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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Complete Series
Collector’s Edition


Starring: Jack Davenport, Susannah Harker, Idris Elba and Philip Quast
Mediumrare Entertainment
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 22 April 2013

Detective Sergeant Michael Colefield is unwittingly thrust into the nightmarish world of vampires when his best friend Jack disappears on the eve of his wedding. His investigation leads him to uncover a secret Government organisation that hunts “Code Vs”, and Jack has become one of the hunted. Michael reluctantly joins the team, which includes a soldier, Vaughn Rice; scientist Angela March; and a Catholic priest, Pearse J Harman. Armed with an arsenal of specialised weaponry, the group investigates cases ranging from a woman who appears to be carrying a Code V child, a man who is being used to test synthetic blood, and the outbreak of a vampire-related disease at a school...

It’s fascinating to look back at the six-part 1998 British TV series Ultraviolet, having personally not seen it for at least a decade.

First of all there’s the vampire-hunter concept, which was highly unusual at the time. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had started the previous year, but more adult modern treatments of the genre, such as True Blood, were still some way in the future. Nowadays sci-fi and supernatural shows are ten a penny, but in the late Nineties there wasn’t anything else like this being made on British television. There was no Doctor Who (the one-off Paul McGann TV movie had been two years earlier), no Torchwood and certainly no Being Human. Not that the word “vampire” is ever uttered in Ultraviolet – instead, characters refer to the creatures as “Code V”, or use the derogatory term “leech”.

In tone, the show is similar to Spooks (which would follow a few years later), with its close-knit group of operatives, well equipped and usually coolly restrained in terms of their emotions. Television drama nowadays tends to wear its heart on its sleeve, so it is refreshing to see so much delicate underplaying among the personnel of the CIB. Notably, Susannah Harker’s character Angela March sheds a tear just once, which makes the scene all the more effective, and she has a wonderful little moment of connection with Idris Elba’s Vaughn Rice that speaks volumes. Similarly, Rice shows true fear on only one occasion, in a dramatic set piece that, once seen, is unlikely to be forgotten for a long time. Throughout the six episodes, Philip Quast remains wonderfully dry as department head Pearse J Harman.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most temperamental member of the team is the new recruit, Michael Colefield, played by Jack Davenport. Opening the series as an outsider looking in, he provides a point of identification for the audience as he learns – to his horror – what the CIB is and what it is fighting. Later, he represents the group’s conscience, questioning his colleagues’ methods on a number of occasions. There are interesting parallels with the character of Gwen Cooper in Torchwood eight years later. Both Michael and Gwen start off as police officers who investigate the mysterious organisation that they end up joining.

Which brings us to the other big incentive for revisiting this show: its cast, many of whom would go on to make names for themselves in the USA. Davenport, who was already well known for his role in This Life when he made Ultraviolet, went on to play high-profile roles in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and the TV shows FlashForward and Smash. Elba arguably achieved even greater acclaim in The Wire, while Stephen Moyer evidently enjoyed being a vampire so much that he chose to play another one in the aforementioned True Blood. Moyer is almost unrecognisable in his early role as Jack, sporting his native British accent and some very Nineties hair.

Signs of the times such as this – and some enormous phones – were initially a little off-putting as I watched the opening episode, Habeas Corpus, but I soon got over it. The episode is also hampered by a slight lack of clarity in the storytelling, with some mumbled dialogue and choppy visuals. The latter aspect also affects a couple of subsequent instalments, Sub Judice and Mea Culpa, but to a lesser degree. I would go so far as to say that Habeas Corpus is the weakest episode of the bunch, or perhaps I should just say the least strong, as it’s still good stuff. By the end of the opening instalment, the drama will have you hooked.

Later episodes deal with some intriguing and/or horrifying concepts, such as a vampire being hideously scarred by daylight in In Nomine Patris, and an apparent Code V embryo in Sub Judice. Writer / director Joe Ahearne develops the vampire myth to its logical conclusion, showing, for example, that just as the creatures cannot be seen in mirrors, so they cannot be captured on CCTV, detected by an ultrasound scanner, or heard over the telephone (they have to use speech synthesisers in order to communicate by phone). Real-life issues are touched upon, such as child abuse in Mea Culpa and cancer in several episodes.

Corin Redgrave dominates the final two instalments, Terra Incognita and Persona Non Grata, as a Hannibal Lecter (or rather Lecktor – the quietly menacing Brian Cox version, as opposed to the scenery-chewing Anthony Hopkins) type character who verbally spars with Pearse. All the while, ongoing storylines gather momentum, in particular surrounding the uneasy relationship between Michael and Kirsty (Colette Brown), a civilian and friend for whom he dare not admit his true feelings. Accompanying Ahearne on his dramatic journey is musician Sue Hewitt, who provides a rousing score, which builds from unsettling to downright nail-biting.

It is something of a shame that a follow-up series was never produced. However, as Ahearne points out in the special features, he pretty much covers all of the concept’s major angles in these six episodes. The law of diminishing returns may well have set in if the show had carried on for much longer.

Ultraviolet has been released on DVD before, by E1 Entertainment in 2001, but there wasn’t much in the way of special features that time. This release, courtesy of Mediumrare, includes three newly recorded interview featurettes (about 15 minutes each) with Ahearne, in which the writer / director discusses creating, casting and directing the show. There is also a teeny tiny featurette on storyboarding, a rather hyperactive image gallery (I’m avoiding the word “stills” in view of all its zooming and panning), original TV trailers, deleted scenes from the first episode, and audio commentaries with Ahearne and producer Sophie Balhetchet on three episodes.

After 15 years, Ultraviolet still has teeth.


Richard McGinlay

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