TV Review: Atlantis Series 1

Series 1 of Atlantis proves so much better than I remember, only fitting for a show that puts Juliet Stevenson in primetime

“Keep praying, the chances are we’re all going to die”

I don’t really remember watching Atlantis at the time, though I’m sure I must have done. Arriving on BBC 1 in 2013 as the latest attempt to recapture the Doctor Who early Saturday evening crowd, show creators Johnny Capps, Julian Murphy and Howard Overman sought to use some of their Merlin magic to reinvigorate tales of Greek mythology.

And to my surprise, Series 1 is actually really rather good fun. An incongruous beginning sees a present-day Jason (Jack Donnelly) washed up in ancient Atlantis after a submarine accident and never once is this mentioned again. Instead, he quickly assimilated into Atlantean society with the help of Pythagoras (a nerdy Robert Emms) and Hercules (Mark Addy in amusing form).

It uses the adventure-of-the-week format that is so familiar but manages to keep a consistently interesting spin on things by introducing multiple long-running story strands. Sarah Parish is brilliant as evil queen and key villain Pasiphae but she is used sparingly, her designs on the throne not always front and centre which offers the chance for variety in the stories being told.

WIth such a rich cast of characters to choose from, there’s then a delightful capers which brush up against what we think we might know. The likes of the Minotaur, Oedipus, Circe and Daedalus appear with varying degrees of engagement. But best of all is Jemima Rooper’s Medusa, allowed her own series-long arc to give her a kind of origin story which is heartachingly effective.

Throw in Juliet Stevenson and gnomic utterances as the Oracle and I found the whole thing to be hugely enjoyable and rather moving too, as Jason wrestles with his knowledge of Medusa’s ultimate fate, and as he edges closer to an understanding of his mysterious family origins that explain just a little of why he has ended up where he has. An unexpected lockdown treat.

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