ITV1 drama usually concerns itself with crime, family difficulties or the odd period piece, however lately they’ve been moving into new territory with shows such as Moving Wallpaper (fictional show about producing another fictional TV show) Primeval (a show where a team of scientists battle prehistoric and futuristic creatures that have entered our time-space) and the focus of this review, Demons, which centres around a small band of demon hunters.
Demons aired earlier this year, to slightly mixed reviews and declining ratings, but with the DVD and Blu-ray release just around the corner is this six episode series worth picking up?
The show revolves around Luke Rutherford, a London teenager who learns from his godfather that he is the last descendant from the Van Helsing Line, and it’s his job to put and end to all the demonic and ghoulish goings on in and around London, whilst also trying to live a normal teenage life consisting of exams, parties and girls. The general plot is stupidly unrealistic, far-fetched and downright absurd, but it mirrors a string of successful American counterparts such as Supernatural, Angel and almost exactly mimics Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as she found out she was the latest in a long line of vampire slayers thanks to help from a guardian and also battled vampires and demons whilst trying to lead a semi-normal life.
British networks have tried for years to create a supernatural series that could rival those in the states, and whilst we tend to get the basic idea right, the shows never last. Take HEX (which happens to be made by the same production company as Demons), it had a short two series run on Sky1 and had a similar concept; a girl at an English school finds she is a descendant of a line of witches and must battle demons; it was never episodic, yet the arc felt purposely stretched, the effects were poor and the departure of both lead character and lead demon didn’t help improve ratings for the second series. Problems that affected HEX and other like-minded shows generally all boil down to one thing, money. Unlike the Americans, we simply don’t spend enough on decent television, which is why we lose all our best writers, actors, editors and effects producers to the states. The latter being especially important, as a supernatural series such as this relies heavily on creating believable effects.
As British shows don’t have the budget for blockbuster, or even block-denting, effects they tend to do two things, gear even more to youth culture (by showing exams, parties and boozing) and go overly ‘quirky’ in order to create a ‘unique’ selling point. Thankfully Demons refuses to go down the same path; yes there is a driving test and one or two scenes set in a college, but then the hero is only a teenager, and as for quirks; granted there’s quite a few, including the odd semi-bullet-time fight effect that’s likely to make you cringe, and villains that look like they have just stepped off a panto stage, but they’re generally in good fun and the show doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously.
Whilst the villains may look they belong in panto, they don’t act like it, and most are played very well with a darkly comedic and ruthless edge; Mackenzie Crook’s (Gareth from the Office) Gladiolus Thrip being a perfect example, as despite the ridiculous costume he manages to still appear threatening. The costumes were a stylistic choice that I disagree with (especially the inclusion of a very unconvincing rat/man), but the style carried by the rest of the show is inspiring; it produces a London that is stylish, gothic, dark and yet youthful and real all at the same time. The Stacks (underground library and teams HQ) looks like any old library, aside from the hobbit hole front door and the fact it’s based in an underground passage, yet is a safe place that any viewer would love to have a nose around.
Addressing some of my misgivings about British television, the effects department have done a terrific job on this show, the Demons make up is done exceptionally well, and the shows effects are surprisingly stunning in some parts, with the main let down being a fully C.G. monkey/gremlin in episode one. The high standard is achieved as the show seems to know its limits; it doesn’t try and recreate dinosaurs, show shape-shifters or any other especially tricky elements, instead confining the C.G. work to mainly fast shots that are perfect for the show.
The stories are another area where Demons surprised me, they are pretty generic and you’re likely to have seen them a dozen times, but they are still well told (for the most part) and the real gold lies in the writers ability to tie classic stories into the modern context; with the Series’ best episode being directly related to characters from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (thankfully the big man himself does not appear). It’s a darker episode than most with, with elements taken from Angel and Blade (but don’t expect Blade levels of gore on a 12 Certificate), some good action and genuine character moments.
