With the majority of current genre TV seemingly obliged to possess a sense of self-aware humour, Joe Ahearne’s Ultraviolet stands out as a rare example of a po-faced supernatural drama. This was a vampire show that combined elements of procedural and espionage shows to create a grim but frequently exciting series.
Jack Davenport plays DS Michael Colefield, who stumbles across the existence of vampires when his best friend Jack (True Blood’s Stephen Moyer) is turned. He’s recruited into a covert anti-vampire squad inside the London Met made up of haemotologist Angela March (Susannah Harker), gruff ex-soldier Vaughan Rice (Idris Elba) and Father Pearse Harman (Philip Quast).
Ultraviolet goes to great lengths to ground itself in London as we know it, with constantly overcast skies and grey tower blocks. Davenport and Elba get to flash their guns, but there’s nothing glamorous about their investigations. They’re mostly detectives who pack carbon bullets. The word vampire is never mentioned; they’re “leeches” or “code fives.” That being said, Ahearne is capable of handling action, and the vampire deaths are impressively bombastic.
Looking back at the series now, it’s surprising to see how little it panders to a younger audience with anything approaching lighter moments. March’s back story is unbelievably tragic, Rice’s only friends are the stored ashes of his old squad and Harman is suffering from a terminal illness. Where else would you find a series that starts its two standalone episodes with a child murdering a priest and a foiled rape attempt?
The cast are great too. A post-This Life, pre-Coupling Davenport makes the most of his brooding, conflicted hero. Harker is fantastic as the brittle, distant Doctor, Quast is great as the fearless leader and Elba was so good that the failed US pilot brought him back to play the same role.
Ultraviolet is markedly different from anything else that’s on TV at the moment, and it’s a valuable reminder that genre television doesn’t need to be self-aware to be a success.