The superhero genre may be taking up residence in cinemas for the foreseeable, and Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead are leading US TV’s genre output, but what can fans of UK sci-fi and fantasy look forward to seeing on television over the next year?
There’s Doctor Who of course, which appears to be in rude health and going nowhere, a Christmas Special from Black Mirror, and a hint of new Red Dwarf on its way. (And of course, if there’s anything like justice in the world, the terrific In The Flesh will be recommissioned for a third series.)
If though, you’re thirsting for something new, 2015 is promising to deliver a handful of geek TV gems. We’ve scoured the new UK commission announcements for anything spooky, supernatural or sci-fi and found a few potential new-favourites. Some are definitely happening and some are still hanging in the balance, but here’s what we know so far about 2015’s new raft of geek-skewed UK TV commissions…
UPDATE: Jekyll & Hyde
It’s been seven years since Steven Moffat’s BBC One modern ‘sequel’ to Robert Louis Stevenon’s The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, time enough for ITV to want to have a pop at the property. A new ten-part drama series written by Charlie Higson (The Young James Bond series, The Fast Show, The Enemy) and directed by Colin Teague (Being Human, The Town, Sinbad) is due to begin filming this January, and expected to air in autumn 2015.
Higson’s update on the original sees the grandson of the first Dr Jekyll in 1930s London attempting to cope with his inherited transformations into his own ‘Mr Hyde’, a creature with superhuman abilities. And he won’t be the only non-human character to appear, by the sounds of it. “Ghouls, zombies, werewolves and vampires” will also feature in Jekyll & Hyde, which is being described as an action-adventure series.
You can read more about the drama, for which casting is yet to be announced, here. Colour us excited.
In the stead of Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander and Ben Richard’s The Tunnel, both UK dramas adapted from Swedish originals, is Channel 4’s Humans. The eight-part sci-fi series, due to air on Channel 4 in the UK and AMC in the US in 2015, is based on award-winning Swedish drama Real Humans and set in a parallel present in which life-like robots, or ‘Synths’, are the latest must-have household accessory.
According to the official blurb, Humans tells the story of several uncanny Synths and the disquieting role they play in this sci-fi world. There’s domestic servant Anita, who’s owned by a busy suburban family; there’s out-of-date Synth Odi, a surrogate son for his widower owner; and there’s an “NHS-funded overbearing carer Synth” (played – how good does this sound? – by The Thick Of It‘s Rebecca Front).
The cast amassed for Humans is particularly inviting, and includes Front, William Hurt, Katherine Parkinson, Colin Morgan, Neil Maskell (RIP Arby), Tom Goodman-Hill and Gemma Chan.
Humans was written by Spooks’ Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley, and produced by Kudos (Utopia, Broadchurch). So far, this one’s top of our must-see list.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Here’s one we’ve been looking forward to since it was announced in late 2013: the BBC’s adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s weighty fantasy historical, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Our dream casting for the lead roles may have been Derek Jacobi and Damien Lewis back then, but when Eddie Marsan and Bertie Carvel were announced as playing Norrell and Strange respectively, you heard no complaints from these quarters. Just look at that first image of the pair above. The early signs on this one are looking terrifically good.
Clarke’s alternate history novel won a Hugo Award upon publication in 2004 and tells the story of an early nineteenth-century England in which magic exists but has been largely forgotten. That is, until a young recluse (Norrell) displays some remarkable magical skills, kick-starting an expansive period tale of a society in flux, fairies, war, and living, breathing magic.
The team behind it looks more than encouraging too. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has been adapted by Peter Harness (Doctor Who: Kill The Moon) and directed by fellow Who alumnus Toby Haynes (Sherlock:The Reichenbach Fall). It stars Marsan, Carvel, Alice Englert, Marc Warren, Samuel West, Paul Kaye and Charlotte Riley. The series was filmed in Yorkshire, Croatia and Canada, and will air on BBC One in the UK and BBC America in the US. As soon as an air date is confirmed, we’ll pass it on.
Midwinter Of The Spirit
Midwinter Of The Spirit is the second in Phil Rickman’s series of Merrily Watkins novels, which revolve around the paranormal mystery adventures of a widowed Anglican priest in a small English town. ITV has commissioned a three-part drama based on the novel for its Encore channel, and has nabbed The Awakening and Ghostwatch writer Steven Volk to pen the adaptation.
