His Dark Materials—Season 1

his dark materials season 1 poster review episode guide list
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visual: 8/10

Strong adaptation

Darker than some might expect, lots of ground to cover

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Old people are evil (but it isn’t their fault)

Lyra (Dafne Keen) has grown up a ward at Jordan College in Oxford while wishing for more.  When she discovers a plot against her benefactor and uncle Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), Lyra finds herself on an adventure.  With Gyptian children disappearing and her best friend Roger Parslow (Lewin Lloyd) among the missing, Lyra is taken under the wing of Marisa Coulter (Ruth Wilson) who might have her own agenda.  Time is running out for Roger, and if Lyra hopes to save him, she must decide whose side she is on!

His Dark Materials—Season 1 is a BBC production of the Philip Pullman young adult series His Dark Materials.  A joint venture between Bad Wolf and New Line Productions, the series ran on BBC One in England with HBO airing it around the world.  The first season primarily adapts the 1995 novel Northern Lights which is also known as The Golden Compass.  The series was released to positive reviews.

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Touching another person’s daemon must be a big faux pas

I read the His Dark Materials trilogy and found it rather heavy and dark for a “kids” book when compared to similar ventures like Harry Potter.  Unlike Harry Potter which skews lower, His Dark Material is a little more adult and a little more controversial.  The series was initially adapted as The Golden Compass film in 2007, but people were critical of the movie’s changes to the story as a result of objections by religious groups who didn’t like the strong atheist tones which run through the series (primarily in the later books).  I saw The Golden Compass and while it did work at points, it largely felt neutered and too “shiny” for the story Pullman told…this version doesn’t make that mistake.  There is a ******spoiler alert****** for aspects of the review.

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What roll will Will Parry play? Will he lend a hand?

The series largely is in the hands of children.  In the series there are few trustworthy adults and even the ones who seem like they are there for the benefit of the children often turn on them “for their own good”.  Lyra is trying to navigate this world as a character who seems to see through a lot of the lies and falsehoods, but she still is often powerless to prevent problems due to her age.  It is a frustration felt by kids and especially teens who aren’t old enough to direct their own lives but are old enough to see the dangers coming at them.

The series also doesn’t shy away from danger toward kids.  It felt like Harry Potter built to deaths and in that sense, they were unexpected and dramatic.  Here, you don’t know where the threat lies, and children are often the victims which is a little more unexpected.  The adults literally treat the children like experiments and “the greater good” (which we frequently hear now in the COVID-19 world) means the potential sacrifice of many children.  Innocents are the victims in this series and the perpetrators of the violence are adults.

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Don’t worry Roger…I saw how the movie ended…everything will be cool

One of the problems I did have with the novel and series which I often have with fantasy stories is the talking animals problem.  This version of His Dark Materials handles it better than the film and starts digging into the idea of what it would be like to literally have your “soul” outside of your body where everyone can see it.  The daemons-humans tie has a lot of room for exploration, but since it is part of the characters’ everyday lives, it doesn’t really get explored that much in the series (except the connection to sin and dust).

Dafne Keen is in a really tough position.  She has to carry a series where her costars have more experience and fame.  She succeeds though and even in scenes with adults, she controls them.  Unlike Dakota Blue Richards who portrayed Lyra in the film, Dafne is rightfully more sullen and seems to have a dark streak.  Her character is supposed to be an outsider, doesn’t trust many people, and has learned to survive through skills of lying and trickery.  It would be tempted to cast a person whose face fills with wonder at everything magical she sees, but it is better to have a lead who is more suspicious of others plans especially since the character needs to lie often to get out of trouble.

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Where will Lyra’s journey take her next?

Visually the series brings the books to life as well.  There is a bit of steampunk to the books and this has been toned down for the series which makes sense for both a visual and a financial purpose.  The computer generated animals are expensive and need to look good, and I’d rather have them spending the money on that instead of amplifying the steampunk look.  This also helps with the crossing between worlds which occurs in this season with a “more natural” Earth.

His Dark Material shows a lot of potential, and it isn’t shying away from the books.  In fact, the series smartly weaved more of the second novel into the first season with Will Parry’s storyline which becomes very important in the second book.  The Golden Compass copped out at the end and left viewers with a rosy ending where Lyra and Roger literally fly off into the sunset for more adventure (which never happened), but His Dark Materials takes the path of the title…it is dark, it is scary, and it is worth seeking out.  I just hope that series gets to see its full path.

