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His Dark Materials Season 1 Episode 1 Review

November 5, 2019
5 min read

“With every child’s nightmare, there is an element of truth.” And in every story meant for children, there is a message that resonates with grown-ups. While some writers make it vague or tone it down too much for an adult’s taste, Phillip Pullman managed to whip up a story that has strong elements of science, religion and humanity. The incredible world, or worlds (as it will become clear later), that he has sketched out in the His Dark Materials series which stretches further to sequels and prequels, hide meaningful discussions in the guise of fantasy elements. And to bring such a story to the screen is a challenge, one that the BBC and HBO have tried to overcome together.’

His Dark Materials Season 1 Episode 1 Recap

The story begins with a 12-year-old girl named Lyra Belaqua, who lives in the Jordan College, raised by the Scholars in whose care she was left by her uncle when she was an infant. She grows up to be a troublemaker, though never with any ill intentions. Her constant companion is her daemon, Pantalaimon. With the return of her uncle, Lord Asriel, who comes bearing gifts from the North, Lyra discovers about a mysterious element called Dust. Meanwhile, children have been disappearing from Oxford, and the Gyptians have decided to take some action because the authorities wouldn’t. The term “Gobblers” jumps around quite a bit, but no one is sure who they are, and everyone is scared. The people who are supposed to look into the matter are busy worrying about Lord Asriel’s quest in the North. The rules in Lyra’s world are designed and controlled by the Magisterium, and they are frightened by what secrets her uncle will reveal to the world. 

His Dark Materials Season 1 Episode 1 Review

Staying true to the source material, as possibly as it can without extending the budget any further, ‘His Dark Materials‘ offers a promising start to what is a wondrous journey taken by Lyra. The fans of the book series will notice certain changes, not just in the matter of the plots and scenes, but also in the way they had imagined the world while reading the novel. While some things could be considered outright “heresy” (because where are everyone else’s daemons), such decisions of the showrunners are understandable. Perhaps, they will come up with some proper explanation that satisfies the fans. 

One thing that the series seems to have gotten right is the characterisation of the different personalities that appear in the story. James McAvoy‘s Lord Asriel is fierce and intimidating and yet exciting and alluring. His arrogance and roughness, especially when it comes to Lyra, is something to markdown. In a similar manner, Ruth Wilson gives an apt portrayal of Mrs Coulter, sweet, charming and attractive, and yet, not to be trusted, at least, not according to the Master. Dafne Keen, who had already made an impression with her performance in ‘Logan’, shines as Lyra. She brings out her wildness, conviction and playfulness, and her childish innocence in a way that you can’t imagine anyone else playing the role. Though she does have a different physical appearance than the Lyra of the books, it is the spirit of the character that matters more. 

Despite shifting the Victorian aura of the Dark Materials world, the series does a good job of bringing out the essence of the story, emphasising on all the important and what is considered controversial about the book. A sleek look in place of a subtly gothic shade has been adopted, but still, the show manages to capture the vibe of Lyra’s world. This might seem an insignificant detail at the time, but such things are bound to come into play when the series moves forward. 

The one thing that they need to get right is the pacing. In the matter of an hour, the first episode jumps from one scene to another, trying to get as much into the pilot episode as possible. While it is important to reel the audience in, you don’t want to seem like you are in a haste. And that’s what happens here. In this matter, ‘His Dark Materials’ could take some notes from ‘Game of Thrones‘, the fantasy that thrived on the slow burn it delivered to the viewers. Of course, even in writing, both the series differ quite considerably. But, this one could benefit from slowing down a bit, and as a result, maintain the consistency that the story of such a level requires.

All in all, the first episode is a better attempt, if not the best, at introducing the audience to the world that is like ours, yet nothing like ours. A number of twists and turns wait for the viewers, and with the changes that book-to-screen adaptations demand, we could say that even those who have read the books should prepare themselves for the revelations that might surprise them. Hopefully, the series will settle down with the second episode and try to take a boat to its destination, rather than an airship. 

Read More: Where Can You Stream His Dark Materials?

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