It’s fair to say that the BBC TV adaptation of His Dark Materials has been making a few changes to Philip Pullman’s source material, with one storyline in the second episode – where Ariyon Bakare’s Lord Boreal starts traveling to parallel worlds long before we saw anyone do so in the books – proving especially controversial with certain fans.
In the third episode, however, the story takes a step further – because in Boreal’s continuing adventures in our world (as opposed to his own different world, where 90 per cent of the series is set) he begins to track down two significant figures, who don’t really appear until later in the books.x
Warning – we’re dealing with big episode three spoilers from hereon out, so read on at your own risk.
You see, Boreal’s efforts to track down the explorer Stanislaus Grumman – the Jordan College explorer whose severed and shrunken head Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) revealed in the series’ first episode – leads him to the discovery that Grumman is alive and is actually John Parry, a former soldier from our world (aka the normal, human 21st century, sans magical dæmons).
On the page, this isn’t found out until the second of Pullman's His Dark Materials novels, The Subtle Knife – and the series also goes further to introduce Parry visually, showing off a picture of him as played by Andrew Scott, the Sherlock and Fleabag star announced to play the part earlier this year.
Scott’s appearance in the series isn’t exactly surprising, then, but it is surprisingly early, with the character not expected to turn up until series two, which was already underway with filming when his casting was announced. Clearly, knowing they had him on staff the writing team decided to seed the character a little early – but it remains to be seen whether his appearance this year will be limited to just a photo, or whether Parry himself will appear in the flesh.
And the same goes for an even more significant character teased in this episode – Amir Wilson’s Will Parry, Scott’s character’s son and an even bigger character in Pullman’s novels, who essentially becomes a second lead alongside Lyra (played by Dafne Keen) from his first appearance in the second book.
In this week’s episode, we see Boreal set a hired thug on the trail of Will and his mentally unwell mother, going from a picture of Wilson in character as Will (see below) – and it doesn’t seem too outlandish to suggest that in the coming weeks we might actually meet Will far earlier than we expected as he deals with this unexpected intruder (a sequence of events only really seen in flashbacks in the books).
Alternatively, it could be that having cast Wilson and Scott for series two, the His Dark materials team just decided to slip in their photos as a subtle tease for what’s to come – though based on a conversation RadioTimes.com previously had with series executive producer Jane Tranter, we wouldn’t be so sure.
“I've never read a trilogy where this doesn't happen, Lord of the Rings is a classic example of this – where the novelist builds what they've done in book one, then they back-fill moving forward in books two and three,” Tranter told us.
“I don’t think novelists are like, 'Well, I've worked all that out and I'm just not going to tell anyone that that's what this small gesture means in book one until book three'– they sit writing book two and three with book one in their mind, and then they build and they elaborate on it.
“And so by the time you reach the end of the trilogy you understand more what was going on in book one.”
In other words, with hindsight, novelists can cast the events of the original story in a different light (for example, Philip Pullman has admitted that the prophesied “betrayal” Lyra commits in the books and series was changed from what he originally intended by the time of his third novel) – and on-screen, Tranter and screenwriter Jack Thorne have decided to turn some of that hindsight into foresight.
“I think in an adaptation, and we did the same on Discovery of Witches - you adapt book one, knowing what you know, having got to the end of the journey in book three.
“It doesn't mean that plot-wise things change, but character-wise or in terms of things that you shade in or bring out more prominently – they’re all there to be had.”
So keep your eyes peeled, book fans. We could be meeting some very important characters sooner than anyone expected…
His Dark Materials airs 8pm on Sundays on BBC One