Plenty of sights in BBC One’s new adaptation of His Dark Materials are enough to inspire awe amongst the show’s viewers, with those behind-the-scenes superbly realising Pullman’s fantastical world on the small screen.
But, beautiful as it may look, some viewers have been left wondering where the show actually takes place – and, for that matter, in what time period the action is occurring.
Many of the place names will be more than a bit familiar to viewers – for example in episode one we see Lyra living in Oxford, while large portions of episode two take place in London.
The only thing is, this doesn’t look much like our version of London – nor does it look like one from any particular period of history.
And, as if to compound the confusion, a couple of scenes in episode two see Lord Boreal – a key character in the books – visit a world that looks suspiciously like our own, complete with smart phones, cars and modern coffee shops.
So, when and where is His Dark Materials set?
Well, the answer might seem a little bit complicated, especially for those who haven’t read the books.
The bulk of the action we’ve seen so far is taking place in an alternative version of our universe, but one that, in the series at least, exists alongside our own. And yes, it’s still 2019 there too.
“Philip was always really clear, Lyra’s world is happening at the same time as our world. It’s just evolved differently,” executive producer Jane Tranter told RadioTimes.com.
“And so our trick is to have buildings like Oxford’s Radcliffe Camera, and let an audience see the Radcliffe Camera, but see how different Lyra’s world version is to our world Radcliffe Camera.
“Because [religious power] The Magisterium suppress knowledge and growth, it’s never been through an industrial revolution, and certainly no technological revolution. So it just feels slightly more stuck in a place than ours does. Everything in Lyra’s world speaks to us looking at a world that’s evolved more slowly.”
In other words, Lyra’s world is like ours, but more backward in some ways, more developed (and certainly more magical) in others.
Will His Dark Materials visit other worlds in future series?
So far we have only seen one character, Lord Boreal (pictured), exist in both the alternative world – with Lyra and dæmons and armoured bears – and in our own one, with smart phones and cars and coffee shops.
In Philip Pullman’s original novels, however, travel between parallel worlds is a key part of the story starting in second book The Subtle Knife, and the differences between Lyra’s world, our own and other planes are explored in depth – and according to Tranter, we can expect a lot more of that in His Dark Materials’ second series.
“In season two we go to six different worlds including our world,” Tranter told us. “And how do we make that blend? And not make it look like suddenly a sort of jump.
“My instinct would be that our world should be shot with love. And with colour and noise. Because it’s a world where knowledge has been allowed to be free, to good or bad effect. And where people wear their souls inside, but as a result almost the world is more colourful, and noisier for sure.
“Whereas in Lyra’s world people’s souls are outside [as dæmons], but the Magisterium are constantly recoiling from that. And do not research this, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. And so it’s just got a different feel.”
Until more is revealed, viewers are bound to continue marvelling at the jaw-dropping sights Lyra encounters in her otherworldly version of Earth. But watch out – because other worlds are coming…
His Dark Materials airs on BBC One, Sunday at 8.00pm