His Dark Materials episode 8 finale review: A whole new world

Lyra and Will take a big step as Lord Asriel shows his dark side – but what can we expect in series two?

Dafne Keen and James McAvoy in His Dark Materials on BBC One
4.0 out of 5 star rating

So this is how the worlds open – not with a bang, but a child’s whimper. With another dark episode full of spectacle, horrible fates and powerful performances, His Dark Materials’ first series comes to a close, and it’s really been an impressive adaptation thus far.

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In fact, in a way it’s easy to see this finale – which sees Lord Asriel open a portal to another world and betray Lyra while the Magisterium close in – as a perfect exemplar of what this adaptation has done best.

While working closely from Philip Pullman’s original text and the events therein, the action is expanded and broadened, both in terms of bangs and whistles – the battle between the Magisterium and Iorek’s bears providing exciting, shallow thrills – and the emotional depth between characters.

For example, the emotional pang of Roger’s (Lewin Lloyd) sad end, a victim of Lord Asriel’s schemes, is definitely there in the book – but on-screen, having seen in so much more depth just what a close bond he and Lyra (Dafne Keen) had in extra scenes together (including some very sweet moments this episode), it hits even harder.

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Similarly, the complicated, difficult relationship between Lyra and her father Asriel (James McAvoy) just feels so much weightier with the extra breathing room this adaptation has, with extended conversations between the two painting a more complex and forgiving picture of the ruthless character Lyra never really knew in the first place.

Add to that Ruth Wilson’s continuing dominance of the entire series as the troubled, more sympathetic Mrs Coulter, and you’ve got something special. Maybe a little less subtle, more spelled out version of Pullman’s story, sure, but one with incredible emotional resonance and heart.

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Meanwhile, the series’ biggest gamble – introducing the story of book two, The Subtle Knife, and lead character Will Parry (Amir Wilson) a year earlier than expected – also pays off handsomely, with Will and Lyra’s parallel decision to step into new worlds setting up series two (already filmed and due to air next winter) much better than if we’d never even heard of Will.

No, this adaptation hasn’t been perfect. As discussed before the depiction of daemons on this series hasn’t been consistent enough to hit the high notes of the novels, some storylines have felt like filler and some substitutions or changes from the books have felt a little unnecessary (why is Serafina Pekkala’s daemon a different animal to the one in the books? Who knows).

But overall, screenwriter Jack Thorne and the team at Bad Wolf studios have pulled off the seemingly impossible, creating a TV version of His Dark Materials that captures the spirit of adventure, inventiveness and scale of Pullman’s iconic book series. Personally, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for series two.

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His Dark Materials is streaming on BBC iPlayer now