Review: “Neverwhere” 15th Anniversary Edition
Imagine the BBC fifteen years ago, before the current explosion of science fiction and fantasy fare. It was a dowdy set of channels, working on the cheap, and not being necessarily accommodating to the needs of its shows. Instead, they often said we have a hole for X, please take your concept and make it fit.
While their schedules were not entirely devoid of genre fare, it came few and far between with offerings like Neverwhere, which aired on BBC Two and was written by Neil Gaiman, in the flush of his success in America with Sandman. He met with producer Lenny Henry during England’s annual Comic Relief event and they began talking about a story. Lenny imagined a society below London and that was enough of a spark to get Gaiman going.
He conjured up a fully realized fantasy world and used the character of Richard Mayhew, a thoroughly typical citizen, who does a good deed and is rewarded with being plunged into this realm. The story of Neverwhere has been told and retold, first as a BBC miniseries, complete with 1996 novelization by Gaiman, and then, years later, a comic book adaptation from Vertigo. There’s been a steady stream of talk of a film version but it remains trapped in a realm of its own called Development Hell.
The BBC at the time treated it like any of its other broadcasts, giving the fantasy a budget fit for a situation comedy and then insisting it be produced in thirty-minute installments coupled with the even odder demand that it be shot on video not film. The result was an unsatisfactory event that has left Gaiman and fans demanding a Redo.
Instead, the BBC is releasing a fifteenth anniversary DVD edition of the miniseries on Tuesday. They had a Region 2 edition around for some time now but this is a first official release in the States. The video to high definition transfer is adequate but shows all the flaws in the production values and the need to do everything on the cheap. Video, unlike film, robs the story of its ability to conjure up a proper atmosphere to make the underground world and its inhabitants feel different than the surface world society.
By having to structure his story in six segments, not three, Gaiman had to alter his storytelling and pacing to the detriment of the characters. Overall, the result is like a first draft, a rehearsal for what should have been something more. And better. Instead, the cast is adequate with a tendency to overact under Dewi Humphreys’ direction.
Extras from the original home video such as Gaiman’s insightful commentary are here along with a thirty minute interview with Gaiman, originally done for broadcast, mostly speaking to the camera. New to this edition are some brief introductory comments from Gaiman, Henry, and Humphreys as well as an anniversary commentary track. It’s interesting to hear them reminisce and dream of what could have been, especially with the evolution in budgets, special effects and management at the network. The package also comes with a nice touch: a map of the underground world, tucked inside the case.
I never warmed to the story in any of its incarnations but as Neil Gaiman’s following has only grown, this is a good opportunity for fans to sample some of his other ideas and efforts.
- The distribution of letters in Neverwhere (superconductor.voltage.com)