Episode 1.01 Writer Jack Lothian Director Andy Wilson
THE ONE WHERE After being accused of killing the Emir’s nephew, and witnessing his brother being executed as punishment, Sinbad is cursed by his grandmother to a life at sea, never being able to stay on land for longer than a day.
VERDICT When evil Taryn – in the Persian equivalent of goth make up – tempts Lord Akbari with promises that magic could have saved his son, unlike the science that his brother, the Emir, favours, you can’t help but feel a Morganna-Uther vibe going on. We’ve been calling Sky 1’s new series Merlin-at-sea for a while now, mainly because it’s a family fantasy adventure, and journalists love dealing in soundbites. But now we’ve seen the show there are more parallels than even we expected. Thankfully, one of those parallels is that it looks like it could be a hell of a lot of fun.
Sure, the pilot’s a little creaky in places. Sure, there are some cheesy moments, some clumsy dialogue (especially from the villains) and some iffy acting. Sure there are moments when it’s riffing off Merlin or the Doctor Who historicals (especially its use of modern mores in a period setting: “She said those magic words – I think of you like a brother.”)
But cast your mind back to Merlin’s pilot, and it compares very favourably (and it’s a hell of a lot better than the pilots for Robin Hood, Primeval or – shudder – Demons). Pilots are an arcane art at the best of times, and rarely does a show burst on to the screen fully formed. But there’s enough spirit, energy, fun and good ideas in Sinbad to make you optimistic about its future.
Best moment? The water monster!
It certainly looks the business. The opening swoop into Basra and the water monsters are about as good as FX on TV-that’s-not-Game-Of-Thrones get. The locations are sumptuous, the production design is impressive without being over-designed and the photography is almost luminescent. Occasionally the action has a bit of a CBBC feel about it, with some jarring angles and self-consciously extreme editing, but on the whole the show is visually impeccable.
The cast looks promising too. Elliot Knight – fresh out of drama school – has momentary lapses, but makes up for it with cheeky charm and a smile that could blind small mammals. Orla Brady nails Taryn’s sneering, conniving villainess in one brief introductory scene, Lost’s Naveen Andrews brings an off-kilter touch of ennui to Akbari and Dimitri Leonidas is immediately endearing as the ship’s (amusingly) seasick Doctor. If anything Andrews and Brady have the more difficult job; usually the villains are the more fun characters to play, but the writers seem to have used up so much energy giving Sinbad and his pals the best lines, they haven’t got any left to produce anything much other than utilitarian threats and theoretical speeches for the baddies.
The jury’s out on the rest of the cast, not because they’re bad (though Sinbad’s brother is a irritatingly wet – even when reduced to spectral monologues – and Marama Corlette as Rina has a hint of Hollyoaks about her). It’s more to do with one of the pilot‘s failings: this is clearly going to be an ensemble show, concentrating on the crew on the Providence, yet we have little chance here to see how they might gel, Sinbad and the Doctor, Anwar, aside.
Instead, the show seems indecently eager to front-load everyone with a mystery. It’s great that the show clearly has a plethora on ongoing plot and character arcs in store, but you finish episode one with a ship full of enigmas rather than real characters. Why’s he hiding that mirror? What’s that dagger to her? Why does the cook have a dragon tattoo… or whatever it is (we doubt he’s a Stieg Larsson fan)?
You get the feeling, though, that the characters just need time to bed in – almost literally in the case of Rina and Sinbad.
It’s also a shame we don’t get to see Sinbad’s curse in action. I know if I were a seven year-old, and I’d just seen his granny curse him never to stay on land for more than a day, I’d want to see pretty damned quick what happens if he does. At that age, I’d have forgotten all about the curse by next week…
On the other hand, the script doesn’t rely entirely on genre clichés (though it does… a bit). Throwaway moments are later revealed to have a bigger significance. Characters act unexpectedly (especially grandma). There’s a surprisingly hard-edge at times (Jamil’s execution).
The key to the success of this show will be if the main cast gels in the coming weeks. If it manages to replicate that particular piece of Merlin magic, Sky One could be onto winner.
Once again, Sinbad regrets going on eBay while pissed
TRIVIA Much of the land-based action is filmed on Malta. Marama Corlett – who plays Rina – is actually from Malta.
PREDICTION Considering Sinbad’s parents are conspicuous by their absence, we reckon there’s going to be an, “I am your father!” moment at some point during the season.
BEST LINE Sinbad: “Owwwww.” Anwar: “It will sting a little bit.” Sinbad: “You’re meant to tell me that before you put it on, not after.”