Atlantis: The Earth Bull

The first episode of the new series from the makers of Merlin.

In the new show from the team that produced Merlin, we find a smorgasboard of mythic heroes and villains all within the same walls of the legendary city. While the previous series confined itself largely to variations on a particular story, Atlantis seems set on raiding any number of different sources hence we find Jason, Hercules, Pythagoras and the Minotour all residing here in the opening episode `The Earth Bull`. Broadcast at the comparatively late 8.25pm there are scant pickings in Howard Overman’s script to whet the appetite of adult viewers, yet amidst the roaring monsters and hectic chases not quite enough to engage the attention of the younger ones. It’s going to be a hard sell.
Mark was jealous of his co-star's wigs

As a scene setter it works well enough with a surprising gambit of opening in the present day where Jason is searching for his father and his sub ends up being sucked through a strange light into the past. We learn virtually nothing about him before this happens and he adjusts to this snag in the day rather too quickly spoiling potential fish out of water scenarios that could keep us amused for weeks. By the episode’s end he has pretty much single handedly managed to do what dozens of Atlanteans have failed to achieve and slain the Minotour. 

Written without much to inspire by Overman and played blandly by Jack Donnelly, Jason’s a difficult hero to root for. It is hardly the actors’ fault that he has such uninspiring dialogue yet he seems to lack the mischievous side that made Colin Morgan so good in Merlin. Much more fun are the Laurel and Hardy antics of Mark Addy and Robert Emms. As a boastful but lazy Hercules, Addy brings presence to the show and has great chemistry with Emms’ clumsy but intelligent Pythagoras “the triangle guy”. Two of my favourite actors, it’s great to see they work so well together.  They make the episode a lot more engaging than it would otherwise be, with everyone else is in very serious mode indeed including Alexander Siddig as the king. I’m sure I’ve seen him play exactly the same role elsewhere.

Visually matters are excellent with some superb locations really conjuring up a sense of time and place. Like last year’s Sinbad series, you can almost feel the stifling heat and smell the dust. There is certainly a scale to the place that impresses and also some exciting action sequences whilst the scenes inside the labyrinth add a much needed layer of tension. Great Minotaur too for all the twenty seconds or so we get to see it. Shame we don’t see more of one of the best visualisations of a much seen monster and its worth waiting for its brief appearance.

You should never judge a new series by its opening episode of course but the content of `The Earth Bull` suggests matters could go either way. It’s difficult to see how the writers can sustain anything more than a parade of re-worked incidents from mythical history unless there are plans to diversity. It could be that the very city of Atlantis will be the largest stumbling block to the show, confining the characters in one place. And, unlike Camelot, Atlantis has nothing like the hold on our imaginations. Chalk it up as a `perhaps` and let’s see what unfurls over the next two or three weeks in which time we will sense whether this is a series that will soar or, like the legend it’s titled after, sink without trace.

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