Demons: Series 1 Review

Your mother sews socks in Hell, Galvin!

Demons raises lots of questions. Not actually the more obvious ones, such as whether demons might exist or why ITV bothered to produce the show in the first place. Years of Catholic teaching have, in spite of it all sounding like superstition, answered the former while the success of Doctor Who, Merlin and Primeval is good enough reason for the latter. Demons is yet another variation on the Saturday-evening boiling down of horror, science-fiction, fantasy and the supernatural, only this time its critters from the underworld, rather than aliens, sorcerers and Keith Allen, who are spoiling things for everyone.

Neither am I particularly sure why Mackenzie Crook’s Gladiolus Thrip is wearing an ivory nose, unless, like Poe’s Passages in the Life of a Lion, he takes such pride in his snout that ivory is a cut above mere flesh and bone. Nor is there any explanation for these Type 3, 4, 8 and 12 entities or why a microwave pulse gun works to smite these creatures when the usual tricks of holy water, crucifixes and exorcism do not. No, the bigger question is why, after, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, Philip Glenister chose to play Rupert Galvin with a daft American accent, which he is not only incapable of carrying off but which, in the high rises and streets of London, is as out of place as a giraffe. And not once on these two discs is that question answered.

Luke Rutherford (Christian Cooke) is the last of the Van Helsings. It seems that in their battling the undead and other nasties, they had precious little time for procreation. So in spite of the passing of the last century, Luke is all that remains of his noble clan of vampire slayers. This, though, comes as news to Luke, who is still at school and would rather be studying for his exams than smiting demons. But all that changes when his school is broken into and his records are stolen. Rupert Galvin warns Luke that his is a unique vocation and armed with some unusual weapons and in the company of girlfriend Ruby (Holliday Grainger) and Mina Harker (Zoë Tapper), they set about ridding the capital of demons and their associates. But Luke’s friendship with Galvin is haunted by the suspicious death of his father. Galvin blames the hell spawn but there is a videotape that seems to imply Galvin’s involvement.

There are some good stories in Demons and some decent scene-setting. The season seems to have done Demons proud with it having a chilly, late-autumn look to it that suits the ghosts, monsters and demons disguised as angels. This works best in the mist that descends on the graveyard in which Gilgamel snatches Ally away. Although quite what kind of parent would let their children play amongst the headstones of a crumbling cemetery is not one that Demons answers, other than to warn them against doing so. Parents that will be attracting the attention of social services without delay. Other episodes see Luke and Galvin battle Tobias Tibbs (Kevin McNally), who is not only responsible for the death of Galvin’s wife but is now turning his murderous attentions towards Galvin and Alice (Laura Aikman), a three-thousand-year-old harpy with a liking both for human flesh and for Luke Rutherford. Suckers is probably the best of the six episodes here, an episode in which Quincey Harker (Ciaran McMenamin) arrives in London as did Dracula before him and justifies his hunting of humans as we do cattle. As well as some effective horror, Suckers, in spite of its title, actually owes something to the vampire mythology as invented by Bram Stoker, with it taking a reading of Dracula for Luke to make the connection between Quincey and Mina.

On the other hand, Demons spends so long inventing its own circles of hell that it ties itself up in some very convoluted dialogue. Simeon’s (Richard Wilson) talk of St Anselm fighting the demon Gilgamel with the Sword of Righteousness and the Orb of Sanctity brings nothing to mind so much as Jonathan Aitkin’s taking the fight to the Guardian with his sword of truth and his trusty shield of British fair play. And look where that got him. Luke fares rather better when he stops fretting about his character and puts up his fists but to do so reduces him to a common thug. What Demons really needs is a better mix of horror amongst the comedy. There are glimpses of this, most notably in the Mackenzie Crook’s preening Thrip but Zoë Tapper takes it all much too seriously, Saskia Wickham (as Jenny Rutherford) has too little to do and Philip Glenister is working so hard to keep his accent that he forgets to add a comic touch to what should be fairly funny material. Holliday Grainger, who was good in one episode of Merlin, does for Demons what Elisha Cuthbert did for 24. Getting captured in almost every episode, the reason for her Ruby is a hearing of the Kaiser Chiefs’ song. And so it proves, with Luke running to her rescue.

Producers Capps and Murphy did very much better with Merlin on the BBC, in which they were gifted with great performances from Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Angel Coulby and Katie McGrath. They aren’t quite so gifted with Christian Cooke and Holliday Grainger. But it’s Philip Glenister that lets the show down most. Demons asks the viewer to make several huge leaps into the world of fantasy but never more so than buying into Glenister’s hopeless American accent. Demons? Possibly. Glenister as a yank? I don’t think so.

There are no extras on this release of Demons but the show gets by with its presentation here. The anamorphic picture looks much the same as it did on its broadcast on television but Demons is a lot like Primeval in that its producers seem to have deliberately softened its image either to disguise shortcomings with the CG effects. This is apparent on every episode in this set, with there being a slight but still very unwelcome blur to the picture. Add in a film-like grain that was added during production and Demons falls well short of the likes of Merlin or Robin Hood on DVD. It’s a pity that the producers didn’t try to disguise Glenister’s accent as they did the special effects as it’s often perfectly clear. Demons sounds better than it looks, which may not be saying very much, but at least all Glenister’s talk of types of demons is clear. And, when they aren’t, there are English subtitles.

Eamonn McCusker

Updated: May 03, 2009

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