Sinbad 1.07 Writer: Neil Biswas, Jack Lothian Director: Andy Wilson
THE ONE WHERE Sinbad returns to Basra to rescue his gran… or so he says. He really wants to kill Akbari.
VERDICT This is more like it. Finally the show starts to reach the promise of its pilot with a rattlingly good, acting-packed yarn, with a number of decent shocks and plenty of scenes in which the crew of the Providence seem to be gelling at last. There’s humour, there’s tension, and there are twists. There are still creaky and cringey moments – and the Akbari mini-arc seems to be over before it had a chance to really get into gear – but this is a significant leap forward in quality, and hopefully points the way forward for the show.
You certainly can’t claim the episode’s predictable or formulaic. The deaths of both Akbari and Safia are unexpected, as is the fact that Sinbad’s curse has been lifted. That last development is a bit of a shame; the idea that Sinbad had a potential time bomb round his neck was a good gimmick, the dramatic potential of which was never fully exploited. But hey, you’ve got to love a show that’s prepared to shake things up so drastically just seven episodes in.
The fact that Taryn isn’t dead isn’t much of a twist, though. You kinda guessed she’ll be back. More mystifying is why she isn’t dead – or trapped in the shadow monster’s lair at least. Did the shadow monster decide to spare her? If so, why? It’s all very hazy, meaning that Taryn’s sudden appearance in the final scene loses its dramatic clout; you’re too busy going, “Huh?”
The episode benefits from all sorts of foreshadowing, though. Okay, Safia croaking before she can reveal the full secret about Sinbad’s origins is a cheesy bit of writing, but that partial revelation, and Taryn’s increased interest in Sinbad, ups the ante, and makes the show feel more satisfyingly mythical, somehow.
This is also a good episode for Anwar and – at last – Rina, who make a great double act. From Rina’s expression when Anwar’s parents reveal that he never qualified as a Doctor, to Anwar’s heroic failure (“A failed rescue like that could only bring more shame to the family name”) they are a genuinely amusing comedy relief pairing. See – all Rina needed was some decent lines!
There’s also some great work on the production side. The lighting in Taryn’s chamber is striking, with Taryn bathed in reds while Safia is bathed in blue. The deserted streets of Basra are genuinely spooky. The fight scenes are impressive (though Sinbad recovers from being strangled by his own torc with suspicious ease when he needs to fight Akbari).
There are problems. The concluding scenes – as all the revelations stack up – feel a little rushed and perfunctory. It’s almost too much information too fast, and the impact of each new piece of information is somewhat diluted by the sudden revelation-surfeit. The shadow monster is visually drab. Safia’s death is disappointingly flat, especially considering how good Janet Suzman has been previously in this series. And cook’s chat with Sinbad at the end of the episode has the whiff of the kind “moral of the week” US TV used to love in the ’70s. And Nala… well, see “Sudden Departure” below.
But overall, a much more confident-looking and energetic instalment.
One last question – who’s going to rule Basra now? Has Taryn got some new puppet waiting in the wings?
SUDDEN DEPARTURE Admittedly, I may be overgenerous in my praise for this episode because my least favourite regular character – Nala – appears to have left the show. Hurrah! It’s a very odd departure and sudden departure. The episode doesn’t concentrate on her, or prepare the way for her announcement, or conclude any personal business for her. In fact, all she does is volunteer to stand guard (twice) and get captured. It feels like she may have been hastily written out because either the actress wanted to leave or the writers couldn’t get the character to work, though this is only supposition; if the plan all along was to ditch the character at this point, then poor Nala really hasn’t been served very well. Though if anybody is sad to see her leave, feel free to put me in my place in the comments section below.
COUNTDOWN TO CAPTURE Well, Sinbad’s gran spends most of the episode in a kind of mystical cell, but Rina is thrust into a more traditional cage at 29 minutes in.
LOOKS FAMILIAR Anyone else think the shadow monster seems like a close relative of the Vashta Nerada?
SPECIAL PREVIEW Just to make sure Nala was really gone, I immediately watched episode eight straight after this one… and it’s really good too. It’s written by Jack Thorne of The Fades fame, and excellently directed by Colin Teague of Doctor Who (“The Sound Of Drums”/”The Last Of The Time Lords”/“The Fires Of Pompeii”) and Being Human fame.
BEST LINES Rina: “You must know a back way in. It’s safer.” Anwar: “Really?” Rina: “What? You mean you’ve never sneaked in late?” Anwar: “No!” Rina: “Typical.”