His Dark Materials—Season 1 Complete Episode Guide:

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“Lyra’s Jordan”

1.1       Lyra’s Jordan Airdate:  11/04/19

As a child named Lyra is saved by Lord Asriel Belacqua (James McAvoy) who makes the Master of Jordan College (Clarke Peters) promise to protect her.  Lyra (Dafne Keen) grows up at the college and the return of Lord Asriel from a mission to the North reveals secrets, lies, and danger.  Stories of “dust” and other dimensions in the lands to the North spark Lyra’s curiosity, but Asriel’s insistence that she remain at the school means Lyra will have to find another means of escape.  When Lyra meets Marisa Coulter (Ruth Wilson) she learns that she might have the opportunity to finally explore…but the gift of a rare “golden compass” by the Master and the Librarian (Ian Gelder) must remain Lyra’s secret.  When Lyra’s friend Roger Parslow (Lewin Lloyd) disappears and potentially taken by the “Gobblers” who have taken other Gyptian children, Lyra must make a choice…should she stay or go?

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“The Idea of North”

1.2       The Idea of North Airdate:  11/11/19

Coulter introduces Lyra to her new home in London as she promises to search for Roger, but Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon discover that Coulter might not be truthful in her actions.  Roger finds himself imprisoned with other “stolen” children and finds the missing Gyptian child Billy Costa (Tyler Howitt) is among the kids.  The Gyptians search for their missing children but discover the Gobblers might be one step ahead of them.  Lord Carlo Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) of the Magisterium arrives in Oxford to search for evidence of Asriel’s work and hides his own secret about what he knows about alternate dimensions.  Lyra learns the truth about Lord Asriel and decides she must make a move to escape Coulter before it is too late.

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“The Spies”

1.3       The Spies Airdate:  11/18/19

Lyra’s kidnapping by Gobblers has been thwarted by the Gyptians.  While Billy’s mother Ma Costa (Anne-Marie Duff) tends to Lyra, Farder Coram (James Cosmo) and the Gyptian leader John Faa (Lucian Msamati) suspect that Lyra could be an important piece of the puzzle since she is wanted so badly by Coulter.  Lyra learns the truth of her relationship to the Gyptians and Mrs. Coulter.  Boreal learns from his contact Thomas (Robert Emms) in the other dimension that the man Grumman (Andrew Scott) he is searching for is actually a man named John Parry from Thomas’s dimension.  Tony Costa (Daniel Frogson) and Benjamin (Simon Manyonda) go on a mission to find out what Coulter knows, and Lyra’s discovery of how the alethiometer works could reveal the danger.

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1.4       Armour Airdate:  11/25/19

Travelling by balloon and eaded north to find an old ally, Texan Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) arrives in Trollesund in search of Iorek Byrnison.  Unfortunately for Lee, Lyra and the Gyptians are also seeking the aid of Iorek who has been de-armored by the people of the village.  Coulter is criticized for her actions in her search for Lyra, but Coulter has a surprise for the Magisterium in the form of a prisoner named Lord Asriel.

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“The Lost Boy”

1.5       The Lost Boy Airdate:  12/02/19

With Iorek and Lee added to the mission, Lyra and the Gyptians head north in their rescue attempt, but a message from the alethiometer has Lyra and Iorek on their own mission that could reveal the horror of what is occurring at the Gobbler’s base of Bolvangar.  Farder Coram summons his former love Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas) with a request.  The son of Grumman Will Parry (Amir Wilson) and his mother Elaine (Nina Sosanya) are secretly watched by Boreal and his men in the hopes they could hold the secret to Grumman’s location.  A midnight raid puts Lyra and Pan in danger.

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“The Daemon Cages”

1.6       The Daemon-Cages Airdate:  12/09/19

Lyra is trapped at Bolvangar and learning what exactly the scientists are trying to do there.  Reunited with Roger, Lyra realizes the danger is greater than she ever expected and that her secret plans could be destroyed when her mother Mrs. Coulter arrives…but Mrs. Coulter could be the means to help Lyra escape.

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“The Fight to the Death”

1.7       The Fight to the Death Airdate:  12/16/19

Bolvangar is destroyed and the children are free but the danger isn’t over.  Headed north to deliver the alethiometer to Lord Asriel, Lyra is separated from Lee Scoresby, Roger, and Iorek and finds herself prisoners of the polar bears led by Iofur Rakinson.  Iorek is coming to get Lyra, but Lyra realizes that he is running right into Iofur’s trap…and polar bears cannot be tricked. Meanwhile, Will Perry learns that her mother’s paranoia might not be delusions and that his father’s research is in danger.

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1.8       Betrayal Airdate:  12/23/19

Lyra is reunited with Lord Asriel, but she discovers that he has a strange interest in Roger.  The Magisterium makes its move as they set out to stop Asriel’s experiments.  On the run from the police, Will searches for answers about his missing father while Boreal tries to close in on him.  With time running out, Lyra could discovers Asriel’s true plans and why he believes the dust could be the answer to all of their questions.

Related Links:

His Dark Materials—Season 2 Review and Complete Episode Guide

The Golden Compass (2007)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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