This four-part BBC sci-fi/police procedural seems to have flown under the radar in this country. It appeared for a short time on ABC iView and is now available on DVD.
There’s a hard-boiled, chain-smoking cop grieving over his lost wife and investigating the death of a girl whose body has been left in a rubbish dump. He finds himself up against a multi-layered, treacherous power elite.
Familiar enough territory, but it’s the dystopia here that makes the real difference. Set somewhere in Europe, the cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma literally exist in the same place. The citizens of both cities are trained to “unsee”, effectively avoiding each other even if the borders of their cities run down the middle of a street.
Citizens can mistakenly catch a glimpse of the other city, but must immediately look away. If you don’t, the Breach, who patrol the borders, will “manifest” and take you. And you don’t want to be taken by the Breach.
If permitted, citizens can visit the other city, but only after a two-week training course. The “manifest” members of the Breach “who look like you and I” can operate with fluidity between these two different worlds. It throws up new challenges for our hard-boiled cop (David Morrissey) whose lost wife “crossed over” without permission on an archaeological quest to find the fabled hidden city of Orchiny.
Based on a 2009 novel by China Miéville, there is imaginative use of Manchester and Liverpool as locations for Beszel and Ul Qoma and the series mashes up a host of influences including Bladerunner, John le Carre, pulp fiction, film noir, Black Mirror, Coppola’s The Conversation, SS-GB, East and West Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie and something a wit for The Guardian calls “post-Soviet exoticism”.