Ultraviolet: Mini-series (1998) TV Review

Episode 1 (of 6): “Habeas Corpus” (July 26, 2004)

Although 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 down.

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 called “Now and Again”, which expertly handled the meshing of realism with fantasy the way “Ultraviolet” did, comes to mind.


Episode 2 (of 6): “In Nomine Patris” (July 28, 2004)

With 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 all.

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 fianc’e 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.


Episode 3 (of 6): “Sub Judice” (August 6, 2004)

Episode 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 advantage of.

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 and longer.


Joe Ahearne (director) / Joe Ahearne (screenplay)
CAST: Jack Davenport …. Michael Colefield
Susannah Harker …. Dr. Angie March
Idris Elba …. Vaughan Rice
Philip Quast …. Father Pearse J. Harman
Colette Brown …. Kirsty Maine
Fiona Dolman …. Frances Pembroke

Buy Ultraviolet on DVD