A concept so original, it's actually quite startling that no one had thought of it before, In The Flesh is set in the aftermath of a zombie uprising, a world in which the undead have been rehabilitated and medicated to become Partially Deceased Syndrome (PDS) sufferers. Focusing in on one PDS sufferer in particular, we follow Keiran (Luke Newberry) back to his parents' home as he deals with his new affliction and the consequences of both that and his death back in 2009. Meanwhile, a group known as the Human Volunteer Force (HVF), who really really don't like anyone with PDS and will take quite violent steps to stop them coming back into the community, remain on their guard in Keiran's home town.
Good horror or science fiction is always at its best when acting as a mirror to our own society, rather than just offering up victims to be sliced or diced by the mad scientist. In The Flesh does this brilliantly, packing in more metaphors, analogies and themes than you can shake a zombie-killing cricket bat at. The most obvious is the theme of prejudice and the notion of PDS can be applied to just about any form you can think of. With its reality of living with a disease and relying upon daily medication, my first thought was of PDS as a metaphor for HIV and In The Flesh would not look out of place as a reaction to the public stigmatisation of that particular condition.
The village of Roarton, a microcosm for wider society, brings a whole new meaning to the phrase 'grim up North' and it is this particularly that highlights the satirical side of this horror narrative. The emphasis on people who are seen as 'not quite human' could be a cypher for homophobia or racism, invading the community of 'normal' people and supposedly destroying them from within. The role of the church is also thrown in there with Kenneth Cranham's fire-and-brimstone vicar extolling all sorts of Biblical justification for the alienation of the PDS victims.
Then there's also the Biblical references in the zombie gathering taking place online and gearing up for the revolution, building in another potential theme of religious fanaticism. It's not all big soaring institutional metaphors though, there are also smaller themes like the breakdown of a family, the loss of a child and sibling relationships. Like I said, it's jam-packed, but the satire of In The Flesh is finely tuned and extremely cutting, whilst the quieter drama also packs a punch.
For a first time television writer, Dominic Mitchell's script is assured and confident, weaving in all of these themes without it seeming too shoe-horned in. It is also to its benefit that it chooses to go at a slower pace rather than trying to draw in viewers by packing the episode full of action it doesn't need. Kieran's flashbacks to his zombie days are more than enough to give you an idea of what the zombie uprising was like and fills enough of the gore quota to keep horror fans happy. The pace allows for the more philosophical aspects of the narrative to develop and I'm particularly interested to see where the plotline of the fanatical Bill Macy (Steve Evets) and his PDS son goes.
The pace also allows the action-orientated sequences to shine with the climactic confrontation between the HVF and Ricky Tomlinson's character, Ken. Ramping up the tension, with the Walker family believing the HVF are on the way, we get a big showdown in the street as poor Ken's PDS wife is dragged into the street. As set pieces go, it was both suspenseful and heart-breaking as we see just how far Bill Macy is willing to commit to his cause. I'm hoping that it is this scene that sets the tone for the rest of the series; a strong, social commentary drama with a dash of action thrown in.
An already intriguing concept to begin with, In The Flesh is off to a cracking start and if this is the standard of the rest of the series, we're going to be in for a treat. Zombies may be the go-to supernatural creature at the moment, but this is a different take on a genre close to saturation; let's just hope it remains as original and as sharp as its first episode.
You can follow Becky on Twitter @beckygracelea or on her blog beckygracelea.wordpress.com
Assorted Buffery is now on Facebook and on Twitter @beckygracelea