TV Viewpoint: Temple and Undone

Remember a few years ago when prime time TV was all about Scandi dramas and their English language adaptations? We had The Killing, The Bridge, Wallander and then dramas inspired by the mood lighting of the North like Broadchurch and Tin Star. Netflix has done us a service by adding foreign language serials to their programming, many co-produced by the company itself; lots of them are French detective series, some Japanese teen dramas and reality shows and then you have the experimental European sci-fi.

Well Scandi-noir is back in the spotlight, where it rightfully belongs, with new drama Temple starring Mark Strong debuting on Sky One last Sunday evening. If you don’t know anything at all about it but are a fan of low-lit crime mystery, brooding characters, decent amount of gratuitous gore and a tantalising drip feed of plot revealing, stop reading now – going in absolutely blind would be a real treat. If curiosity has gotten the better of you or you need at least a little bit of information in order to give up your precious time to a Sunday night TV show, then read on.

Opening with a doctor sneaking around his workplace in the early hours of the morning, ostensibly in search of his misplaced diary, he’s casually stopped by a chatty security guard who remembers at the last minute to express sympathies on the doctor’s loss. Meanwhile a bank robbery is underway, the driver of the escape van clearly new to the game, taking a call from his girlfriend while he should be on lookout then accidentally locking the rest of the team in to the building while the police sirens grow ever louder.

Next time we see the doctor he’s at a memorial service for his wife; her colleague is there, alongside her parents and the couple’s daughter. The service is rendered beautiful by all accounts and the assembled group is about to move on for a few drinks when the doctor receives a phone call – it’s a friend of the getaway driver who is somehow also connected to the doctor, pleading for him to operate on the driver who has received a bullet wound to the spleen after acting shifty at an inconvenient police stop point. The doctor makes haste to the patient, who their mutual friend has taken to what is clearly not a hospital, but a grubby, steampunk looking clinic that’s revealed to be hidden beneath the depths of a little used Tube station called Temple.

Why does the doctor have access to this subterranean clinic? Who is the friend who knows all about it? What are they going to do with the two million pounds recovered from the getaway car? How on earth does he have mobile phone service that far underground? There are questions a plenty, only a few of which are answered in the first episode, a very well-constructed opening chapter. Flashbacks pay their part in filling in some of the blanks and languorous, paced out scenes are interspersed with those that are choppier and faster-paced but it all fits together nicely, enwrapped in a moody, orangey-grey pallet that indicates dark and serious subject matter, accentuated by off-focus backgrounds beloved of big-budget Sky productions.

It’s not all doom and gloom though; the hapless bank robber is young and naïve and actor Tobi King Bakare brings a touch of humour to his performance. Likewise, Daniel Mays, the friend to both, who is up to his eyes at the fringes of criminal activity, a wheeler dealer on the side-lines, is a bit of comic relief without being a foil; out of all the characters his seems like it has the most going on beneath the surface, apart, perhaps from Dr. Daniel, who is juggling many more balls in the air than is even suspected at the beginning of the episode, on his little lurk through his workplace corridors. If Scandi-noir doesn’t do it for you, let me point you in the direction of something you’ll either really love or hate with a blinding passion. Undone is an Amazon Prime show in eight 22 – 24 minute parts, a comedy-drama-sci-fi-fantasy mix presented in a semi-animated form akin to the Richard Linklater film A Scanner Darkly. The animation style might be off-putting – I could never quite get used to it – but it is used to effect in this story of overcoming time and space after a knock to the head. It’s surprisingly funny and features Bob Odinkirk, of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul fame, and is a handy little time filler that might give you more to think about than you might imagine.

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