Nudged closer to Christmas by Doctor Who, it has been the best part of a year since we last visited Atlantis.
The show’s team have promised change, with star Jack Donnelly (Jason) revealing: “It’s not the follow-up you would expect. They really have reinvented it. In every single way they could change it, I think they have. And I think the show is better for it, if I’m honest.”
One of those changes, straight off the bat is a lack of a watery opening sequence – instead, Season 2’s opening episode opts to herald the show’s return with the more sombre drum beats of a King’s funeral. However, there is little time for grieving as the newly crowned Queen Ariadne despatches Jason, Pythagoras and Hercules on a rescue mission to the besieged city of Thera – under attack by Pasiphae’s forces.
Proving themselves with some well-handled action, the trio successfully return a nobleman, Lord Sarpedon (Robert Pugh – Game of Thrones’ Craster) to Atlantis, where he is promptly installed as the new royal advisor. He is not the only new face as we are also introduced to Dion (Vincent Regan), head of the Palace guard and Medea, a daring thief who achieves an escape worthy of Jason himself – taking with her a rather important magical statue.
There has been plenty made of Atlantis‘ aim for a more adult tone this year, befitting its 8.30pm timeslot, and it seems to be paying off. The battle action has clearly gone up a notch, with more sword play, bows and arrows and notably, a distinct lack of Jason’s acrobatics. As Jack Donnelly noted: “It’s far more hand-to-hand sword fighting combat. There wasn’t a week that went past that didn’t have a sword fight.” Indeed, we counted three in the opening episode alone!
The banter between the three male leads remains, albeit toned down and we enjoyed the reassertion of the trio’s friendship in the opener. In its place, we enjoy some consideration of Jason’s character, as the other two ponder his heroic nature and why they follow him into such dangerous situations.
In fact, when those honourable instincts come back to bite him and we cannot help but wonder if they really have the stomach for the work Queen Ariadne is asking of them?
We are promised less of a “buddy story” and “much darker, much more action-packed, stories”, filling in the detail of the world around the city. Robert Addy (Hercules) implies there has been a tweak to the format, saying: “Last year the episodes stood alone and told their own little story but this has a much bigger arc and it leaves you wanting to find out what’s going to happen next.”
Meanwhile Queen Ariadne seems to have stepped up to her new role as monarch, mastering the pensive looks and aloof demeanour that befits her station. Aiysha Hart promises a welcome deepening in complexity: “The characters are more layered, their relationships are more complex. They’re more flawed, they’re not as simplistic as last year.” Jason/Ariadne shippers need not feat though, she still manages the odd wistful look in Jason’s direction.
For his part, our hero seems of a mind to embrace his destiny this year, something he was previously railing against, and it is all for the better. Ending on a cliffhanger, Atlantis seems to have carried forward what is was good at, namely swordplay, romance and doom-laden prophecy, and jettisoned some of the broader comic elements like Hercules’ drunken antics.
More focussed on practical action, we are told there will be far fewer CGI creations at large. To be honest, this suits us fine as Sarah Parish’s terrific scene-chewing villainy carries more menace than a hundred animators could ever achieve!
Season 2 begins at 8.30pm on Saturday 15 November 2014 on BBC One.
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