‘The Deep’: Episode 1 review

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BBC One’s latest thriller, The Deep, an updating of the old There’s Something Nasty In The Cellar story, is more suited to a dark and cold winter’s night than a barbeque weather evening. Then again, aquatic creature feature Jaws managed to empty beaches and fill cinemas during the summer of its first release, and perhaps something similar is hoped for here.

Frankly, it’s not promising in the opening few minutes – any opening tension is entirely pulverised by an entirely inappropriate and clanging title sequence, and for rather too long it feels like we’ve accidentally tuned into the graveyard shift on the SyFy channel. But after a while, it settles down a bit as we’re introduced to the plot – James Nesbitt is involved in a mission that, in part at least, aims to discover what happened to his wife six months’ previously when her entire team were quite literally lost at sea. For him, ‘The Deep’ works as metaphor: it’s the grief that threatens to engulf him and cloud his judgement. He’s joined by Minnie Driver as the commander of the mission, giving a performance that’s un-showy and entirely without hyperbole. Initially this is somewhat startling and even frustrating – everyone else in the international cast has some kind of character tic, even if it is just a cute Russian accent, whereas Minnie Driver the submarine driver is left to be coolly cautious, without humour and a stickler for the rules, much like an underwater Ellen Ripley.

And that, of course, is the point: for much of this opening episode, The Deep comes across like a report from someone who once saw a double bill of Alien and The Abyss without realising that they were two different films. A lot of the set up is the same, right down to the sinister and well-spoken individual from a shadowy corporation who knows significantly more about why things are happening than they’re willing to let on.

Being derivative isn’t the worst crime in drama, however, and as long as you can paint in your own colours, it can be actively encouraged. There are a couple of subtle attempts at philosophy: when the characters are quite literally ‘looking into the abyss’, one (seemingly unknowingly) quotes from the book from which that line originates, commenting that the entire crew is about to face something that’s ‘beyond good and evil’. For the most part, however, the dialogue is fresh and believable (except for one clunky moment when Goran Visnjic is forced to tell us that the depths are ‘ .. pitch black .. black as the grave’). It helps, of course, to have the James Nesbitt voice on board here, who can deliver exposition like it’s a romantic come on by way of a classy food advert.

In the end, though, we’re not really given enough time to care about the crew for us to grow unduly concerned about how things may turn out. In a summer where we have reasons enough to turn away from our screens, The Deep might just be a drop in the ocean.

Airs at 9pm on Tuesday 3rd August 2010 on BBC One.