Over the past few years, the BBC has carved a bit of a niche in folklore-related entertainment, bringing back Robin Hood and Merlin to Saturday night television and introducing a whole new generation to these stories. Or the closes approximation of these stories anyway. This time, they're taking on Greek mythology in Atlantis, as in the Lost City of, which seems to be some sort of melting pot for just about every Greek myth you've ever heard of. Well, cleaned up for family audiences of course (the Minotaur was not just a cursed man - Den of Geek did a great look at the real myths here).
Opening in the present day with Jason (Jack Donnelly) on the hunt for his father in a submarine, Atlantis finds our hero returned back to the a time when gods and monsters roam and the famed city still exists above the ocean. After angering the local guards, Jason goes on the run until he is aided by Pythagorus (Robert Emms) and Hercules (Mark Addy). When he visits the Oracle (Juliet Stevenson), he discovers some shocking news about his past and his family, but he, Pythagorus and Hercules soon find themselves involved in a local ritual in which residents are chosen to be sacrificed to the Minotaur in the Labyrinth while Jason has the help and the eye of Ariadne (Aiysha Hart).
The time travel device was an odd way to go with the opening episode. I can think of plenty of different ways in which Jason could have found himself on Atlantis that might not have been quite so surprising. Then again, it is a handy device through which to introduce people to figures such as Pythagorus and Hercules without endless exposition for a younger audience who may not be aware. It certainly adds an interesting dynamic to the proceedings because at its centre is a character who already knows what is going to happen to a large majority of occupants and Atlantis itself.
At this stage, I'm willing to be optimistic and say that this could be building into a theme surrounding the idea of destiny, a big thing in Greek mythology. There's certainly a lot of this going on. The big hook is the mystery about just who Jason is, why he's travelled back in time and just about everyone who knows Jason already keeps going on about what he's destined to do. It's not quite the same as the thru-line with Merlin of Arthur going on to become King, but it's a start. In the myths, Jason went to fetch the Golden Fleece with the Argonauts (coincidentally, also involving Heracles - Greek spelling of course). I'm hoping they do take this story on because it would be a shame not to and there's already been a brief reference to Colchis in there.
As openings go, it's all fairly standard. There's a nice wailing woman score and the sets look stunning with lavish costumes and sun-baked exteriors. Comic beats are hit well and timed to near-perfection with Mark Addy in particular giving us a reason to stick around with his drunken, not-quite heroic version of Hercules. In this first episode, Donnelly certainly has the chops to be a leading man, as well as gamely fulfilling the torso quota left empty since the departure of Eoin Macken's Gwaine from our screens. It is the supporting cast that intrigues most though, particularly Alexander Siddig as King Minos and Juliet Stevenson, all quivering lips and doom-mongering as the Oracle. And then there's Sarah Parish who makes more of an impact in a two-minute scene than the rest of the cast put together.
I can't deny that Atlantis was entertaining and the cast is likeable enough to keep me watching. I'm also aware that it took a while for Merlin to bed in properly and start really using the mythology effectively for its characters. The real test for Atlantis will be when it comes to the more serious episodes in which it can't use light humour in place of character development.
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