In a disused factory in West London, a woman is having forty winks on a cast iron hospital bed. At least, she would be if she hadn’t just been woken up by a huddle of entertainment press shuffling around the vast set of new Sky One drama Temple. “Oops. That’s our DP,” says executive producer Liza Marshall, herding us back out of the door and quietly drawing it closed. “She’s just having a lie-down in Jamie’s room.”
Jamie, played by newcomer Tobi King Bakare, is a young man in need of urgent help from Temple’s Daniel and Lee, a “chalk and cheese” pair who come together to operate an illegal medical unit under the streets of London. Played by Mark Strong and Daniel Mays, the characters are loosely based on the roles of Ravn and Leif in Norwegian thriller Valkyrien, from which Temple is adapted. One’s a successful surgeon and recent widower, the other’s an end-of-the-world prepper obsessed with chaos theory.
“He’s somebody who’s a bit off-centre,” Mays says of his character Lee. “He’s very much somebody who doesn’t have a standing in the world up there. This whole adventure that he’s on gives him purpose, probably the most he’s experienced in his whole life.”
There’s an odd couple dynamic between Lee and Daniel that pays real dramatic dividends in Temple. “In terms of their social standings, they’re poles apart,” Mays explains. “He’s high-flying, successful … whereas I’m a bit of a loner. They would never normally get on.”
They get on because they need each other, Strong explains. “It’s a gorgeous relationship.”
It’s a gorgeous set. Housed in the 45,000 square foot basement of a former cereal factory in Southall, a series of brick tunnels have been recreated leading into a huge wood-clad central chamber, not unlike a TARDIS interior. Mays describes it in terms of theatre scenery, calling it the most impressive set he’s worked on.
In the world of the show, these winding tunnels modelled on the real-life disused Aldwych London underground tunnels are located in the depths below Temple tube station. In the real world, they’re on the lower floor of the former headquarters for Honey Monster Food Ltd, a cereal factory that closed abruptly in 2016 leaving behind some eerie souvenirs, says Marshall.
“It was like a zombie apocalypse,” the producer tells us. “It was overgrown. The windows were broken. There was a tasting laboratory with overturned test tubes, and mice and rats and pigeon shit everywhere.” When Marshall moved into her office, it came with “a weird art installation” – a filthy, full-sized Honey Monster costume sprawled empty on the floor. “It’s really scary being here at night,” she laughs, “it’s like murder central.”
It’s a scary space, but a useful one. The factory’s canteen has been repurposed for the shoot, as have its corridors and offices – done up to play a hospital and a police station. The Sugar Puff tasting lab is now costume and make-up. There’s even a slagheap outside that’s made its way into the show.
Unfortunately it’s all being flattened, Marshall tells us, “to build houses.” If Temple goes to a second series as planned, they’ll have to re-erect the set – which took three to four months to build – somewhere new.
That somewhere new will be in London, says Marshall. After spotting the potential for an English-language take on the Norwegian original, this whole project came from wanting to film in the capital. Fresh from producing Taboo, a twisted take on Regency London starring Tom Hardy, Marshall was drawn to the idea of putting the city’s weirder recesses on screen. “Here’s normal life,” says Marshall, holding one hand out flat, “and just underneath,” she wiggles the fingers of her other hand, “crazy shit’s happening.” The wiggly fingers are the space in which Temple exists.
“It’s quite a high concept idea but it is really rooted in reality,” Marshall continues. In pre-production, the team discovered that London is full of abandoned underground locations and unexpected spaces. There are play pits and hidden rivers, says Marshall, a hydroponic garden at Clapham North where they grow “weird Japanese kale and poncey salad.” The unmanned electric train that used to deliver the post to Clerkenwell has been turned into a ride. Underneath the city was the perfect setting for Temple’s heightened story.
The show itself is tricky to categorise, everybody agrees. “It’s a love story and it’s a thriller,” says Mays. “But running through the whole thing is this sense of dark comedy, [his character] Lee embodies a lot of that.”
“It’s got some black humour at times,” admits Marshall, but stresses that Temple is a drama, not a comedy. She also emphasises that it’s not a patient-of-the-week medical drama. Don’t expect an underground Holby City. The first series’ eight episodes tell an ongoing, escalating story that “just gets more and more extreme,” says Mark Strong. His character is put through the moral and ethical wringer, and ends up somewhere that is “definitely not where he expected he would be.”
The strangeness of the Norwegian original was part of the attraction, says Strong, who has his first producer role in Temple. That show was described as ‘beyond Nordic Noir’, which he says is a good assessment. “It’s not a serial killer and it’s not dark, it’s actually the opposite. It takes everything that’s good about Scandinavian TV – which is that heightened world that they create.”
The Norwegian original was a jumping-off point, says Marshall, for writer Mark O’Rowe, whose previous work includes acclaimed Andrew Garfield drama Boy A. Entirely new characters Keith and Mercy have been created, played by Line Of Duty’s Craig Parkinson and Luther’s Wunmi Mosaku. They join a cast that includes Game Of Thrones’ Carice Van Houten as a former colleague of Milton and Cursed’s Lily Newmark as his daughter Eve.
Writer Mark O’Rowe, with whom Marshall worked on Boy A, is a really idiosyncratic voice who has made Temple his own, she says. At heart, this strange, indefinable series is about extraordinary things going on beneath the surface of ordinary lives. And it’s about love, says Strong. “We’ve made the story really about love.”
Temple starts this Friday at 9pm on Sky One. All eight episodes will be available to stream from the 13th of September.