What’s the old saying, ‘man plans and the Authority laughs’? Between the first announcement of BBC/HBO fantasy adaptation His Dark Materials in November 2015 and the arrival of its final season in December 2022, a great many plans were forced to change. 2020’s multiple Covid-19 lockdowns left the third season’s filming schedule up in the air, and when it came back down again not everything – or everyone – was in the same place.
Sophie Okonedo, Chipo Chung and Xaphania
In season two (filming of which mostly squeaked inside the line before the first UK lockdown in March 2020), fans were introduced to new character Xaphania, voiced by Sophie Okonedo. The leader of the rebel angels who joined forces with Lord Asriel to destroy the controlling, misogynistic Authority, Xaphania is a key character in season three’s war.
Okonedo’s unmistakable voice was heard in four episodes (‘The City of Magpies’, ‘Tower of the Angels’, ‘The Scholar’ and ‘Aesahættr’), speaking to Mary Malone via her Oxford lab computer, narrating the Lord of the Rings-style ep 4 prologue about the forging of the Subtle Knife, and standing with Lord Asriel in the finale.
In season three however, the role of Xaphania is played by Chipo Chung (Into the Badlands, Absentia, Fortitude) presumably due to a schedule clash with Sophie Okonedo’s role in Amazon fantasy adaptation The Wheel of Time. Filming on His Dark Materials season three took play largely in Cardiff and Bristol, and stretched from the 22nd of June to the 26th of November 2021. Filming on The Wheel of Time season two overlapped that period, taking place mostly in Prague, Slovenia and Dubrovnik between July 2021 and May 2022. Okonedo plays Siuan Sanche in The Wheel of Time, the leader of the Aes Sedai, a powerful group of female ‘channelers’ who attempt to maintain peace across the realms.
Helen McCrory, Victoria Hamilton and Stelmaria
In April 2021, acclaimed screen and stage actor and fund-raiser Helen McCrory OBE died of breast cancer, leaving behind family, friends, fans and a much-respected career. McCrory’s pivotal role as Polly Gray in BBC drama Peaky Blinders was rewritten after her illness stopped her from taking part in filming on the final season after a Covid-19 lockdown delay. Helen McCrory’s role in His Dark Materials as the voice of Lord Asriel’s snow leopard daemon Stelmaria, was less prominent but nonetheless important to the Asriel’s much increased presence in season three. Stelmaria is now voiced by actor Victoria Hamilton (The Crown, Cobra, What Remains).
As widely reported in 2020, James McAvoy’s character Lord Asriel was intended to have starred in a standalone season two episode showing his journey from opening his first ‘window’ to another world to gathering troops to join him in the battle against the Authority. Those plans were discarded due to Covid-19 restrictions, and the scenes written for the end of that episode were used in the season two finale.
The eight episodes of His Dark Materials season three will air in double-bill slots this December on BBC One and HBO. The story will see Asriel and his allies prepare to do battle with the Authority, while Will and Lyra attempt to evade the Magisterium’s fierce agents and fulfil their roles in the future of… everything. It promises to be a spectacular conclusion to this imaginative story.
His Dark Materials Season 3 will air in double-bill episodes starting on HBO on Monday the 5th of December in the US, and at a tbc time and date on BBC One in the UK.