Neverwhere episode 2 Earl’s Court starts in suitably enigmatic fashion with the sound of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Angel Islington chanting melodically before vanishing from this episode’s narrative with the sound of the Angel’s wings flapping (created, rather marvellously, by hitting a couple of anoraks together).
After the stirring theme tune (which rather puts me in mind of Game of Thrones) we’re straight back into the narrative as Door, Richard, the Marquis and Hunter travel through tunnels in London Below seeking to find those who can help them to find the Angel Islington (Door having been beseeched by her father in his final journal entry to find Islington). The dialogue between the Marquis and poor bewildered Richard is hilariously tart. The Marquis finds Richard an annoyance who slows them down and is not afraid to make his displeasure known. Richard’s journal entries are laugh out loud funny as he composes them in his head to try and make sense of the completely insane situation in which he has found himself.
The party find themselves in the London underground where de Carabas trades a charmed piece of music to a hapless busker in return for a train timetable to assist them to find Earl’s Court. There’s something rather affecting in setting fantastical tales in very recognisable places. Cillian Murphy wandering a deserted Trafalgar Square in 28 Days Later and James Bond chasing the villain in a crowded tube station in Skyfall are situations which are made much more unsettling by the fact that we recognise and know the places – places that are meant to be safe. Never has the innocuous “Mind the Gap” been so unsettling as we discover that the Gap is literally a creature that will lure unsuspecting souls who stray too close to the platform edge to their deaths.
But it is the concept of Earl’s Court – a medieval court complete with roaring fires and libraries and court jesters set inside a carriage of an ageing tube train that is truly marvellous. Ever seen those “Out of Service” tubes pull through a station with their lights off? Now you’ll be wondering just what is going on inside if you could only see inside the doors. The episode really comes into it’s own once Richard and Door visit the Earl of Earl’s Court. Sir Christopher Lee is suitably majestic as the slightly dotty Earl. His presence dominates proceedings with his rich sonorous voice commanding attention as he veers between being terribly stern and outraged with the Marquis to kind and doddery with Door – trying to show up his Court Jester by telling “funny” jokes. It’s a lovely and memorable performance.
James McAvoy continues to be supremely affable and likeable as Richard and his scenes with Door (especially his amazement over the reveal of her ability as an “opener”) really suggest a deepening friendship. Natalie Dormer is charming as Door – it would be easy for her to lapse into a grating stereotypical damsel in distress portrayal but her Door is likeable, kind and more than capable of holding her own. Sophie Okonedo is a teensy bit one note as Hunter but then that is more the nature of the taciturn character and I do enjoy her barely repressed frustration at Richard’s lemming like ability to get himself in trouble. And amongst all the action the quieter moments really stand out – Richard’s acceptance of his insane situation by asking Door to convey his sorrow of the loss of Anasthesia to Miss Whiskers – the rat. McAvoy’s gulps of distress when talking to a rat are really rather affecting.
Bernard Cribbins continues to be awesome as Old Bailey who lives among the birds. He promises (very reluctantly)to hold a mysterious box on behalf of the Marquis in return for some items including “new gloveses”. He’s just brilliant in the role. But gee do you think he might need to use the box?
I greatly enjoyed the scenes of the deeply frustrated Croup and Vandemar lamenting their inability to massacre Door. Their professional outrage at being reduced to mere “scarecrows” was a joy. Tony Head generally puts those silky vocals to work playing charming characters like Herc in Cabin Pressure, or Giles in Buffy or indeed those infamous Gold Blend ads but he is incredibly unsettling as Mr Croup – all vicious, murderous rage barely concealed under his garrulous exterior. Croup and Vandemar’s sudden appearance at the museum as Richard and Door search for the Angelus is suitably jarring and frankly scared the dickens out of me.
And we leave Richard and Door searching for something with an Angel on it – in an exhibition of Angels!
Neverwhere continues tomorrow night on BBC Radio 4 Extra with The Angel Islington at 6:00 p.m. Benedict Cumberbatch fans you most definitely will not want to miss it!