Saturday, May 31, 2003 by

Strange is certainly an odd beast. I liked the pilot episode. Or at least I think that I liked the pilot episode… No, I did, I liked the pilot episode. Parts of it anyway. So when it was revealed that the BBC had committed to a full series of this odd creation and scheduled it in a prime-time slot on a Saturday night I was very pleased.

It certainly made for a refreshing change from the 9pm slot being filled by a six year old film or a test hosted by Anne Robinson. Clearly a case of the BBC attempting to trade off the huge success of American imports such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (albeit, a few years too late), Strange – if it is given a chance – could prove quite interesting. Hopefully though, the show won’t simply be about a “demon of the week” …

So what was episode one like? Well, it was better than the somewhat uneven pilot overall, despite the fact that the major “MIXOZ” revelation was patently transparent from the moment the viewer saw the word written down. This uncomplicated first episode seemed to function as a brand new start to Strange, with little of the pilot making it into the story here. New viewers may have been baffled by the business of Joey having to go to the hospital for “demon” tests though, as his dubious parentage was the main thrust of that first episode.

The titular hero, John Strange takes no more of a central role than Samantha Janus’ character, or for that matter, Ian Richardson’s Canon Black and needs to get himself out of his techno-den a little more if he is to become the main player. It’s difficult to see how the relationship between the three protagonists is going to develop as they each seem to operate largely in their own little world – Strange spends a lot of his time with Toby and Kevin researching all things demonic, Black seems to be content to act largely alone, while Jude looks as if she is going to be the one who will do the majority of the legwork. Black is obviously working to his own agenda, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out: is he out to put an all-out stop to the activities of Strange? And if so, why?

Performance-wise Richardson was clearly the star of the show (being one of the finest actors in Britain this was hardly going to be in doubt); delivering his lines in the driest tones imaginable. Coyle was good too, although again, it will be good to see Strange doing a bit more, which would give Coyle the chance to flex his acting muscles more so than he did in this episode. I wasn’t too sure about Janus at all, although future installments may yet convince me … Of the supporting cast, Colin MacFarlane was impressive as the priest, and his death was one of the standout moments of the episode. Anna Massey’s Miss Hawthorne (another tribute to Doctor Who‘s “The Dæmons”, following the naming of the villain in the pilot) was a great character, and it was a shame that we won’t be seeing her again.

Effects-wise the show was very impressive, with the demon’s night bus worthy of particular praise. The aged prosthetics used on Janus was very good too, and it is quite a shame that having had to endure hours in the make-up chair, the effect was only shown briefly. One of the simplest effects in the episode though was the gold contact lenses used on Michelle Joseph’s character, and this proved to be probably the most distinctive and striking effect of all.

Sadly, I can’t really see this series being a major hit. This type of programme is most welcome, but “odd” programmes do not seem to do very well on mainstream BBC. Other Saturday night shows over the past decade have hardly been resounding successes and the non-conventional nature of Strange will most probably alienate a lot of viewers who have stayed tuned following Casualty. The pessimist in me suspects that the show will probably either be cancelled after one series or be shifted to a ridiculous time-slot for the second series.

However, it isn’t good to be too negative, and the fact that half of the future installments have involvement from Joe Ahearne (not to mention the appearance in episode six of Mad Uncle Tom as a blind priest) can only be a good thing.


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