Sci Fi TV Genre Gems: Forgotten magic and hidden treasures from the worlds of sci fi TV
What Is It? This 1996 British TV series created by Neil Gaiman (and later adapted by him into a novel) ran six-episodes (it’s common for a British show to have a shortened run like this) and takes place in the world of “London Below”, a hidden parallel world that exists beneath the actual city of London (referred to in the series as “London Above”). Here we find that the homeless and dissolute actually live a secret life unseen by the people above and it’s a throwback fantasy world that hearkens back to Medieval feudalism. A man from London Above (Richard Mayhew played by Gary Blakewell) helps a girl from London Below (Door played by Laura Fraser) and finds himself drawn reluctantly into this alternate underworld as well as the sinister designs of a fallen angel.
Why It Stands Out: Like Doctor Who and other British sci fi shows of the 20th century, Neverwhere suffered from budget limitations, but with the germ of a good story by Gaiman and the breakout performances by key cast members this one rise above its limitations and delivers a bit of a diamond in the rough.
The Skinny: Gaiman has of course established a name for himself as a well-respected genre author (of novels and comics) over the last three decades, but it’s likely that many people in the United States have missed out on this odd little urban fantasy series he did for the BBC in the mid-90’s. The premise is interesting, though the delivery sometimes falls short and ultimately bogs down beneath multiple genre tropes. But it is the performances of Paterson Joseph as the Marquis de Carabas as well as Hywel Bennett and Clive Russell as the delightfully wicked Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar that elevate this to the next level. These three alone transform the show from an interesting if lackluster fantasy series to an exceptional example of genre television (plus future Doctor Peter Capaldi plays the Angel Islington). As mentioned, it does suffer from the low production values common to BBC shows, though fortunately it does not rely too heavily on special effects. And it does succeed in bringing to life a fantasy underworld with many possibilities, to which this six episode series only scratches the surface.
Neil Gaiman fans who have missed out on the series (though they may have read the book) will definitely want to check this one out now that it has received a DVD release in the States. And most all science fiction and fantasy fans will likely enjoy it as well, as long as they set expectations properly considering the show’s cheesy look and tendency to slip into cliché. But at only six episodes of thirty minutes each, it’s a quick watch and well worth your time. And there’s also rumors floating around of a possible sequel series or maybe even a big screen adaptation on the horizon. He has published the short story “How The Marquis Got His Coat Back”, and it seems certain that we will see more of the Neverwhere world at some point.
Starring: Gary Bakewell, Paterson Joseph, Laura Fraser, Hywel Bennett, Clive Russell, Peter Capaldi
Did You Know? Neil Gaiman considers the novelization of the series as his preferred version (or perhaps director’s cut) of the story. Whatever he couldn’t do in the series because of budget constraints or disagreements with the BBC, he included in the novel. I recently listened to the audiobook version (read by Gaiman himself), and I do consider it superior to the series, though the TV version has plenty of its own charms.
Buy Neverwhere on DVD from Amazon.com: