Jordan Farley journeys to the fabled realm of Chepstow for the darker, deadlier second series of Atlantis
We’ve made some big changes this year,” Atlantis co- creator Johnny Capps tells
SFX. Familiar words in TV land, but for once it doesn’t feel like an empty promise.
As the heir to Merlin’s Saturday evening fantasy crown Atlantis still has a lot left to prove. The 13- episode first series was met with solid ratings but critical indifference and the notable absence of the Arthurian adventure show’s rabid fan base. What most forget, however, is that even the mighty
Merlin took a year or two to find its groove, and Atlantis shows every sign of a similarly meaningful evolution in its second series.
“Our subtitle this year is ‘ A New Dawn’,” says Capps during the final few weeks of filming. “It’s something the Oracle says to Jason very early on. To us that line heralds the fact that the series has moved on, and it’s a new start to the series as well. It’s a nice way of marking that.”
While wandering around the show’s colossal Chepstow studio ( fun fact: it was once a Tesco warehouse), that new start
“we’ve pushed what you can achieve with tv time and budget”
isn’t immediately apparent. There are newly constructed sets – a beautiful Courtyard Of The Sun built around a decadent water feature, a dusty market street flanked by two- storey stone houses – and extensions to existing environments, but the changes are subtle and almost unconsciously immersive. When Pythagoras actor Robert Emms sits down in front of SFX, iPhone in hand, the now- everyday device suddenly looks startlingly alien.
“We wanted to make Atlantis feel like more of a lived- in world,” says Capps. “That’s what Game Of Thrones does so well and it’s one thing we’ve really focused on this year. We’ve also changed the tone of the series somewhat in that the actors’ performances are slightly more naturalistic than before. We’ve changed the costume designs. There’s a lot more dirt and sweat. And we worked very hard on the effects, so it’s been a fascinating journey this year making a fantasy show feel very real, visceral and rooted.”
Changes like these might not be the headlinegrabbing kind, but one major change in Atlantis is bound to raise a few eyebrows: life has moved on a whole year at the start of the second series. Pasiphae is living in exile and there’s been a big shake up on the throne. King Minos is dead; long live Queen Ariadne!
“When an audience has waited a year it always feels slightly disappointing if you just pick up straight away. But also, we really like to shake things up!” Capps says. “We left series one with Minos a broken man, in very ill health, realising that Pasiphae betrayed him. We start this series a year later and on hearing of Minos’ death Pasiphae has sworn to take Atlantis back and we have Ariadne as the young queen trying to step into her father’s shoes.
“We’re putting this young princess into this very powerful position and she’s in the situation of a young Queen Elizabeth I – she’s a strong and dynamic woman but she has to survive in a very male world and prove herself as a young leader. Does she need to become ruthless like Pasiphae, or can she rule with a kind heart? Does she marry for love or strategically to keep Atlantis safe? It’s a really interesting journey for Ariadne because we see her growing up and the sacrifices she has to make to become a leader.”
Wasting no time, the opening two- parter will see war with Pasiphae’s forces erupt on the streets of Atlantis. Expect battles, bloodshed and the kind of scale series one could only dream about. “I’m very excited about the first two episodes,” Capps enthuses. “It tells quite an epic story and we’ve really pushed what you can achieve on television time and budget. We have massive battle sequences and it’s a fascinating story about a young queen thrown into this huge battle and how Hercules, Jason and Pythagoras support her. It really sets the tone for this series; that lives are at stake, that a city’s at stake and this isn’t just a nice bawdy romp. This is now a much more mature series which is about the struggle for power and the ripple effect on everybody at the core of that.” There have been some big changes behind the camera too. Though the writing team is largely intact ( with Misfits’ Howard Overman once again penning the bulk of the episodes) the approach to plotting has undergone a significant reappraisal.
“Myself, Howard, Rachael Knight and Julian Murphy have storylined the series in a very different way this year in that it’s very serialised, which to us makes the series a lot richer and more emotionally dynamic,” Capps explains. “In series one they were self- contained stories. We’d become aware that people are watching television in very different ways now, so we wanted to reflect that change. We still have a story of the week but the story of the week has intriguing character arcs through it with a lot of two and three- parters. It thickens up the stories and there’s a lot more jeopardy and intrigue. The struggle of feuding families and the struggle for power is a big theme throughout the series. It’s been very hard work but it’s been really good fun in that we’ve changed the way we tell stories.”
A lot of the thinking behind the new and improved Atlantis has been spurred by the fact that, where Atlantis was once a show written for 7pm but broadcast at 8: 30pm, it’s now a show written and realised with a later timeslot in mind. “The interesting thing about doing high concept shows, especially for a Saturday night audience, is that as you get to know the characters and as the world thickens you can get darker and darker,” says Capps. “Atlantis was always designed for a seven o’ clock audience, but it was scheduled at eight thirty and it will be scheduled at eight thirty again this year. That’s exciting for us as programme makers because at eight thirty you can go a little bit darker and you can be a little bit more real and visceral with the world and so that was something we were keen to push and something we felt was right for the format of the show. We were very keen for it still to have a very broad audience appeal but we felt the
show was robust enough to push it in a darker way and explore the characters’ darker sides as well.”
For Jason, Hercules and Pythagoras, heartbreak awaits as their darker sides are fully explored, but the three Atlantean amigos start series two by living up to their billing as the Ancient Greek A- Team. “We set up in the first episode that they’re the only ones who can work for Ariadne covertly if she needs people to go on missions for her. And in episode one she asks them to go on a very dangerous mission.”
Having been cursed with her legendary serpentine hairdo in series one, Medusa will return in a “surprising way” which may eventually allow for a rekindled romance with Hercules. And there are some key new characters making a big impact in Atlantis this year, including Ariadne’s fiercely loyal right hand man Dion ( 300’ s Vincent Regan); Telamon ( Camelot’s Clive Standen), who vies for Ariadne’s hand in marriage; and Medea ( Being Human’s Amy Manson), a crucial figure for Jason in the myths.
“Jason’s journey in season two is very much about accepting his destiny and early on he realises that he needs to stop Atlantis being destroyed,” says Capps. “But he’s got a big journey to go on, because as you know we left series one revealing that Pasiphae, Jason’s sworn enemy, is his mother. So it’s a very interesting story of a young man who accepts his destiny but doesn’t realise what that entails – a very dark past about his mother and his father. That all gets explored in the series.
“Jack’s done an extraordinary job as a young actor,” Capps continues. “He’s really grown into the role and there are some heartbreaking moments for him because not only does he have his past and his parents to deal with but he also has a really interesting emotional story with Ariadne. We explore his relationship with Medea as well, so as the series progresses there’s a compelling love triangle.”
Big changes then. And there’s every indication that Atlantis will be a better show for them. After all, the team behind Merlin certainly knows a thing or two about playing the long game.
“Series two for us is all about the power struggle of Atlantis between Ariadne and Pasiphae, these two very dynamic women that are sworn enemies, and how Medea fits into that mix. Jason came to Atlantis to find his father and his mother and to find out the truth of that. And that’s what he uncovers in this series; that to us felt a much richer story and far more adult and interesting and dark.”
How many Atlanteans does it take to kill a spider?
“That’s not a knife. This is a knife.”
We hope they had primitive sun tan lotion in Atlantis. “Cross my palm with silver, dearie.”