hope that other complex ideas like Iain Banks’ The Bridge or his Culture series might yet be considered for an airing. If something as massive as The Expanse series is worthy of airtime… who knows.
I also suspect I’ll see the BBC’s much-anticipated adaptation of The War of the Worlds soon in the 9pm Sunday spot and when that happens… I’m gonna need a comfier spot than the floor in which to watch TV back to back. There’ll probably be a second watch of the first episode on the iPlayer this week, because I need to learn how to make animated GIFs and, to be honest, His Dark Materials is a fantastic place to start.