For the most part characters in this series are simply there, not to be disliked or cared for, but there are some points where emotions boil and you do care for them. Christian Cooke is just what you’d expect as Luke, the pretty hero who doesn’t exactly know what’s going on but always manages to dispatch enemies with ease and still go to college. One of the most perplexing things about his character was the ease with which he took the news that he was destined to fight demons; barely batting an eyelid at the thought of facing supernatural creatures and death for the remainder of his life. Holly Grainger plays Ruby (a carbon copy of Xander from Buffy) who also took Luke’s news surprisingly well, she often saves the day but only sticks around to help fight Demons because she is secretly pining for Luke’s affection. Philip Glenister (Gene Hunt from Life on Mars) plays American Rupert Galvin, Luke’s protector, mentor and godfather all in one. He embodies the emotionally scarred, gruff hero, and while the accent is different, the coat’s a different colour and there are demons instead of criminals, the role isn’t that different from Gene Hunt, so it’s one you know he can do well. Rounding off the main cast is Survivors star Zoe Tapper as Mina Harker, the blind piano player with psychic abilities that has been helping Galvin for a number of years. Zoe’s performance is adequate, but rarely more than that, and is not helped by her occasionally forgetting to act blind.
There are also guest appearances from actors such as Mackenzie Crook (playing one of the Series more perilous demons), Richard Wilson (Victor Meldrew) plays a brilliant part as Father Simeon, a helpful yet eccentric zombie priest, and Father Ted’s Mrs. Doyle as a psychic fraud.
The first episode of the series, is as expected, typically British, somewhat cringe-worthy and suffers from the worst effects of the series, but as the series progresses it begins to find it’s own becoming slightly darker and much more watchable with some decent (but mostly unoriginal) stories. There’s the usual banter between characters providing a small element of comedy and of course the demon battling scenes, which when absent of bullet-time(ish) effects are choreographed fairly well, however afterwards even a mild scratch seems to find the heroes in need of medical attention. The last episode however, despite possibly setting up a new intriguing enemy for the second series, was a bit of a let down, feeling rushed and out of place, attempting to go too big too soon.
Despite the average to disappointing bookends, the series delivers exactly what it is supposed to; it’s simple family light entertainment, an easy watch that’s perfect for the kids. Is this a British Supernatural? No. Is it a British Blade? No. It’s Doctor Who with demons and a library instead of Cybermen and a time machine. But for fans of any episodic show following a similar format, or people looking for an easy show that will impress the kids, this is it.
If I were to be generous to this transfer I would describe it as bad. This 1080p transfer is not up to the job and suffers from noticeable grain with picture quality having obvious differences between not only episodes but scenes as well. By the end I may have grown slightly accustomed to it, but the picture seemed noticeably better on the final episode although still not great. Watching closely you can tell this is a high definition disc, and should be higher quality than the DVD version, but if you are buying this don’t expect a reference quality disc by any means.
Similarly disappointing is the disc’s two channel audio, as this is a series that really could have boosted it effectiveness by creating some subtle rear channel soundtracks to heighten the uneasy feeling of some of the darker scenes. What sound there is however is clear, well balanced and well placed, and Jack C Arnold’s series score is particularly impressive being worthy of a big budget film. The theme tune (Eyes of the Night by Starlight Mints) is also noteworthy as it is fits the show perfectly being modern, upbeat, memorable and likely to get stuck in your head for hours.
Demons contains no extras whatsoever, aside from the obligatory interactive menu (which actually looks rather nice) and the option to turn subtitles on and off.
The Bottom Line:
Demons is an average series, more mature/gore hungry viewers should look elsewhere (possibly at Blade: The Series, or Supernatural for something in-between), but this is perfectly suited for Saturday night family entertainment. The stories are far-fetched, acting mostly average and some scenes are laughable, but it’s true to form and provides good honest fun. If you’re a fan of Doctor Who type shows, this is a must buy, but being only six episodes long, having poor picture and unmoving audio quality it may be worth settling for the standard DVD, or even waiting until that comes down in price. Also if you were planning on buying to catch up before the next series airs, there’s little need as Philip Glenister has announced that he will not be returning, and has put the shows whole future in doubt.