A beautiful young Black woman sits alone at a bar, waiting for her date to show. When he does, he orders for her, brays about his job in finance, objectifies her “caramel” skin, and later, tries to secretly film her – and worse.
On a different night out, a man tells the woman that she could be a model – not runway, but print – and that while he doesn’t usually go for Black girls, she’s the prettiest one there. She witnesses another man, whose mates are bellowing about taking girls “to pound town”, taking upskirt photos in a club. She makes a beeline for them all, and not because her dickhead radar is faulty but because it’s fully operational and when she gets these men into a dark corner… well, that would be telling.
Domino Day, the debut series from Gangs of London and Kiss Me First screenwriter Lauren Sequeira starts off as a Promising Young Woman-style vicarious revenge fantasy about modern dating. From there, it morphs into a full-on supernatural drama complete with Elder councils, magical talismans, alternative dimensions, and covens chanting in unison around flickering candles and glowing orbs. Think sexy, grown-up Charmed.
The show’s at its best when using the supernatural to wittily describe the natural: the humiliations of dating, the power-draining experience of a bad boyfriend, the restorative strength of sisterhood… It’s less good whenever lead character Domino is off screen. Scenes between Elder witches and coven leaders struggle to match the presence of lead actor Siena Kelly, who gives Domino’s journey an emotional realism that this genre rarely delivers.
Just as she was in 2020 porn industry drama Adult Material, Kelly is outstanding here. She sells the hell out of some difficult dramatic moments, and convincingly grounds Domino as both a witch struggling to marshal her powers, and as a young woman struggling to work out who she is. Even up against characters delivering lines as uninspiring as “Sweet dreams, freak, welcome to your worst nightmare!” she holds her ground, and the show together.
Any fat has been trimmed from the story, which leaps right in to the title character’s life without any tedious exposition or spooky lore-voiceover. At six 45-minute episodes, Domino Day doesn’t repeat itself, outstay its welcome, or waste time. It’s well-engineered for bingeing, though its pace doesn’t allow for much development of the witch coven characters surrounding Domino. One is kind, one is uptight, one is narky and one is… good at potions? A second series, and there deserves to be one, should plump them out more as bandmates than backing group.
Siena Kelly’s chemistry with The Innocents and Doctor Who’s Percelle Ascott, who plays kind barman Leon, powers the pair through their romantic plot. You’d happily watch these two fall for each other even without the witch stuff. And while the same can’t be said for Silas, the character on the other side of Domino Day’s love triangle, that story has plenty useful to say about the balance of power in early-20s relationships. Young people should relate, is the point, even the ones who aren’t crystal-healing Instagram witches.
It’s a smart time to bring out a witch drama. The popularity of astrology, tarot and magical affirmations (always big within female-led teen subcultures but thanks to Gen Z and TikTok now as mainstream as houseplants and sourdough) is an opportunity to add something new to the genre. What Sequeira’s series adds is Black female British experience, including but not limited to Domino’s. Babirye Bukilwa’s Sammie has a gay love story we could stand to see much more from, and Alisha Bailey’s coven-leader Kat might be underdeveloped, but her Obeah ancestry makes the story more 3D and more distinct from The CW-style US fantasy shows which Domino Day has been cast in the mould of.
The setting also helps to distinguish it from what’s gone before. From the street art to the Northern quarter, lead director Eva Sigurdardottir and co. make on-screen Manchester look – to use a technical term – banging. As do the special effects, which are impressive on a BBC Three budget.
On which subject: BBC Three is back, baby. Rewind a decade or more, and the youth-oriented channel was home to what’s now clear was a high point in British sci-fi and fantasy TV. Being Human, The Fades, In the Flesh, Torchwood series one… It wasn’t just all Snog, Marry, Avoid. Then the channel was taken online-only before being restored to the TV schedules and now, with the appearance of feminist fantasy Domino Day and hopefully more like it to come, it’s as though it never went away.
Domino Day airs on Wednesdays at 9pm on BBC Three. All episodes are available to stream now on BBC iPlayer in the UK.