1 (of 6): "Habeas Corpus"
July 26, 2004
lthough I've heard some very good things about
the British vampire show "Ultraviolet", I couldn't help but be a
little skeptical. After all, the British aren't exactly known for their
genre shows. Oh sure, they're pretty decent when it comes to cops and
robbers and the occasional wacky sci-fi, but genre stuff has never really
been their forte.
"Ultraviolet" comes in the form of six
episodes (a full season's worth in the U.K.), and stars Jack Davenport
("The Pirates of
the Caribbean") as Detective Michael Colefield, a cop who comes
under suspicion when his partner, who is being investigated for
corruption, disappears. Unbeknownst to Michael, a secret unit headed by a
priest name Harman (Philip Quast) is also seeking Michael's partner, but
not for the same reasons. In the world of "Ultraviolet",
vampires are very much real, and it's the task of Harman and his small
band of cops to hunt them down for the good of mankind.
Clocking in at a breezy 50 minutes, the pilot episode
of "Ultraviolet" does what all good pilots do -- jam the running
time with as many plots as possible and set up the series' mythology. It
does this quite well, and although the word "vampire" is never
once mentioned in the whole episode, it's obvious the undead bloodsuckers
are the villains of the piece. Or are they? As one vampire informs
Michael, just because Harman's special unit wants to wipe them out, it
doesn't necessarily mean the vampires don't have a right to exist. Just
who is the villain here?
Watching "Ultraviolet", there's little
doubt this is a British TV show. Accents aside, the direction and writing
are geared towards realism, which makes the presence of vampires that
don't show up on TV or in photos all the more startling. The show is
written, directed, and acted like a routine cop show, except this one has
vampires. The whole thing is treated with such a sense of grounded reality
that its supernatural vampire aspect seems more real somehow. With a
perfectly straight face, the show accomplishes the meshing of realness and
fiction with surprising effectiveness.
With much of the episode focusing on Michael's
attempts to uncover the truth, it's unavoidable that everyone else gets
shortchanged. We learn a little bit about Susannah Harker's character, but
not nearly enough to really "get" her. If Harker's character is
the designated love interest for Michael, the bloke certainly has his work
cut out for him. Philip Quast, the head of the vampire-hunting unit,
barely shows up for more than a few minutes of screentime. As the
designated hero, Jack Davenport (whose name sounds like the lead character
in a cop show) does just fine. He has a certain Everyman quality to him,
but one gets the feeling the guy is capable of more when the chips are
With just one episode to go by, I'm not ready to
designate "Ultraviolet" as the best modern take on vampires just
yet. The readers on IMDB.com certainly believes this to be the case, with
the show garnering a staggering 8.6 out of 10 rating, making it one of the
highest rated shows ever. The show's popularity makes its extinction from
TV land all the more perplexing. If it's so good, why didn't it last
beyond one season? Certainly even American viewers thought it had
potential, since an Americanized version was developed and a pilot shot.
Alas, it was aborted before it even got a chance to air.
If in fact "Ultraviolet" was a great show
that never made it past its first season, it certainly wouldn't be the
first, or the last. There are plenty of shows that showed tremendous
potential, but for one reason or another suffered a quick death. A show
and Again", which expertly handled the meshing of realism with
fantasy the way "Ultraviolet" did, comes to mind.
1 Images: click
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2 (of 6): "In Nomine Patris"
July 28, 2004
continuity firmly intact, episode 2 of the British vampire show
"Ultraviolet" continues where it left off: with ex-cop Michael
Colefield now a member of the covert vampire hunting unit that operates in
the shadows with government approval and funding. Episode 2 introduces
more mythology into the show, and we learn more about what vampires (or
"leeches" as the show calls them -- the word "vampire"
has still not shown up) can and can't do.
Although they're immortal and don't show up on video
or in photos, we learn that the pesky buggers can't use the telephone
because their voices doesn't transmit over the wire. A rather strange
addition to the vampire mythology that begs to be explained in great
detail, don't you think? Don't bother. The show glosses over it. In an
amusing scene, we see a vampire using a machine to "talk" over
the telephone. I guess being a vampire isn't all cake and crackers after
As Michael tries to adjust to life as a vampire
hunter, he's also having second thoughts. The notion that they're trying
to exterminate the vampires just because they're "different"
still doesn't sit entirely right with Michael. Also, he's having a hell of
a hard time distancing himself from his ex-partner's fiancée Kirsty
(Colette Brown), who it's been obvious for two episodes now that Michael
is carrying a torch for. Add to that the maybe-maybe not attraction
between our hero and Frances (Fiona Dolman), the mystery woman with inside
information, although I'm still unsure what her actual job description is.
