This is part 2 of my dive into the unmapped, shadowy depths of the BBC, hidden beyond all human knowledge, where in the darkness lurk strange, bizarre science fiction and fantasy productions that are not even slightly Doctor Who. You can read part 1 here.
The CipherWhen 16-year-old genius Sabrina (Anya Chalotra) cracks The Cipher, an impossible online puzzle, she is recruited by a mysterious organization to help in the hunt for a serial killer targetting scientists. Although this BBC audio drama/podcast is also about conspiracies and medical mysteries, The Cipher exchanges the bleak horror of Tracks for a rollercoaster of sci-fi concepts and 180-degree twists in every episode.
Life On Mars
So this is a show about a time travelling policeman, starring John Simm, and it's still not Doctor Who. Instead it's a modern take on Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee. By-the-book policeman Sam Tyler suffers a head injury which sends him back in time from 2006 to the 1970s, where he finds himself working for DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), a character who positively embraces the non-politically-correct policing attitudes of the era. As we all know, it is the law that police officers are always paired up on the basis of opposing personality traits, and Life On Mars features possibly the most explosive pairing in any book, movie or TV series ever.
Written by Alex Garland, produced by FX and broadcast by the BBC, DEVS is a cyber thriller about quantum computer programmers working for a secretive tech company. Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) gets herself hired in order to investigate her boyfriend's disappearance, while CEO Forest (Nick Offerman, channeling Jeff Bridges) tries to control... well, everything. DEVS features beautiful, chilling set design and lighting which underscores some intense performances and a neat sci-fi concept.
What We Do In The Shadows
This American TV series spins off the original New Zealand movie, set in the same reality but featuring a new household of flat-sharing vampires living on Staten Island. It's only broadcast by the BBC but could easily pass for a britcom, with shades of Being Human and The Office, featuring The I.T. Crowd's Matt Berry and introducing the brilliant concept of energy vampires. Funny and dark.Fort Salem
One more American TV series brought to the UK and broadcast on the BBC, Fort Salem is set in an alternate timeline where the Salem trials ended with the witches agreeing to become the U.S. Army. Cut to the present day where three witch cadets, Raelle, Tally and Abigail chant their way through their military training under the shadow of General Sarah Alder, learning how to use sound-based magic and who to trust, as the army gears up to fight the Spree, a terrorist witch faction.
His Dark Materials
I have saved the best until last. This non-Doctor-Who fantasy series, based on the books of Philip Pullman, is a georgeous adaptation, innovative in the way the plot is re-worked for television, and at the same time extremely faithful to the characters, settings and overall story. It's more faithful and more magical than the 2007 movie, and unlike the movie the antiestablishment theme is not diluted. The icing on the cake is the casting and acting - Dafne Keen as Lyra, Ruth Wilson as Mrs. Coulter, James McAvoy as Asriel and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby.