The first show to air as part of BBC Three’s 2010 pilot season (the last of which in 2008 gave us Being Human), Pulse arrives with a style and content that would frankly be better suited to the long dark evenings of winter than the bright and warm evenings of the summer months.
It makes you realise just how important scheduling is as well as anything else in the success of a programme.
Claire Foy plays Hannah, returning to the hospital where she completed her training (‘the suicide capital of the NHS’), after a year of mourning, having lost her mother. She’s visited by the apparition of Mummy, which she dismisses as a reaction to her trauma, until she begins to see other visions, earning her the title of ‘mad old Hannah’.
While her sanity is in question, she’s still targeted as an object of desire by the men around her, albeit with a certain amount of emotional baggage: ‘She’s like a war… a huge investment of time and energy – and years later, you’re still involved’. This, of course, puts Claire in the traditional role of heroine who sees the truth, but to whom everyone else has stopped listening. This is very much a Michael Crichton-style medical paranoia thriller of the 1970s. It even ticks all the boxes of those hoariest of ‘jump’ moments: the sudden appearance of a ghostly figure in the mirror, a young girl being stalked in a corridor calling out ‘this isn’t funny’, and, of course, an attractive woman in a shower while an unwanted presence looks on.
From the pen of Doctor Who and Primeval writer Paul Cornell, this is more Spooks than Holby, with a fair bit of This Life chucked in. In between the grisly, bloody and downright infectious moments, there are a fair few scenes when characters discuss their personal lives over a pint of beer, in a clear attempt to – in more ways than one – get under your skin, not least with the introduction of Jess, Hannah’s best friend, a character so sweetly needy that she seems to be clearly defined as someone who’s unlikely to survive for long if a full series is commissioned.
There’s a real sense of things being put in place in this pilot episode – it’s something of a slow-burner: a drip-feed, if you like. ’You get too involved… you need to keep your distance’’, Hannah is told, and indeed, as yet, this feels a little removed. While the show’s return would be welcome, it’s going to take a few tweaks to really find its pulse.
Airs at 9pm on Thursday 3rd June 2010 on BBC Three.