The His Dark Materials TV series is massive in scope—not only in terms of film production, but in the sheer ambition of the story it is trying to tell. Adapted from the trilogy of the same name from Philip Pullman, the children’s fantasy saga brings together different worlds and the very different kinds of people and creatures who live in them. It’s an enormous project for one storyteller to undertake. In Season 1, the ridiculously prolific Jack Thorne wrote all eight episodes of His Dark Materials by himself. In Season 2, he has help.
Up-and-coming British writers Namsi Khan, Francesca Gardiner, Sarah Quintrell, and Lydia Adetunji joined Thorne in writing Season 2 of His Dark Materials, and in the monumental process of adapting The Subtle Knife from book to screen.
“They really did bring scope and challenged us in really interesting ways,” Thorne said during a BBC press junket of the additional Season 2 writers last month. Thorne used the specific example of the writing of the witch plot line. According to Thorne, the new writers took the witches in a direction he didn’t originally intend, serving to deepen the witch-centric subplot, which plays a more prominent role in the second season than it did in the first.
Dafne Keen, who plays Lyra in the series, echoed the sentiment of Thorne’s comments, noting that the addition of the new voices did change the TV-making process in Season 2, especially when it came to how quickly the scripts were written.
“Because I’d worked on season one when it was just Jack alone, it was a big difference,” Keen told Den of Geek during a press roundtable. “But Jack is a genius on his own. Frankly, the others helped, but it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, now the show works.’ It was just like, it goes faster.”
In other words, Thorne is still the head writer of this show. Of the five Season 2 episodes that have been announced with writerly credits, he is a writer or co-writer on four of them.
Who Are the His Dark Materials Season 2 Writers?
While it’s traditional in the U.S. for TV series to have a staff of writers working on one show, often breaking the stories together in one room before separating to write their respective episodes, the U.K. TV industry developed along different lines. It is becoming more common in the U.K. to employ writers’ rooms, but the traditional model is much more solitary in the U.K., with either one writer writing all of the episodes or multiple writers working on one season but without that initial in-person, collaborative story-breaking process.
It sounds like, in its second season, His Dark Materials did something with at least elements of the writers’ room process. Simone Kirby, who plays new character Dr. Mary Malone, told Den of Geek during a press roundtable: “The different writers all had different storylines.” This implies that, if there was some collaborative story-breaking process, then different writers had different specialties/foci, but, as with any highly-collaborative project, it can be hard to untangle where one person’s work ends and another’s begins. Here are the writers who worked on His Dark Materials Season 2…
Even if you’ve never heard of Thorne, you’ve almost certainly watched something he’s written. In addition to His Dark Materials, his TV work includes the The Fades, This is England series, The Last Panthers, The Eddy, Shameless, and Skins. He also writes for stage and film. He wrote Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, and his film credits include Enola Holmes, The Secret Garden, Wonder, and The Aeronauts.
Namsi Khan previously wrote a third season episode for the very underrated Humans, and has worked in the writers’ rooms for the second season of The Night Manager, as well as for Black Mirror and Bulletproof. Now, she’s joined the His Dark Materials team, co-writing (with Thorne) the fourth episode of Season 2.
“I wasn’t always sure I wanted to be a writer but I was very introverted and read a lot of books like Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights,” Khan told Deadline last December. “It was the first book I read that blew my imagination into a dimension that I didn’t know existed … It’s truly a joy to have my name attached to a show whose books I love.”
Interestingly, Francesca Gardiner also worked in the writers’ room for The Night Manager Season 2. Additionally, she’s written an episode of The Man in the High Castle and Medici: Masters of Florence, and has been working on Starz’ The Rook. She is a co-executive producer on BBC America’s Killing Eve. Gardiner co-wrote (with Thorne) the second episode and wrote the fifth episode of His Dark Materials Season 2.
Sarah Quintrell made her writing debut in 2016 with Ellen, a drama that snagged her a nomination for the BAFTA Breakthrough Talent Award. She also wrote the five-part Channel 4 crime drama The Trial: A Murder In The Family, and is currently working on The Power, the Amazon adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s bestselling novel. Quintrell co-wrote (with Thorne) the third episode of His Dark Materials Season 2. (Quintrell is also an actress and has appeared in Call the Midwife and Doctor Who.)
Lydia Adetunji worked as a journalist for the Financial Times before moving into a creative writing career. Adetunji writes for film, TV, and theater. Her TV work so far includes Noughts + Crosses, The Last Kingdom, and Riviera.
Will His Dark Materials Season 2 Deviate From the Books?
In Season 1, Thorne deviated slightly from the source material, most notably by moving Will’s introduction up. This season, Thorne says there isn’t that kind of “major shock,” but that “there’s a series of micro-shocks that together…probably challenge the foundations in a more interesting way.”
For Thorne and the rest of the writing team, it’s not about trying to shock viewers with changes from the book. “Sometimes we do step away and do different things,” says Thorne, “but always we’re going back to the text and saying, ‘How does this help us tell his story best?’
As you might imagine, Thorne is a huge fan of the books, and doesn’t wish to change anything fundamental to the story.
“Philip has written the most incredible fiction that is so full of ideas that it’s constantly eluding you,” Thorne continued. “And actually that is a real gift as a screenwriter. As soon as you know where you are, you’re sort of in trouble because you’re…sort of descending into tropes. You’re sort of descending into things that have been seen before. With Philip, you’re never allowed to. He’s always punching you in the face, basically, and I love being punched in the face by Philip Pullman.”
His Dark Materials Season 2 premieres on BBC in the U.K. on November 8th, and HBO in the U.S. on November 16th.