There was good news from the BBC yesterday with an announcement that they’ve commissioned a TV adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials for BBC One. It’s not the first time it’s been adapted to the screen but the film adaptation spluttered at the box office and never got past adapting (most of) the first book. Indeed, the fact that it missed out the crucial scene at the end of it might be one of the reason the filmed failed, as all the events leading up to it didn’t make sense on their own. The BBC plan to adapt the books as a miniseries will hopefully get around that issue, and also give the story a bit more time to evolve and develop. It was interesting to me that the National Theatre’s stage adaptation of the books managed to do a better job of transitioning between set-pieces than the film managed, making them feel like a coherent story rather than merely a series of events.
Of course, the BBC announcing an adaptation has been commissioned doesn’t mean it’ll be on our screens soon, or if it does make it, that it’ll be on the BBC. The BBC announced they were adapting The Man In The High Castle – five years later, it’s about to be released on Amazon with a completely different team behind it, so nothing is certain until casting happens and the cameras start rolling.
Even with that caveat, the BBC’s production partners for this are very interesting. As well as New Line Cinema (who own the adaptation rights, so may well be just a silent partner in it) the series is being produced by Bad Wolf Productions, a new company founded by Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, former executive producers of Doctor Who. The name Bad Wolf coupled with Gardner and Tranter, and no writer being announced in the press release does fill me with hope that they’re trying to get Russell T Davies on board to do it.
For me, RTD would be the perfect choice to adapt the books as he comes from the same mindset as Philip Pullman – an atheist who’s interested in religion, and how it affects people and their decisions. I wrote about this a while ago, looking at how questions of what faith and religion mean to people are a common theme in Davies’s work and it’s this perspective of his that makes me really want to see him writing the script for an adaptation of His Dark Materials. His perspective isn’t to mock someone for believing in something but to see what effects that belief has on a person, but also what effects it would have on the world if that belief turned out to be real. That’s at the heart of His Dark Materials, and Davies is the sort of writer who understands how to bring those themes into drama without them overwhelming the story.
The other talent he has is for creating worlds in the mind of the viewer. A lot of the important organisations that fill Pullman’s worlds are only seen for a glance, or through the lens of Lyra or Will overhearing someone talking about them. There’s a minimum of exposition, but a huge amount of subtle detail slipped in as things go on. This is something Davies did brilliantly during his time on Doctor Who, making references to the War or the Medusa Cascade and the Nightmare Child, but letting the audience fill in the details. His version of the Time War as something vast and essentially unknowable in detail is the sort of approach that could bring the world of the Authority and the Magisterium to life.
Of course, I may just be adding two and two together to make fifteen but I can’t help thinking that Davies would be such a good scriptwriter for this project that I’ll be disappointed if someone else gets the job.