Back to the ancient world: Atlantis Pilot

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As a fan of Merlin and Misfits I was pretty thrilled to hear about the new Saturday night BBC family drama Atlantis, as it represented a team-up of the creators of both of those shows.

In the first episode, modern boy Jason (Jack Donnelly) is sent back in time after his father went missing. He arrives at the faux-Greek city of Atlantis, where people are being sent as sacrifices to the Minotaur. (Yes, that Minotaur.) He befriends ‘the triangle guy’ Pythagoras (Robert Emms), and a beefy, non-heroic Hercules (Mark Addy). He even shares a few stares with Ariadne (Aiysha Hart), who, in a shocking twist, gives him the thread to help him deal with the Minotaur. And naturally, he has an intense conversation with the Oracle (Juliet Stevenson) who vaguely hints at his great destiny.

To an extent, Atlantis lived up to expectations. The wacky characters, twisted mythology and vague but angsty discussions of destiny are all quintessentially Merlin. The characters work fairly well together, with Emms’ Pythagoras particularly fun to watch. The graphics are pretty decent for a television show, with the two-headed lizard thing being pulled off in style.

2Despite this, Atlantis still doesn’t quite work. The episode contained flaws, such as a rushed conclusion, and a lack of consequences for someone being shot in the arm with an arrow. The beginning of the love story between Ariadne and Jason is deeply clichéd and marginally irritating. The strong friendship between Pythagoras and Jason was pretty swiftly cemented too. These faults however, are common to many pilots, and do not necessarily precede a terrible show.

However, there are a few deeper problems. One that really stood out was the lack of reason for Jason being a 21st-century kid. He has a surprising lack of knowledge about the Minotaur, yet adapted to Atlantis very quickly (although this was partially justified), and apparently will not be missed at home. There had better be a very strong plot reason later on for him to have come from our world then, or this will stand out as pointless.

3Another issue is the mishmash of mythology. Sure, Merlin twisted and tugged at Arthurian legend, but this one episode includes the lost city of Atlantis, Hercules with his Roman name, the Greek myth of the Minotaur, Jason-without-his-Argonauts, and the actual historical figure of Pythagoras. It made it a bit difficult to get a hold on the world. Atlantis also suffers as Jack Donnelly is a fairly forgettable lead, which is partly his fault, and partly the writers’.

As a result of all of this, I came away from the pilot thinking that it was, essentially, daft. This is a shame for a show that aired after 8.00pm, and had been described by creator Capps as starting ‘tonally’ where Merlin left off.* (After 5 series, Merlin had become considerably darker than its light-hearted beginnings.)

However, it may well be a show worth watching in the future. If I can bring myself to care about the characters, it could have a lot to offer. Pilots are often rocky, and this one certainly has potential. At any rate, it certainly makes for fairly enjoyable Saturday evening viewing.

*SFX #240 p58

PHOTOS// Radio Times, BBC