Episode three of Neverwhere continues where it left off with Door and Richard inside the Angels over England exhibition at the British Musuem searching in vain for the Angelus while trying not to attract the attention of Jessica- Richard’s fearsome ex-fiancee who is overseeing the exhibition for her boss Mr Stockton.
Door’s excitement over the array of canapes available (my kind of girl) is adorable while Richard laments the task of working out what the Angelus (which can be used by Door to take them to the Angel Islington) could possibly be when they are surrounded by hundreds of items depicting angels. Romola Garai returns to hilarious comic effect as the truly awful Jessica (her conversation with “Bob Geldof” about her thoughts on Live Aid (not in the source novel) is laugh out loud funny). Jessica unfortunately notices Richard (well she is his fiancee not even the effects of being in London Below could quite erase him from her memory) and the ultimate confrontation between the two is vastly entertaining as Richard confidently holds his own in the face of her bewilderment.
The Angelus uncovered Richard and Door use it to jump to the Angel Islington’s lair – right at the very heart of London Below. Benedict Cumberbatch fans have been eagerly awaiting his performance as the Angel Islington ever since his involvement was announced and it most certainly does not disappoint. Cumberbatch has been blessed with a superb voice – rich, deep and sonorous which he has used to impressive effect in projects as diverse as Sherlock, Frankenstein, Parade’s End and most memorably opening the BBC’s coverage of the Olympics to the pulsing sound of a heartbeat – Let the Games Commence indeed.
Funnily enough he isn’t short of work which seeks to capitalise on those silky vocals be it voice over work, adverts (most notably for Jaguar), audio books, reciting poetry for compilations (I doubt there’s a fan of his that doesn’t have his reading of Keat’s Ode to a Nightingale somewhere on their ipod) or radio drama which he remains an enthusiastic fan of. Much has been made in the press of his voice with Caitlin Moran memorably describing it as sounding like a “Jaguar in a Cello”.
Well there’s “Jaguar in a Cello”, there’s silky smooth, chocolate dipped vocals and then there is the voice Benedict Cumberbatch is using as the Angel Islington.Frankly it’s bordering ever so slightly on the obscene – aural pornography of the highest calibre. Soft, rich, deep and so low that I could actually feel my headphones vibrate in time with his purred rumblings. It’s like the producers got a lion, fed it on a diet of whiskey and cigarettes for years and then got it to narrate the part while it was feeling in a particularly mellow mood.
His Islington is kind and supremely gentle – welcoming Door and Richard with hushed tones and open arms, revelling in having visitors, clearly a rare occurrence. He delights them by feeding them wine from Atlantis. He (well I say he the book makes it clear that Islington transcends our concepts of gender) is infinitely patient with the disbelieving Richard boggling at the fact that he is talking to a real angel until Islington proves himself by unfurling his wings and showing them his true nature. But there is just the slightest hint of something a little murkier bubbling under Islington’s benign exterior in his response to understanding Richard’s dismay at feeling like he is being punished for doing a good deed. Islington bids them farewell with a token that will see them able to safely return to him and a quest – to retrieve a certain key from the Black Friars. It’s a fantastic sequence and one I’m sure will become a firm favourite with Cumberbatch fans.
Meanwhile while Door and Richard return (completely paralytic) to the deeply unimpressed Hunter the Marquis has rather unwisely been trading for information with Croup and Vandemar. You have to admire the Marquis’ courage – boldly wandering into their hideout and trading insults with two highly dangerous men. Alas it doesn’t work out terribly well for him. Croup & Vandemar are let off their leash in this episode and unpleasantly memorable it is too.
Another superb fast paced episode filled with engaging vocal performances.
Neverwhere returns tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. on BBC Radio 4 Extra with The Black Friars.