Atlantis is the latest Saturday evening show from the BBC and is clearly designed to fill a Merlin-sized hole in the schedule. The series started with the episode The Earth Bull, which made short work of setting up the plot, introducing some major characters and filling the screen with CGI.
Jason (Jack Donnelly) is in a mini-sub searching for the remains of his father’s submarine, the Oracle. As he finds the wreckage a bright light whisks him off to the world of Atlantis. Here he befriends Pythagoras (Robert Emms) and also meets Hercules (Mark Addy). Little time is wasted before we learn that every year seven citizens are sacrificed to allow everyone else in Atlantis to live. Under the eyes of King Minos (Alexander Siddig), his suspicious wife Pasiphae (Sarah Parish) and the admiring princess Ariadne (Aiysha Hart), Pythagoras draws the black stone that will mean his doom. Of course Jason swaps places and all three of the main characters end up in a vast maze at the mercy of the Minotaur.
After some exploring, fighting and revelations, all ends well and the show takes plenty of time to sow the seeds of the greater plot through the vessel of the local Oracle (Juliet Stevenson) and we learn that Jason has a destiny, his father walks with the dead and that Jason has enemies. Princess Ariadne also seems destined to be a love interest.
Starburst had no particular expectations when we tuned in but we came away impressed. The beginning is somewhat rushed but once Jason arrives in Atlantis the show is well-paced and interesting. The casting of the older characters is excellent and the show has an expensive feel. There's something to be said for the way the writers are grabbing bits of legend without being slaves to them – Pythagoras is the triangle man, Hercules is a drunkard and both are nothing like their historic or mythical selves. This deconstruction of myth does allow for fresh thinking and let's hope this continues. A call out, too, to the excellent CGI used to produce the head of the Minotaur, which is amongst the best we've ever seen the BBC produce, Doctor Who included.
On the strength of this the BBC has a potential winner on its hands, but will it maintain the high standard?