Richard Mayhew -
The Marquis De Carabas – Paterson Joseph
Mr Croup -
Mr Vandemar -
Old Bailey -
Written by -
Directed by -
OTHER ODD PLACES
NEVERWHERE is a fantasy tale set in a London where Old Bailey is an old man called Bailey, there is a Court overseen by an Earl and the Knight really does have a Bridge. It's an imaginative set up, taking place out of the corner of the eye, in the tunnels under the city, on the rooftops above and the private places where nobody goes. It comes from Neil Gaiman, so the imaginative storytelling ought to be taken for granted and it is rare that the BBC go in for such an off-the-wall fantasy series.
A word of warning, however, because this is a Gaiman tale and it is not for the very youngest of audiences. There is threat and danger and violence at all times and some might find the intensity a bit too much to take. Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar, for example, are two vicious thugs memorably played by Hywel Bennett and Clive Russell. They think nothing of killing, torturing and maiming innocent people. In fact they enjoy that sort of thing and consider themselves to be expert at it and aren't shy about showing it on screen at times. There are sure to have been a few nightmares inspired by these two men.
In fact it is the supporting characters who are the most interesting in NEVERWHERE because they are the most colourful and because the leading couple, Gary Bakewell as Richard and Laura Fraser as Door, are a bit bland. The standout is Paterson Joseph as the Marquis de Carabas, a man whose love of life and joy at manipulating others, not to mention complete narcissism and arrogance are thoroughly entertaining to behold. Peter Capaldi as the Angel Islington also commands the screen when he is on it in his shining holy dress.
At only half an hour an episode, it never outstays its welcome and is always packed with incident and interesting characters set against a backdrop of scavenging and decay. Sometimes the modest TV budget can't quite keep up with the demands of the plotting (the beast of London and the Knightsbridge being the most disappointing), but on the whole this is a romp that looks far better than its budget suggests and just brims with energy and ideas. So much so that it is something of a surprise that no second series ever emerged. That might be because it is too adult for kids and too juvenile for adults and thus fell between two stools, but oh for a few more shows with this much imagination.Top
Richard Mayhew is an ordinary sort of bloke. He's overworked, underappreciated by his girlfriend Jessica and too nice for his own good. On the way to a dinner that Jessica thinks is important, he stops to help a girl who is lying on the street with several bloody scars. When she refuses to go to the hospital, he takes her to his flat where the next morning she reveals herself to be called Door and to come from a realm that lies under London where many of the street names have very different meanings. Chats with a pigeon and rat later, Door leaves, but the sinister pair of Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar are still after her and they appear to be the only people who can see Richard any more.
NEVERWHERE comes from the pen of Neil Gaiman who has a mastery of fantasy with a wicked skew to it and that touch hasn't deserted him in the opening episode of this BBC TV production. It starts with a young girl on the run from a very sinister pair (Hywell Bennett and Clive Russell are seriously the stuff that nightmares are made of) through an impressively shot underworld of pipes and chambers and goes on to introduce an array of imaginative characters. Richard and Door are the straight team, nice enough and certainly attractive, but Paterson Joseph's arrogant, but charming Marquis de Carabas steals every scene that he is in. Joseph is clearly having a ball with the wonderful dialogue that the witty script gives to him and the chance to overplay to the max.
The main problem with NEVERWHERE is who the target audience is meant to be. The scary bits are far too scary for the younger audience whilst the general thrust of the fantasy (and performances) is a little too juvenile and pantomime for many older viewers.
Having said that, there is far too much invention, wit, charm and subversive undercurrents for people not to get a great deal of entertainment out of this.Top
Richard needs to get to the floating market in order to find Door and the Marquis de Carabas in order to make some attempt to get his old life back now that the majority of people in what he considered as the real world don't even notice him anymore. In order to get to the market, he is going to have to cross the Knight's bridge, something that not everyone survives alive.
More of the backstory to NEVERWHERE starts to emerge during this story. Door's family were killed because of their attempting to bring together the warring factions of the London Below into a harmonious whole with the help of the Angel, Islington. Clearly the angel is the one with the answers, so Door determines to hire a bodyguard to help her on her way.
