A star rating of 3 out of 5.

The Rig is a funny old show, seemingly difficult to categorise and pin down. Is it a "character-driven mystery thriller", as the official synopsis calls it? "A show about industry" with a "strong environmental theme" as writer David Macpherson has called it? Or an "epic" series which is "full of action" as an Amazon Studios executive previously called it?


Well, none of these assertions are exactly wrong. Prime Video's The Rig is all of these things and more, making for a watch which is at times exhilarating, at others tonally baffling.

The set-up is this - the crew of a North Sea oil rig, called the Kinloch Bravo, find themselves stranded and cut off from all communications with the shore when a strange fog descends upon them. Cue plenty of angst, in-fighting and ecological pondering as the crew find themselves at the mercy of an evolving, ever-deepening crisis.

Throw in a hefty dose of mystery and some spooky sci-fi goings-on, and what have you got? Why, it's a classic base-under siege Doctor Who story.

Iain Glen in The Rig
Iain Glen in The Rig Amazon Studios

That's not a negative comparison by any stretch. Doctor Who has provided us with plenty of riveting confined-space escapades, and while The Rig might not match up to the absolute best of those, it would sit comfortably alongside the series' mid-tier instalments.

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Even the cast and characters feel as though they've been plucked from a Who adventure - in fact, many of the actors have. And what a cast it is, with a roster of mostly Scottish stars including Iain Glen, Martin Compston and Mark Bonnar alongside Mark Addy, Emily Hampshire and more.

It's a true ensemble, with everyone pulling their weight and no-one hogging the spotlight. Particular stand-outs include Glen as the crew's boss Magnus, Bonnar as deck foreman Alwyn and Rochenda Sandall as medic Cat, but there's not a weak link amongst the rest, which is impressive given the enormous cohort of central players.

The first episode, when we're getting to know the crew and their plight first becomes clear, is the highlight so far, managing to cleverly dole out exposition around motivations and grievances without appearing heavy-handed - it packs a lot of character depth into one hour of storytelling.

As the show progresses through episodes 2 and 3 the mystery and the peril heightens, but the exceptional early character development does get somewhat lost in the shuffle. The slow unravelling of the central plot feels at odds with the promise of the first instalment, which is propulsive and purposeful even in its quieter moments.

Martin Compston in The Rig.
Martin Compston in The Rig. Amazon Studios

But the big question is, can the series sustain its base-under-siege story and environmental mystery over six hours? Well, in truth, it's hard to tell. Only the first three episodes of the series have been made available for review at this time, meaning it could go either way.

However, based on the current trajectory, it would appear that the whole thing has been stretched a bit too far. The mystery, while at first compelling, appears by episode 3's end to be relatively thin, a premise many will have predicted from the show's initial trailer.

It is somewhat bolstered by the show's ecological messaging. Funnily enough given the timing of the release, this does very much feel like the James Cameron/Avatar method of bequeathing climate awareness - entertain first, inform second.

But while Cameron has the advantage of being set in a wholly different space and time, The Rig – although dabbling in sci-fi and mythology – does have its feet firmly planted on terra firma in the 2020s, so instead of using thinly veiled metaphors, climate debates play out in the open, with characters having literal discussions about the oil industry's effect on the planet versus its social and economic importance for the workers and their families.

Mark Bonnar in The Rig
Mark Bonnar in The Rig. Amazon Studios

That it manages to present these discussions so directly yet not appear preachy is impressive - the points raised are each given their due, but everything stems from character. It becomes evident which side of the fence each of the crew are on from the very early on, with this then guiding later discussions.

Then, just like with climate change, it all becomes somewhat irrelevant anyway. As the crew discover, theoretical debate is all well and good until a crisis comes knocking at the door, whether it be real-life climate disasters of the kind we have seen in years past or, for the Kinloch Bravo, the freaky fog kind.

A lot has been made of the show's production design and VFX, used to create the environment of the rig when the pandemic meant any filming on a real rig was naturally out of the question. The visual effects are, by-and-large, impressive. There are some shots where the exterior lighting feels unnatural, but the world of the rig does for the most part feel like a real, solid, liveable location - surely not least because parts of it very much are, having been purpose-built for filming.

However, just from a story point of view, the enormous size of both the rig itself and of the cast does mean that some of the in-fighting and tension gets lost. A base under siege story works because it feels as though individuals are indefinitely stuck with one another, and while that is true here, the rig's expanse, and the show's need to constantly split up the sprawling cast, means the confines don't quite feel close or oppressive enough.

Emily Hampshire as Rose in The Rig
Emily Hampshire as Rose in The Rig. Amazon Prime Video/Wild Mercury Productions

But when it comes down to it, it's really those pacing and tonal issues which stop The Rig from being a slam dunk. At a recent Q&A for the series attended by RadioTimes.com and other press, Emily Hampshire noted that while she wasn't a fan of fantasy or the supernatural, she felt that The Rig was "based on real science" and that "every crazy thing that happens could happen".

The final three episodes may prove me wrong, but based on what's been made available to watch so far, that feels like a bit of a stretch. Large parts of this series feel like some truly preposterous sci-fi with extravagant window-dressing - absolutely nothing wrong with that, some of the best series are. But with everyone on-screen taking the whole endeavour so deadly seriously, and implications that this is somehow more grounded than most genre series, it feels as though there's been a miscommunication between intention and final product.

Regardless, these first three episodes are worth the time. This is still highly watchable fare with some strong performances and atmosphere, it's just not quite as propulsive or as innovative as one might have hoped. Maybe the final three will come along and put those criticisms to rest. If not, and this remains comparable to a somewhat overstretched Doctor Who story writ large - well, there's nothing wrong with that either.

The Rig will stream on Amazon Prime Video from 6th January 2023 – try Amazon Prime Video for free for 30 days.

If you’re looking for something else to watch in the meantime, check out our TV Guide or Streaming Guide visit our dedicated Drama hub.


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