On the work front, there are still no signs of mutual
attraction between Susannah Harker's Angie March and Michael, but years of
watching genre TV tells me this is only a matter of time. After all, it
took "The X-Files" 8 years to admit that their two leads had a
thing for one another. Still, you'd think that with just 6 episodes to
showcase a full season's worth of stories, "Ultraviolet" would
advance its most obvious elements as soon as possible. Then again, I could
be entirely wrong, and there will never be any romance between the two
co-workers. Could I be wrong?
Episode 2 puts the unit in pursuit of a vampire that
is using a banker to clean his funds. This particular vampire has quite a
pedigree, one that stretches all the way back to World War II. After a
run-in with a motorcyclist in broad daylight, we learn what happens when
vampires get stuck in daylight. Let's just say it's not a pretty sight.
There is no instant regeneration, and the result is, to put it mildly,
looks to be awfully painful.
As with the pilot, episode 2 furthers the ongoing
subplot that the vampire hunters might not be the good guys -- or the
vampires the villains. As one vampire ally claims, the vampires don't
force anyone to do anything, including being "turned" into a
vamp. Of course this seems a bit disingenuous, as the vampires seem to
prey only on those who desperately needs their immortality for survival.
One woman willingly succumbs because she fears a family disease, and
another agrees in order to escape life as a paraplegic.
After two episodes, it's very clear now that
"Ultraviolet" is not of the action-pack variety one is used to
with American genre TV. Episode 2 features some scuffles, and there is
violence toward the end, but much of the episode consists of Michael
Colefield battling with his internal doubts and the unit doing a lot of
detecting. It's a very cerebral show, but I hesitate to call it
intellectual, because while its storyline indulges in multiple shades of
gray, there's nothing overwhelmingly "deep" about this episode
or the pilot.
Without the newness of the pilot, episode 2 feels a
bit stale. It probably moves too slowly, and Michael's continued doubt
about his social and professional life may quickly prove to be repetitive
and tedious. With just two episodes under my belt, I'm prepared to call
"Ultraviolet" a good show, but not the great show it's been
promoted to me as being.
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3 (of 6): "Sub Judice"
August 6, 2004
3 of "Ultraviolet" belongs to Susannah Harker, who gives a
terrific performance as the emotionally embattled Angie March. The episode
features ethical questions about artificial fertility and abortion, and as
it's wont to do, the episode's script is more than fair towards both sides
of these contested issues. But of course this is a show about vampires (or
"leeches"), and this time around the night buggers have come up
with a way to impregnate a lawyer in an attempt to mutate a new breed of
vampires. To further their goal, the vampires are using a female lawyer
obsessed with getting pregnant, even though her husband died years ago --
or did he?
The whole mess about abortion aside, episode 3 delves
more into the life of Doctor Angie March, filling us in on what exactly
happened to her family when the vampires came calling years ago. The fate
of Angie's husband is revealed, as well as one half of her twin daughters.
With Susannah Harker dominating the episode, Davenport and Elba are left
to do the legwork. Philip Quast, as the head of the secret unit, gets some
brief, but effective, screentime early in the episode.
The story itself is pretty interesting, with the
vampires seeking a way to defeat their number one nemesis: sunlight.
Again, the notion that the vampires only "take those who wants to
go" gets more blurred, as the truth is they take those they can take
It's readily clear now that Joe Ahearne and company
plans to keep presenting the vampires as the bogeyman. The creatures never
show up for any length of time, and most of the time we only see glimpses
of them. It's not a bad idea, since one of the biggest problems with TV
villains is that familiarity breeds comfort. Because we never get to see
the vampires in all their vampiric glory, they remain a mystery to us.
Of the three episodes, episode 3 is probably the
strongest of the bunch. Besides a brilliant showing by Susannah Harker,
the episode continues to push the agenda that a show, even a genre show,
needn't be so black and white. The gray, as it were, keeps getting longer