Tanya Moodie as Hunter (the Hunter) is the first piece of miscasting in the show. She is wooden in her delivery and when up against others who are overplaying with gay abandon that fault is brought into strong relief. Fortunately, the rest of the cast continue to chew the clever and funny dialogue with gusto and the plot remains just enough off balance so that you never quite know where it's going to take you next.
Only the trip across the Knight's Bridge, built up as a terrible thing, proves to be a disappointment of a few blurred dreams of a horrible beast that lies imprisoned beneath the city.Top
Earl's Court to Islington
In order to get to the Angel known as Islington, Door and Richard board the tube train that holds the Earl's Court, a train aboard which the Marquis de Carabas is not welcome. Waylaid by Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar, they escape into the British Museum where they must find the entrance to Islington's lair before they are discovered and thrown out by security.
There is just a hint of padding in this episode since half of it takes place inside the Earl's Court tube train to little advancement of the plot, but there is so much atmosphere and entertainment to be had that it really doesn't matter very much. Freddie Jones appears with his trademark mad as a march hare performance as the addled Earl and Stratford Johns is wheeled on apparently pickled in formaldehyde for his brief and pointless performance as Mr Stockton.
The main stars of the show, however, continue to be the remarkable designwork, the clever and witty script and the carefully balanced performances poised on the point of being over the top without ever toppling into just plain silly.Top
The Angel Islington sends Door and Richard to obtain a key from the Blackfriars that will allow him to tell them why Door's family were killed. Of course, it's not as easy as that since Richard has to pass an ordeal that threatens more than just his life. The Marquis de Carabas, meanwhile, finds a trip to see the sinister Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar more perilous than he thought.
This is a patchy episode that combines good and not so good. The ordeal that Richard has to face is interestingly shot with lots of cuts between various views of reality as his sanity is tested to the point of suicide. It's a nice idea, but there isn't really the time to develop it fully, making it rushed and less effective than it might have been.
Once again, Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar prove to be more than just comedy villains and younger viewers might certainly find the scenes of torture a bit on the tough side. Hunter also gains a spear with which to fight the Beast of London that haunts Richard's dreams, but proves to be even more wooden about it than before. Her impassioned speech about the joys of fighting huge supernatural beasts ought to have made the hairs on your arms stand up, but it falls completely flat.
The revelation of the identity of Croup and Vandemar's employer shouldn't come as a shock to anyone, but it's nicely done all the same.Top
Having gained the necessary key from the Blackfriars, Richard, Door and Hunter set off to the lair of the Angel Islington to find out who killed Door's parents. The route is perilous, but no more so than the new guide that Richard has hired to get them there. The recently dead, but feeling better thank you, Marquis de Carabas rejoins them just in time to see Croup and Vandemar kidnap Door and enter into the labyrinth in which lives the fabled Beast of London.
It's quite a shock to see the Marquis de Carabas dead at the hands of the vile Croup and Vandemar, but then nothing is ever quite as it seems in NEVERWHERE. It's obvious from the start, however, that the new guide is up to no good. Other betrayals, however, are more surprising and the price has changed from 40 pieces of silver to 1 spear.
Croup and Vandemar remain sinister creations, it's good to see that Paterson Joseph's Marquis de Carabas remains with us, albeit with his good humour somewhat suppressed (having your throat slit will do that to you), and Gary Bakewell and Laura Fraser remain appealing as the lead couple.
The fabled beast of London though - oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. It's really just a backlit cow and looks like a backlit cow and no amount of directorial misdirection is ever going to make it anything other than a backlit cow. Shame really following all the build up to it.Top
As Above, So Below
With Hunter dead, Richard is now the Warrior. He's also in the clutches of the Angel Islington, along with Door and the Marquis de Carabas. Islington wants the Blackfriars' key to open the door to heaven once more, but he hasn't quite fooled everyone.
Younger audiences may find the casual brutality of this episode somewhat hard to take. Richard's finger is broken with nonchalance by Mr Vandemar and worse tortures are promised.
That said, the plot is finally laid bare, Islington's motivations revealed and everyone gets their just desserts. Of course, not everyone will want their desserts, just or otherwise.
Considering the instalments that have gone before it, this finale is somewhat static. It takes place almost exclusively in Islington's hall of candles and Peter Capaldi dominates proceedings as the ever so slightly unhinged angel. The ending is suitably satisfying, but comes only halfway through the running time and there is a long coda in which Richard returns to his real life to find that things haven't changed, but he has.Top
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