The Deep episode 1: To The Furthest Place review

Mark wonders if The Deep is destined ever to resurface as the new submarine drama series with surpernatural undercurrents debuts…

1. To The Furthest Place

A good submarine drama is hard to find. For every Crimson Tide or Red October there are a dozen Raise The Titanic‘s, to my assessment. But then, as The Deep is a five part TV series, perhaps I’d be better drawing comparisons with Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and Seaquest DSV. In this respect, the upside of The Deep was that we got spared the epilogue by Bob Ballard, or synchronised simulated inertia, but not much else.

It started with an ill-fated expedition to investigate some thermal vents, which ends with the loss of the DSV Hermes and all her crew. Six months later, a new sub is ready to suffer the same fate, and for complete symmetry, they’ve made sure that the widower of one of the Hermes team is onboard. Only in fiction.

That’s the part they’ve given to James Nesbitt, who, as depressed engineer Clem Donnelly is pretty much typecast. Less predictably, they’ve put him alongside Minnie Driver as the sub’s captain, Frances Kelly, and then the other key character is the married marine biologist she’s shagging, Samson Ungliss (Goran Visnjic).

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There are some other people onboard the Orpheus, but they’re clearly the disposable ones.

Why they’re going to this dangerous place isn’t really explained in a way that I found satisfactory, other than it might save the world, somehow. But then it wasn’t long after the Orpheus got underway that I realised I’d seen this plot before, and I liked it much better when James Cameron directed it.

What started off as rather odd exposition by the characters explaining various aspects of the sub operations became a rather painful exercise in the writers detailing what they’re learned about submersibles, the rules onboard and the technology involved. Except, as it went on, my conclusion was that they didn’t really understand this subject, causing large holes to form in the plot when things inevitably got dramatic.

They seem to get hypoxia confused with nitrogen narcosis, and the whole design of the submarine seemed entirely impractical. The Orpheus was given a ‘moon pool’, presumably because the writer loved The Abyss, but that was possible in that scenario, because the saturation diving platform was anchored to the sea bed. It would seem a very bad idea in a sub because it can roll, but also because, by its very nature, it would mean that the sub would need to be perfectly pressurised to the external depth like a diving bell.

OK, maybe I’m taking an excessive technical viewpoint, but then I’m not the one who quickly thumbed through Submarines 101 before penning this.

My research tells me that the deepest anyone has ever gone unpressurised is about 2,300 feet down, which is, curiously, the depth the hydro-thermal vents in this are placed, though in underwater terms this is hardly ‘the deep’.

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When we get down there, it doesn’t take long for people to have their lives threatened, one by stupidly short air supplies on his mini-sub, but also by the temperature of the water columns venting around them. And then there’s the ‘big thing’ that everyone sees but can’t describe with any certainty other than it’s ‘big’.

The tension is cranked up when the skipper’s bed warmer is about to croak, although, given that he’s one of the three known actors in this, I wasn’t remotely worried for him. Someone had to die, obviously, so they dispensed with minor character Maddy (Antonia Thomas), who we’d already realised was the dumbest submariner within a circumference of 20,000 leagues.

I could also mention the muddy looking CGI, which wasn’t rendered at high enough quality for the HD screening, the exceptionally bad acting of some lesser characters, and the by-the-numbers reworking of old plots.

Unless this suddenly grows a brain, or perhaps introduces the squid of depression, I’m afraid to say that it’s already sunk without a trace. It made me wish James Nesbitt had done another series of Jekyll, because in this he’s, so far, utterly wasted.

The Deep is airing on BBC1 Tuesdays at 9pm.