Neverwhere is a six-episode British TV series by Neil Gaiman that first aired in 1996. To mark its 15th anniversary, the BBC has put out this remastered DVD edition.
I’ve never seen it before, so these are the reactions of someone now, not someone with a fondness or a fandom. The visual quality is the expected low-budget style you see in similar productions (like older Doctor Who episodes), which makes it seem very comfortable on home video. The opening is various bits of gross weirdness interspersed with what resembles a current cell phone commercial, with a young professional guy talking over dinner reservations with his pushy fiancee.
Richard (Gary Bakewell) finds an escapee from “London Below” (Laura Fraser, who when cleaned up resembles Death of The Sandman) bleeding on the street; he takes her home for medical attention, which leads to him being drawn into this alternate underground world he never knew existed. (Typical of this type of story, good deeds get you into bad circumstances. Because he became involved with her, he becomes invisible to those in his old life, my favorite part of the story.) There, he must figure things out in order to find his way home, while encountering bizarre characters amongst the homeless and historical, in the grand tradition of fantasy classics like Alice in Wonderland.
It strikes me as typically Gaiman, which is a compliment if you’re a follower. If you’re not, you might find it disjointed, preferring oddly creepy images to coherent storytelling. Richard is non-threateningly attractive and mostly asked to look confused a lot. (He’s best known for playing Paul McCartney, and I can definitely see the resemblance in the puppy-dog eyes.)
Gary Bakewell in Neverwhere
Due to the shoestring special effects and staging, the show feels older than it is. Although of the genre termed “urban dark fantasy”, with two creepy older men chasing after the fragile orphan, it feels very suburban in its concerns. I wonder if I would find more to its mystery if I was familiar with London, since the setting is crucial to the story. (Although I believe that I had the same Underground board game Gaiman mentions in the interview; it never occurred to me to play puns with the place names, though, as he does in this story.)
Given the cheap production value and the lack of star power (or accomplished acting), this is only available, 15 years later, because of Gaiman’s name. Fans will likely already own it, or know they want it. For those who have a copy, there are new special features. For those who don’t, the special features from the previous edition are carried over.
The disc contains, in addition to a printed map listing key places in the show,
- the six 30-minute episodes
- a new 10-minute introduction video with Neil Gaiman, co-creator Lenny Henry, and producer Clive Brill looking back
- the original release commentary (recorded in 2003) with Gaiman, who at least at the beginning, mostly tells us what we’re seeing on screen
- a much better new commentary with Gaiman, Henry, and Brill, with a lot more reflection and discussion of how they did it vs. what they envisioned
- a 23-minute interview with Neil Gaiman (talking into the camera) from the original DVD, which looks like it was intended to be used for publicity, where local hosts could cut themselves into the footage
- a short photo gallery
- a three-screen bio that must be from the earlier edition, since it talks about him living near Minneapolis with his wife and three kids (I think he’s on a different marriage now)
- 18 character descriptions
(The studio provided a review copy.)