Watkins works as an exorcist, and according to the press release, in this story “her knowledge of the paranormal underworld brings her to the notice of local police who need her advice in the investigation of a grisly murder”. A tale of murder, Satanists, evil that doesn’t die and a twist-filled police investigation, Midwinter Of The Spirit is being sold as an “intriguing and spiritually frightening” “potentially returnable crime drama with a supernatural twist”. We haven’t been spiritually frightened in an age. Colour us interested.
Filming is due to begin on the drama in April 2015, and as yet, no casting has been announced. Who would we like to see play a female exorcist priest investigating twisted murders? Suranne Jones? Sheridan Smith? Sophie Okonedo? Keeley Hawes?
UPDATE: Alt is now Tripped, a four-part comedy drama commission for E4 from the writers of BBC crime series The Missing, Harry and Jack Williams. The Inbetweeners‘ Neil, aka Blake Harrison, will star opposite newcomer George Webster.
Jamie Mathieson’s two debut Doctor Who episodes – series eight’s Mummy On The Orient Express and Flatline – quickly established him as a hit amongst fans of the show, and with any luck, the writer of many more episodes in future. A new sci-fi comedy from him then (also the writer behind 2009 feature Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel) is cause for celebration.
The pilot for ALT was announced as filming at the beginning of this year, but news has since dried up on the status of the sci-fi sitcom. It revolved around two friends, Danny and Milo (played by Gethin Anthony and Craig Roberts), who find themselves transported to a parallel world where danger, assassins and a generally head-scratching experience awaits them. Jason Flemyng, Roxanne McKee and Arsher Ali also appear in the pilot.
The show was mooted as a potential replacement for Misfits on E4, but we’ve not been able to find out a great deal about it since and are currently waiting for news from the channel.
Rivers Of London
News has gone quiet of late on the highly exciting prospect of a TV adaptation of Ben Aaronovitch’s fantasy crime novel Rivers Of London since its announcement in summer 2013, but it’s believed that the cogs on this one are slowly turning.
The first in a series of Aaronovitch’s novels, Rivers Of London tells the story of Metropolitan PC Peter Grant, and a murder enquiry that puts him in the path of the last wizard in England, Inspector Nightingale. It’s exactly the combination of supernatural and crime drama that UK commissioners seem to be signing off on at the moment, and we await its arrival with genuine anticipation.
Aaronovitch’s TV work include 90s sci-fi series Jupiter Moon and a pair of Sylvester McCoy Doctor Who stories: Remembrance Of The Daleks and Battlefield. Once again, we’ll be sure to keep you posted on this one as soon as official news arrives.
Len Deighton’s 1978 alternative history thriller SS-GB takes place in a version of England invaded and occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. Set in 1941, it focuses on homicide detective superintendent Douglas Archer, who becomes involved in a murder investigation that goes on to have far-reaching consequences for the future of England, Germany and the United States. Scotland Yard detective Archer faces the dilemma of whether to collaborate or join the resistance.
The BBC is developing a five-part adaptation of Deighton’s novel, written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, the acclaimed writers of the most recent Bond films from The World Is Not Enough to Skyfall.
It’s too early for casting news as yet on this one, as the announcement was only made this week. It looks like it could be a blinder for thriller fans though.
The Frankenstein Chronicles
Another one heading to ITV Encore here. Six-part series The Frankenstein Chronicles was announced earlier this month, following in the wake of Penny Dreadful’s layered reworking of the Frankenstein story.
This is another detective drama-meets-supernatural-thriller (those seem to be quite popular), this time about Detective John Marlott, a man who fights crime whilst facing the “diabolical foe” from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The best news of course is that character-death-magnet Sean Bean has been cast in the lead role as Marlott. We like Sean Bean.
The commission, according to Broadcast, follows comments from ITV drama controller Steve November that he was looking for six-part original series containing horror, fantasy and supernatural elements that were “British, accessible and largely optimistic”, disregarding pitches about “grizzled detectives, dead prostitutes and abused women”. Er, depending on how this one goes, it doesn’t sound a world away from that last bit. Time will tell though.
