His Dark Materials has always been a fantasy epic I’ve been interested in but never gotten around to reading. Knowing bits and pieces about the story and having watched The Golden Compass when it first released in cinemas, my knowledge of the source material is admittedly limited. With that in mind though, His Dark Materials gets off to a very promising start here, one that builds the world up nicely with a solid, albeit unremarkable, opening hour of drama.
We begin with a brief introduction to the world; the relationship between human and daemon is sacred. The world is controlled by the all-powerful Magisterium but a prophetic message about a girl who can change worlds begins to spread.
It’s here we start the story properly in Oxford, England, with Lord Asriel carrying a baby to Dr Carne’s college and imploring him to keep her safe. We then cut forward 12 years to find that baby, now called Lyra, grown and forging a sacred bond with her daemon. As she runs with her friend Roger, they head down to the crypt together and discuss what they think their daemons will change into. Meanwhile, high in the mountains Lord Asriel finds himself taking refuge from a snowstorm where he stumbles upon a discovery.
From here, we jump forward to see Lyra sneaking away from her librarian Charles mid-lesson to greet Asriel, who returns from his expedition while Carne fingers the golden compass in his office. Nervously, he puts something inside the alcohol on the table, while Lyra watches on from the ajar window. As Asriel enters and pours himself a drink, Lyra bursts in and stops him from drinking, eventually leading her to look frantically around the room. It’s here he gives her a task – to spy on Carne – before hiding her as a secret meeting takes place.
As Asriel takes to the stage, he begins talking about dust and how it’s only being attracted to adults. However, his second photo shows the Northern Lights hiding a sky city, one backed up by a discovery in the ice – the severed head of Grumman. His argument is a convincing one too, enough to secure funding for future expeditions.
Meanwhile, trouble brews in the city as Tony’s Daemon ceremony takes a dark turn when his brother Billy is kidnapped and taken away. Back at the college, Asriel takes Lyra back to her room while Carne talks about the prophecy and Lyra’s journey. It’s one that sees a great betrayal on the horizon but unfortunately there’s nothing he or the librarian can do to stop it from coming to fruition.
Lyra’s betrayal comes to fruition soon after too, as Asriel takes off and flies his airship away. Watching him go, she heads back into the college while Farder Coram and John Faa confirm that the legend of the Gobblers is infact real. As news of this spreads, Marisa Coulter arrives at the college and offers Lyra a position as her assistant. However, as they’ll be leaving the next day, she asks to take Roger as well, which she eventually agrees to.
As night turns to day, Carne gives Lyra the golden compass and explains that Coulter may not be as innocent as she seems. It’s here he explains how the compass works and that its purpose is to tell the truth. After being given these instructions, Lyra searches around for Roger, unbeknownst to her that the strange Gobbler wolf was lurking around the night before.
Calling off the search for Billy, John Faa promises to keep looking but broaden his sights to London, while Lyra decides to try and find Roger by leaving with Coulter. On-board the airship, she takes a seat opposite her while Coulter’s daemon eyes her pocket suspiciously. While they fly overhead, the Gyptians begin embarking on their journey for the capital too, before we cut to Roger, alive and being taken away.
His Dark Materials is a much darker, more sweeping fantasy epic than the film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s work. It’s a series that, even this early, feels like its been given the time and breathing room to really grow into its world, with some good characterisation and a much more consistent storyline than the feature film. The ‘Coming Soon’ segment does a great job showing a sweeping story to come too, despite perhaps giving away a little too much of the overarching story.
If you’re looking for another sweeping fantasy epic, it’s far too early to know if His Dark Materials will fill that gap long-term but so far, promising signs lie ahead given what’s here. So far though, His Dark Materials is shaping up to be a very intriguing prospect indeed, and one I’m thoroughly looking forward to watching and recapping every week!