For most of the six episode run time of The Devil’s Hour, created by Tom Moran and co-exec produced by Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue, it is not entirely clear what the hell is even going on. Lucy (Jessica Raine) is having nightmares about things that never happened and visions of tragedies yet to occur. Her son Isaac is a strange little boy who repeats back things said to him, has multiple imaginary friends and displays no emotion ever – he’s not autistic, he’s not schizophrenic and the latest in the line of doctors working with Lucy and Isaac (played by Meera Syal) doesn’t know what’s wrong with him either.
Meanwhile, somewhere, sometime, Lucy is in a room with strange old man Gideon (Peter Capaldi). She has bruises all over her face, and he is handcuffed to the table. “What’s the worst thing that you have ever experienced?” he asks. The answer to that question and many, many more are not revealed until the final episode.
It’s a blessing and a curse. For a high profile and genuinely creepy mystery it keeps the audience guessing right til the end, making The Devil’s Hour extremely compulsive viewing. On the downside, it means the final episode is incredibly exposition heavy, cramming in solutions, metaphysics, massive themes, philosophy and more, mostly delivered from that room in episode one. It’s a lot.
In fact, The Devil’s Hour as a whole, is a lot. What’s up with Isaac? Why is Lucy waking every night at 3.33? Who is the driver of the mysterious red van? Throw in two child abductions many years apart, a handful of murders, gang warfare, a love story and a family dispute, ghosts (or not), Lucy’s sick mother, and an incredibly bleak world view and you have a very ambitious show that spins too many plates, and gets its shoelaces tied up in the multiple plot threads. Which is not to say this isn’t a good show – it’s glossy, the dialogue is well-written and the cast, for the most part, shines.
Raine gives a very game and increasingly frantic performance, never sadder than when she’s relentlessly trying to raise a smile from her strange and plaintive child, doing voices, making up songs, telling jokes and forcing her own laughter to try to elicit his. It’s for nothing. Praise should be given to young Benjamin Chivers, who plays Isaac – though his directive is basically don’t react and look sad, he does so in a way that makes him frightening and sympathetic in equal measure, and Lucy’s desperation to love him no matter what takes on an air of tragedy.
Phil Dunster, aka Ted Lasso’s Jamie Tartt is suitably charming/smarmy as Isaac’s estranged father Mike, while Nikesh Patel, who plays DI Ravi Dhillon, the cop trying to solve multiple cases whose path eventually crosses with Lucy, is a charismatic straight man guiding the audience through the slowly unfolding plots.
Peter Capaldi, however, is a bit underused. While his mysterious character is obviously key, he spends a great deal of time sitting at that table being enigmatic and explaining things, or not adequately explaining them, depending on which episode you are up to. Post Doctor Who, it’s nice to see him taking on a villainous (or is he?) role, but he doesn’t have a massive amount to actually do.
So ultimately The Devil’s Hour is only a partial success – clever, high concept and intriguing but not fully able to explore the big ideas at its core, opting instead to maintain the mystery until the end. We would say it would have benefited from another couple of episodes once the full truth is out there but sadly, we suspect the logic may have unraveled if looked at too deeply. Still, if you watch it with your mates there’s going to be a load to talk about after…
The Devil’s Hour is available to stream on Prime Video.