Here’s a paranormal story skewed towards a younger audience. Tatau is the first drama series to be commissioned for BBC Three since the terrific (and well-deserving of a third series. Have we mentioned that?) In The Flesh. It’s an eight-part series that began filming in the Cook Islands and New Zealand in September 2014.
Tatau follows a pair of twenty-something friends from London, Kyle and Pete (played by Joe Layton and Theo Barklam-Biggs) who go backpacking in the Southern Hemisphere. Before they set off, Kyle gets a Maori-style tattoo that causes all kinds of odd looks when they get to their Cook Islands destination. Once there, all manner of dark supernatural happenings ensue, including the discovery of a dead body, somehow linked to Kyle’s spooky tattoo…
The Living And The Dead
From the writers of Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes comes an original BBC One and BBC America co-production, The Living And The Dead. This one’s a period horror set in 1888, centring on gentleman farmer Nathan Appleby, and his obsession with proving the existence of the afterlife. Appleby’s research into paranormal visitations and the occult begins to bleed into his family life, posing a threat to his livelihood and sanity, according to the official press release.
The Living And The Dead comes written by Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham and will begin filming in the west country in 2015. No casting has yet been announced for the project. As a BBC Worldwide co-production, though, our US chums will be able to see it when it arrives.
ITV2 continues its push into scripted comedy with Cockroaches, a six-part sitcom set against a post-apocalyptic backdrop.
Hunderby’s Daniel Lawrence Taylor and Skins’ Esther Smith play two nineteen-year-olds who engage in we’re-all-about-to-die-sex when nuclear war strikes, only to unexpectedly survive for the next ten years. Cockroaches follows Tom and Suze as twenty-nine year olds emerging from their shelter for the first time in a decade and wandering England’s post-apocalyptic land.
In addition to the lead cast, you can also expect appearances from Nigel Planer, Jaime Winston, Caroline Quentin, and Dan Renton-Skinner. Something tells us this might be worth seeking out.
Autumn 2013 was the first we heard of Legion, UKTV’s first original drama commission, in development for Watch in the UK. Since then, word has been thin on the ground, but we’ve every hope that the supernatural drama written by Tony Jordan (Life On Mars, Hustle, Eastenders) and developed by his Red Planet indie production company, is still on its way.
Described by Life On Mars creator Jordan as “the ultimate passion project, the one that has sat in my bottom drawer just waiting for the right time and place for this story to be told”, Legion is a supernatural drama about a father who makes a deal with the Devil. To save his ten-year-old daughter’s life, criminologist Nathan Jones ends up fighting the Devil’s work and unravelling ancient revelations.
Legion has yet to go into production, but we’ll keep you posted on any developments as they’re announced.
The Last Kingdom
From the creator of Sharpe, Bernard Cornwell, comes historical series The Last Kingdom. Fair dos, this one isn’t technically sci-fi or fantasy, but it slots in so well alongside other geek fare, we couldn’t well leave it off this list.
Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series of novels start in the year 872, when much of England has fallen to invading Vikings and only the kingdom of Wessex remains under the command of Alfred the Great. The novels follow the life of Uhtred, a young man born the son of a Saxon nobleman, but orphaned and raised by Vikings and thus forced to choose between his ancestry and his upbringing.
Carnival Films, who make ITV’s glossy Downton Abbey are on board to produce this eight-part series (well, eight parts with an eye to more, we’d assume based on the scope of the source material), a joint production with BBC America.
According to the official blurb, the TV drama will combine “real historical figures and events with fictional characters creating a story of how a people combined their strength under one of the most iconic kings of history in order to reclaim their land for themselves and build a place they call home”. The BBC promises it’s going to be epic, “with all the scale and intrigue of the best fantasy stories but the reality of fact.”
Stephen Butchard (Good Cop, House Of Saddam) is adapting Cornwell’s work for screen. No cast has yet been announced for the series, so there’s still time for Cornwell fans to play fantasy casting.
UPDATE: The cast has been announced and now includes: Alexander Dreymon, Rutger Hauer, Matthew Macfadyen, Ian Hart, David Dawson, Joseph Millson, Emily Cox, Tobias Santelmann, Thomas W. Gabrielsson, Peter Gantzler, Alexandre Willaume, Rune Temte, and Henning Valin Jakobson. Principal photography began on Monday the 24th of November 2014.
Read more about The Last Kingdom on Den Of Geek, here.
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