The Deep

I just finished watching the BBC’s new prime time Sci-Fi Drama series The Deep on the BBC iPlayer. It started airing last Tuesday, but as I’ve given up on television entirely lately I wasn’t aware of it being on.

The premise is simple: Minnie Driver, James Nesbitt, and Goran Visnjic are part of the crew of a  submarine named the Orpheus. They are on a scientific research mission to a newly discovered field of black smokers underneath the Arctic ice at the North Pole. Just as they depart a sinister “salvage expert” is put aboard to help them recover the wreckage of the Hermes, Orphesus’ sister ship which was lost in mysterious circumstances six months previously. Jame’s Nesbitt’s character is deeply affected by this change as his wife was a crew member aboard the Hermes when the ship was lost. Oddly for programs of this ilk the crew appear to be entirely made up of scientists. Normally I would expect at least one trigger happy military stereotype aboard to keep the fail-safe nuclear weapons warm.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the program information, and even the mention in the Saturday TV section of the Daily Record didn’t give much away. Sadly, and I should have seen this coming, the story itself seems to be a by the numbers combination of Alien, Abyss and possibly either Event Horizon, or Thunderball depending on what the ominous threat turns out to be. Still copying from other films doesn’t mean it will be a bad show as long as the acting and writing are up to par.

Unfortunately for The Deep they’re not. The three leads just about managed to act their way through the first episode, but their characters are diabolically badly written. Minnie Driver is almost as good at being a submarine captain as Julie Graham was at being a post-apocalyptic Survivor. She’s badly miscast in my opinion, and so far her character’s defining trait appears to be the fact that she slept with Goran Visnjic’s character and then wouldn’t let his wife talk to him when she tried to contact him as they left on the submarine. Having to deal with the fact that she pumped Goran while running a submarine full of barrel scraping undergraduates seems to be intended to mark her out as a strong, independent woman, but sadly they’ve shot the bolt on it before the end of episode one. James Nesbitt meanwhile tries to play a man haunted by the loss of his wife, but mainly he manages to play James Nesbitt the Cheeky Irishman, which is more or less the same damned character he plays in every bloody thing he’s in.

I’m deeply annoyed too by the lazy use of artificial countdowns to heighten the tension. During the middle to end of the first episode Goran’s character has gone out in a submersible to investigate the field of black smokers. He’s allegedly looking for the black box on the sunken Hermes. Of course he somehow gets what looks like a spear stuck in one of his impellers and can’t move. I’ve no idea if it is a spear, or what the hell it is, but that’s what it looks like. Either way the poor sod is stuck in the middle of the field of black smokers and his air’s running out. Now it might be just the editing, but as far as I could see he had only been out mooching around for about ten or fifteen minutes. Fine I suppose maybe they didn’t budget for air tanks and he’s only got the air he brought with him. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Then however they announce that he only has X number of minutes of air left. It was at this point I risked being issued with an ASBO by yelling FUCK YOU at the screen.

As an aside I have to the question: Who would build a black box into a submarine and not design it to bob up to the surface, and secondly if it’s inside the wreck and transmits a signal why hasn’t anyone gone looking for the poor bastards before now?  If Bob Ballard can navigate a submersible within feet of a black smoker without any danger then surely these folk with their futuristic super sub can manage it as well.

Anyway, as I was saying, THE COUNTDOWN has to be amongst the laziest writing techniques known to man. I’m pretty sure that when Aristotle was outlining the Three Act Structure he wrote, and underlined, DO NOT USE COUNTDOWNS TO ARTIFICIALLY INCREASE TENSION. Sure it’s a fact that submarines and submersibles can only carry so much air, and they often have limited battery life, but it’s also a fact that the air isn’t a measurably finite resource. Not to the minute anyway. You don’t run out of air, you suffocate slowly from the build up of carbon dioxide and other waste gases. That can’t be measure to the minute as everyone is going to take a different amount of time to generate enough CO2 to choke themselves, and they’re going to take different amounts of time to succumb to the effects. Modern submersibles, such as Mir, can stay underwater for days if needed, and that’s with a three man crew aboard in waters that could be ten times as deep as the ones in this show. I think when they get back they need to get a new submarine designer.

Of course they go in and try to rescue him in the Orpheus, over the objections of the most annoyingly whiny character I’ve seen since Dakota Fanning in the War of the Worlds remake, and crash the whole sub. Somehow they even manage to avoid crushing Goran and his magic submersible to death as they bring half the surrounding black smokers crashing down on themselves. He tries to dig them out, but fails. The Orpheus is then pulled, deus ex machina style, from the sea bed by a huge unidentified submarine that appears above them. Goran manages to dock the submersible after some tense moments, but the GAY ASS COUNTDOWN hits zero so he passes out by running out of Magical Movie Air (TM). Incidentally this then traps him in the submersible bay because the door locks while the submersible’s hatch is closed. This is despite the submersible bay being a moon pool, and thus filled with breathable air under positive pressure to keep the ocean out; an idea incidentally that they’ve clearly ripped off from Seaquest DSV. OH MY GOD LIKE Goran’s character is totally trapped and out of air in the submersible. James Nesbitt and Minnie Driver’s characters then shout and bang on the door of the submersible bay trying to get him to open the hatch because nobody through to include a manual override, or even pack some cutting gear to get at him. Then, shock horror, Minnie screams through the intercom that she’s going to tell Goran’s wife she slept with him. Naturally this rouses him from his countdown induced hypoxia and he opens the hatch. Go team adultery!

The pull him out, he makes an instantaneous recovery. Then there’s a high pitched squealing noise and James Nesbitt gets a nosebleed. The power goes out, and they hear a scream. The sinister salvage guy is found throttling the annoying character that whined her way through the entire show, and she’s bleeding from the eyes. She then promptly dies setting us up for more exciting adventures the following week.

Sadly I have to admit that despite the annoyances I still sat through and watched the entire episode, and I suspect I’ll stick with it to see if the story, and characters improve. If they don’t it will at least make for an interesting car crash.

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