Atlantis: 2.01 A New Dawn: Part One
When Atlantis first appeared on our screens last year, it was clearly intended to fulfil the same purpose as Merlin; in short, to fill the timeslot Doctor Who left open. The first season was perfectly easy to watch but far from stellar, full of ragged plot holes and a story lacking in depth or direction. The tides, however, appear to be turning. Season 2 debuts with the aptly titled A New Dawn, a superb episode with a darker, more mature feel that promises better things to come from the BBC’s latest family drama.
You’d be forgiven for forgetting what happened at the end of Season 1, but that won’t matter as A New Dawn sets up its own premise and dives straight into the action. King Minos is dead and his daughter Ariadne has ascended to the throne, but her decision to banish her step-mother Pasiphae – who has been the main villain of Atlantis from the very first moment – may become her downfall. Pasiphae is marching on Atlantis with an army from Colchis, intent on wreaking her revenge.
It’s immediately obvious that things are different. Ariadne’s character has changed; she’s less fiery than she was, more grave and serious. It’s a fine performance from Aiysha Hart. She shows the strength a new queen requires but, when the cracks appear in the façade, allows the frailty to show through. Ariadne faces enemies from within as well as without, and her reign is already proven to be fragile.
The action really kicks off when she is betrayed by her advisor Lord Sarpedon, who smuggles a spy into the palace to steal the Palladium, a statue imbued with the power of the Gods. Legend says that Atlantis will never fall while the Palladium is within its walls, so to lose it to Pasiphae is a crushing blow. In desperation, Ariadne turns to the one person she can trust: Jason. He, Pythagoras and Hercules set out to retrieve the Palladium and save Atlantis, and the stakes have never been higher. A vision from the Oracle reveals that this is a turning point in history; Jason’s success or failure will determine whether the city survives.
Jason has always been an adequate hero at best, a confused jumble of heroic and romantic intent without any real depth. Attempts have now been made to give him a more defined personality but the results are mixed. He might be more determined and stubborn than before, but the destiny he declares himself ready to embrace is so vague that it doesn’t really round him out. He remains overshadowed by his sidekicks, particularly Mark Addy’s comical Hercules.
Many of the themes of A New Dawn will be familiar to those who watched Merlin. An early decision to spare an unarmed Colchian soldier comes back to threaten the quest, just as Merlin’s decision to spare Mordred as a child proved ultimately fatal for Arthur. Jason’s destiny – whatever it is – is clearly tied to the fate of Atlantis, and it may be the strength of his own moral compass that proves to be his downfall. Again, as with Merlin, we know what is going happen – but the drama is provided by Jason’s role in creating those events.
There are plenty of other things to get excited about in this new-look Atlantis. Pasiphae is played as brilliantly as ever by Sarah Parish, venomous as a spider weaving her webs. Robert Pugh was excellent as the traitorous Sarpedon, though Amy Manson’s Medea was not given sufficient screen time to judge properly. More generally, the narrative was more coherent and the production values seemed higher. It told a story you will actually want to invest in, unlike many of Season 1’s episodes which were merely easy to watch.
It’s worth noting that it’s also slightly less family friendly than it was. It’s darker and more thematically mature; Jason and his friends eventually spare the unarmed soldier, but not before debating whether they should execute him for the sake of their quest. A man is shown bloodied in prison after being interrogated, and Ariadne declares that he must be made to talk no matter what. There were the usual moments of silliness as well – for example, Jason, Pythagoras and Hercules escape the Colchian camp by firing themselves out of a catapult – but Atlantis seems to be growing up.
Unfortunately, a few of the problems from the first season carried over. That Jason originally travelled to Atlantis from the modern day has never impacted on the plot and now seems to have been completely forgotten; it’s a nagging annoyance that keeps dogging the show. There were a few plot holes as well, such as when our heroes find enough wood to make a fire while trapped in a cave. Largely, these things won’t affect your enjoyment of the episode, though they may seed some doubts in the back of your mind.
A New Dawn is exactly what it claims to be for Atlantis: a fresh start. Things are darker and more believable, and the characters are much more human. It has its niggling problems, certainly – but it fine tunes everything sufficiently to make this a really good show for the first time. It ends on a cliff-hanger too, leaving Jason’s quest unresolved. Will he succeed? It’s impossible to say. The omens might not be good for the city, but they’re definitely looking a lot better for the show.