Atlantis episode 1 review: The Earth Bull

Atlantis arrives on the Saturday night schedule with an uneven, but not un-promising first episode...

This review contains spoilers. Read our spoiler-free review, here.

1.1 The Earth Bull

First Robin Hood, then Merlin, now it’s Atlantis that gets the Saturday night treatment by the BBC.

Robin Hood may have been a tad pantomime in places, whilst Merlin took a few series to become an impressively dark show with a great sense of humour. Both series were really there to fill in the gap between series of Doctor Who and whatever reality show the BBC chose to throw at us.

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Robin Hood fell apart when the lead actors departed, whilst Merlin soldiered on and overcame its critics. When Atlantis was announced, it seemed that the BBC was going for the ‘third time lucky’ approach with a Saturday evening series that would complement Doctor Who and give the family another historical series to start the fire of imagination amongst your fans.

In the first episode, it’s almost successful.

A young lad sets out to find out what happened to his father. He has – like his father – a submarine and a pendant left to him by his dad. Some funky stuff happens and Jason, as it turns out the son is named, loses his clothes and gets stranded on a beach.

After a madcap chase through a market, involving the city guards and a two-headed lizard, Jason is rescued by a young Pythagoras and we discover that he’s in Atlantis before it became the Lost City of Atlantis and where Jason has no problem speaking to the ancient Greeks and finding The Oracle, who fills in a lot of the details to Jason’s purpose and history.

Pythagoras’ housemate, Hercules, isn’t impressed with the new addition to his home, feeling that he’s a threat to his life of gambling and drinking, whilst the great mathematician is just happy to have a friend.

Sadly, the friendship promptly leads to trouble as Pythagoras risks being sacrificed to The Minotaur by King Minos. Perhaps Jason can step forward and prove his worth, make a few enemies and set on his path to become the man of legend…

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The first episode of Atlantis is an uneven affair – combining misplaced humour, a rushed introduction to the key characters, an ample drizzling of nonsense and a couple of well constructed, but awkward, action sequences.

Beautifully shot and well acted, the cast includes Mark Addy (as Hercules), Juliet Stevenson (as The Oracle), Sarah Parish (as Pasiphae) and Alexander Siddig (as Minos) as the marquee names, whilst Jack Donnelly (as Jason) will be familiar to the fans of House of Anubis and Aiysha Hart steals her scenes, despite dull dialogue, as Ariadne, who falls in love with our hero and gains him an enemy in the form of the controlling Pasiphae.

Collectively, the actors do a great job with a somewhat ropey script. Addy doesn’t have a great deal to do, but tackles it as if he were in the lead, whilst Sidding is regal and Parish is channeling Lady MacBeth levels of dominance.

It’s in the newer names that this story lays. Donnelly is occasionally wooden and Robert Emms is much more interesting as Pythagoras. Hopefully, the relationship will find its feet as the two actors develop some of the tangible camaraderie that the series really does need.

Stevenson recalls the performance of John Hurt in Merlin, being given little to do but doing it incredibly well.  Her character, The Oracle, unfortunately, robs the series of some potential mystery – revealing the origins of Jason and his father far too early. There’s a darkness coming though, with dangerous forces that, thankfully, only Jason can challenge. Other mysteries are thrown in – Jason is not who he thinks he is, for example – but it all feels a tad laboured and overly weighty, especially considering this is the first episode!

In the period of forty-six minutes, Jason goes from a clumsy oaf to an athletic god of manliness, whilst stepping into the role of fool, saviour and agent of social change. He is recognised by The Oracle and The Minotaur as the man who can change things, whilst there are those who, it seems, will become his enemy. Thankfully, by the end of the episode he’s become firm friends with Pythagoras and Hercules, with a touch of the humour seen in Capps, Overman and Murphy’s previous series, Merlin.

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Visually, the episode does look impressive. The lizard and Minotaur are testaments to the strengths of its CGI, whilst the scenery is on par with what was seen in Merlin, making Atlantis a rich and beautiful place that is vibrant to look at it.

This awkwardness of this episode is made even more apparent given the later Saturday evening timeslot for this episode as it would have you believe that, perhaps, the story would be for a more mature audience; certainly not the family audience of Doctor Who or Robin Hood. Viewers obviously shouldn’t expect Game of Thrones or Spartacus levels of gore, nudity and violence, but there’s a certain expectation that, at 8.25pm, it would be slightly more adult. There’s teasing nudity from Jason, a hint of sexuality from Ariadne, and the fight scene towards the end… but it feels like it was meant for an earlier time slot and has been shunted to this time to make room for Strictly Come Dancing.

Despite its uneven start, Atlantis could become a strong series. It has a talented production team who have shown they can handle pseudo-mythology – Merlin was critically mauled in its first series, but went on to become a really good show. 

If Atlantis can find its feet early on, it’s going to be worth watching.

Read more about Atlantis on Den of Geek, here.

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