Saturday, March 9, 2002 by

For me, Strange shoots itself in the foot from the off. Featuring a reclusive curly-haired investigator accompanied by a straight-talking female sidekick and coming from the pen of one half of Whoops Apocalypse‘s writing team this is so squarely positioned asJonathan Creek II that I’m forced to draw the comparison before the programme even starts. Unfortunately it’s a comparison that buries Strange.

The title sequence is incredibly cheesy; characters’ heads turning into camera as their billing appears, mixed in with excerpts from the episode to come. It at all feels a bit parodic as thoughStrange is taking the piss out of the horror/sci-fi genre rather than trying to make a real fist of it. The actual title – “Strange” – is disappointing too – so unimaginative. The titular character, John Strange (played by Richard Coyle) has a moniker that could have been flung at him by a comic-book writer. The neatness is just irritating: he is strange, and he happens to be called Strange.

But these are minor quibbles, and the least of the programme’s problems.

The premise of Strange, it seems, is that real demons stalk the earth in human form. Strange has realised this and is now dedicating himself to fighting them. This is old territory, and similar to that already covered by Strange‘s director (Joe Ahearne) in his vastly superior seriesUltraviolet, but there’s no reason why it can’t be re-trod with entertaining results. Alas, the script by Andrew Marshall (David Renwick’s former writing partner) is slapdash, laying in a backstory half-heartedly and picking the wrong moments to mine for resonance; Strange at one point informs his sidekick-to-be Jude Atkins (Samantha Janus) that he found out information about her “on the internet” and a meaningful pause is left as though he’d drawn on a resource that wasn’t mundane and easily accessible.

Strange‘s whole set-up is unsatisfying too. With Jonathan Creek ace-ing it in the interesting homes stakes, Strange is given a cottage that’s kept dark inside seemingly to make the place appear more intriguing for the viewer. Here he’s accompanied by a stereotypical “street” kid who “does” computers. If Strange goes to a series (and for my money, it won’t) it’s easy to imagine whole chunks of plot progressing thanks to an apparent ability to find anything on the internet. Strange’s other sidekick is Kevin, a Downs sufferer with some sort of psychic ability. Hat’s off to the production for the inclusion of this character, although it’d be nice if he had a little more to do.

The most memorable character out of the lot is Canon Black played by Ian Richardson. One could imagine this part being specially fashioned for Richardson as it allows him to thunder from location to location being gravely bombastic. Unfortunately the character doesn’t really go much deeper than its iconic visual – that is with the hood up on his cloak, the Canon looks a bit like the Grim Reaper. At the end of the hour I was left wondering what the Canon’s role was, aside from being just kind of apocalyptic.

Funnily enough, despite the upfront gloss of some rather nifty effects, my overall impression ofStrange was that it seemed on the cheap side. The picture quality itself looked a little plasticky and the production as a whole flitted between only five or six sets with the crypt in the church particularly spartan. Similarly Strange himself only ever come across as an own-brand version version of Jonathan Creek, lacking the depth and wit of the real deal. Although Richard Coyle struggled to make something interesting of the character, he was arguably miscast here (he doesn’t really “do” enigmatic) and the role was underwritten anyway.

All in all Strange was a bit of a misfire in my book. Setting itself up against Jonathan Creek, in actual fact the whole thing seemed rather more Virtual Murder. Paranoid sci-fi fans peddle a theory that from time to time the BBC will purposely make a below-par “genre” programme so they can assert that this sort of thing doesn’t really work on a mainstream channel. That theory’s nonsense of course, although Strange does nothing to disprove it.


Comments are closed.