The BBC doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with Sea of Souls. After the first series they replaced two out of the three major characters, and in series three they went from three two part stories in the series to six single episode stories. ‘Series 4’ which was shown this week on BBC1 was in actual fact just a single two part story, and whilst it obviously had a bigger budget, and was definitely more glossy looking, they had again done away with two out of the three major characters, and it largely stands separate from the previous series, leaving the only consistent aspect of the programme being Bill Paterson, in the starring role as Dr Douglas Monaghan.
Despite the changes of format, this new Sea of Souls was as spooky as ever. The story opens with a couple arriving at a deserted and near derelict house in Scotland, and with Dr Monaghan working on a book about The Golden Dawn, and the Cipher Manuscripts on which the organisation was based.
Working on the derelict house, the couple find a strange painting on the wall under the wallpaper, and the wife posts a picture of it on the internet. This comes to the attention of Monaghan – it shows that someone in the house was a member of The Golden Dawn, and Monaghan asks for permission to investigate further.
Arriving at the house, he also finds that the wife has been having strange experiences – voices coming from radios when they are turned off, and later she starts to have visions. As Monaghan investigates the house further, he finds evidence that alongside The Golden Dawn, Palo rituals were being carried out too with symbols associated with the rituals carved in the floor.
Like a number of previous Sea of Souls plots, this had it’s twists and turns, and a pretty big twist just towards the end which finds Monaghan, on a research trip to London, rushing back up to Scotland. The extra budget is clear, with luscious and glossy cinematography, and the whole story fairly obviously being done entirely on film and on location – even for the University sequences, where Monaghan now has a very grand office. There are also a number of grand sweeping helicopter shots of the Scottish landscape, and some location filming both inside and outside at the British Library down in London.
Having said that, with the big budget and locations, we’ve also lost a lot of the main character interplay, and university politics elements of the previous story, essentially this is one story. As such it is a somewhat slower paced drama, with a definite slow burn in some respects.
Despite the loss of the character interplay, there is some interesting character development. In earlier series, Monaghan was a confirmed sceptic, always looking for a rational explanation. During the third series he seemed to change somewhat, finding things that he just could not explain. In this episode he mentions his wife and child, his wife having died in childbirth many years ago, followed by the baby, and how he admits that he saw his wife at their funeral, and that was what started his work with the paranormal. He is also very ready to believe in the presence of spirits in the derelict house.
There is a fairly stylised blending between the present day house, and the house in the past, partly because it is the spirits of the previous occupants haunting the building, but at times this is also showing the audience events that occurred in the past, essentially keeping the audience a few steps ahead of Monaghan as he investigates. Having said that although there are hints, the final twist comes as a surprise, and in the last fifteen minutes or so we get a tumbling of revelations and realisations, and a classic creepy Sea of Souls ending that really leaves you wondering if that is really the end.
Unfortunately, with the big budget, this is the only story we’re going to get at least for the near future. It was definitely spooky, and whilst it looked good, it is a shame not to have any more…
If you find yourself needing some more of the series, the first two series are still available on DVD.