Reworking Greek myth, this is a world where monsters are real and devotion to the gods is of paramount importance. Much store is placed in the pronouncements of The Oracle (Juliet Stephenson), who provides obfuscating predictions to both our heroes and the villains.
Visually the show can be stunning. For the most part the CGI creations, which are few and far between, are well rendered and the sun-drenched Moroccan location filming adds a sense of scale to proceedings, none more so than in the desert treks of ‘The Furies’.
The three principals provide the core of the story, with Mark Addy’s Hercules easily dominating. His larger than life persona is at times undercut with some believable pathos – this is a wannabe hero who has failed to life up to his hype. Though outwardly a coward, the series sees him become a credible romantic lead as he pursues Medusa (Jemima Rooper) and capable of the ultimate self-sacrifice. With the ingenious Pythagoras (Robert Emms), the two make an enjoyably watchable odd couple.
Jason is more problematic; ostensibly hailing from the present day, his outsider’s perspective is soon lost to generic lovelorn heroics. A few occasions contrive to give us a knowing double-take on a familiar name like Medusa or Oedipus, but there is little to convince us of his status as a modern man displaced.
In the Royal Court, we are provided with some pleasing arch-villainy on the part of Queen Pasiphae (Sarah Parish) who lives a double life, murdering and manipulating in order to achieve her own ends. Sadly, King Minos (Alexander Siddig) seems somewhat underused but his daughter Ariadne (Aiysha Hart) has her moments. Towards the end of the series, as tensions rise and lives are under threat, the simmering sexual tension between her and Jason convinces.
Attracting some genuinely starry guest appearances, such as Robert Lindsay, Donald Sumpter, Anton Lesser and John Hannah as Jason’s father, the show was confidently granted a second series after only a few episodes.
At its best, in episodes like ‘Twist of Fate’, ‘The Rules of Engagement’ and ‘Pandora’s Box’, the show strikes a good balance between the comic and the dramatic, allowing real investment in these character’s fates. With some genuinely unexpected revelations in the finale, plus the introduction of characters like Dedalus and the huntress Atalanta, we look forward to the second series.
If Jason makes good on his vow to defy the gods and refuses to kill Medusa, it seems he might then have to help Atlantis itself avoid a watery fate. We look forward to watching him try!
Extras: Sadly there are no commentaries and only a single special feature on this set. A 30-minute ‘Behind the Scenes’ feature shows cast and crew passing comment on their series and their involvement in it. Despite a few mentions of the casting process, there is little that is revelatory here and it is watchable, if mostly inconsequential fluff.
Released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 10 February 2014 by BBC Worldwide.
Watch the Atlantis launch trailer…
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