Friday, November 25th, 2011 at 5:59 pm
Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere: 15th Anniversary Edition DVD
Directed by Dewi Humphreys
Written by Neil Gaiman
Created by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry
Starring Gary Bakewell, Laura Fraser, Paterson Joseph, Hywel Bennett, Clive Russell, Trevor Peacock, Peter Capaldi, Tasmin Greig
Release Date: November 15, 2011
This year, the BBC celebrates the 15th anniversary of fan-favorite Neil Gaiman‘s first endeavor into the world of television series. In 1996, Gaiman had established himself as a solid writer of novels and comic series, and joining forces with the phenomenal Lenny Henry, created the world of Neverwhere – an almost-unseen domain lying beneath the city of London.
I may lose a little geek cred here, but prior to this year, I had limited exposure to Gaiman. I was a fan of his Alice Cooper comic for The Last Temptation CD in the 1990s, and had some mild awareness with Sandman, but that was it. Until this year: being a Doctor Who fan, it was inevitable, the Neil Gaiman-penned The Doctor’s Wife was a major highlight of the 2011 season.
And man, I was completely blown away. Where has this man’s work been all my life? I need more!
So when I was asked to review the 15th anniversary edition of Neverwhere, I bounded at the chance. For the fans that are very familiar to the show, this text is written by one who viewed the saga with fresh eyes – and the experience has left me with wanting more of the Neverwhere universe, and of Gaiman’s tremendous work.
I think the biggest highlight of Neverwhere for me was actually the post-viewing experience. For the first time in a long time (just like my own experiences with my geek obsessions of Doctor Who and Star Wars) I found myself continually thinking and pondering about the story, concentrating on a wide range of elements both on the surface and deep beneath the subtexts.
For the uninitiated, Neverwhere was first conceived by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry originally envisioned as a tale of homeless tribes living below London. The narrative development evolved further, and with Gaiman’s influence, ventured into a mystic and ethereal modern fantasy – of a world unobserved by modern society.
Essentially, it’s the classic tale of a secret world, unseen by contemporary humans. “London Above” is the civilization we are familiar with, accompanied with the hustle and bustle of the mundane and mediocre. Those who live in “London Above” never notice the citizenry of “London Below,” a secret hidden universe underneath the city. The television series conveys the tale of where two people from either side cross paths.
Richard Mayhew (Gary Bakewell) discovers a young girl in trouble on the streets of London. It is assumed she is a homeless person, but Mayhew notices the blood on her clothes and face, and deems she is of need of help. After a night of recuperation, the girl seems fine, and introduces herself as Door (Laura Fraser) – and needs help to return to London Below, as her family has been murdered and seeks both answers and retribution.
Mayhew reunites with Door and the Marquis, and they meet Hunter (Tanya Moodie) along the way. The group find themselves on a quest (several quests, actually) around London Below, as Door strives to find out who is responsible for the death of her family, and Mayhew searches for a way to get his old life back.
Across six episodes, Gaiman weaves an intricate tapestry, creating a deep universe in that (in a lot of ways) imitates London. I think a lot of references may be lost on American fans, but Neverwhere is a particularly pun-rich tale, with names and locations mirroring well-known areas of London. In a lot of ways, this sometimes characterizes the mirror reflection of the city but below its surface.
While I found myself deeply drawn in with my first viewing of Neverwhere, it is the second (and third) viewings that I found more valuable. Gaiman’s writing is so meticulous and precise that I found myself picking up aspects in the story that I had overlooked the first time. This enriches the experience even further and I continue pondering on what else happens in this strange universe.
Despite the fact that the main characters all perform their roles admirably, it is Peterson Joseph who steals the show as The Marquis. Gaiman later elaborates in the commentary tracks that the Marquis de Carabas is essentially his stab at writing the Doctor (before he actually had his opportunity in 2011’s Doctor Who), and the comparison and parallels are quite noticeable. The Marquis is a bit of a wheeler and dealer – exchanging favors for intelligence. He is a trafficker of information, and is quite literally the main guide for the viewer.
Just as impressive is the beautiful Tasmin Greig who plays the vampire-like Lamia. Her seductive Goth charms appear in almost every episode, though she plays a pronounced role in the 5th chapter. The exceptional Peter Capaldi (who played Frobisher in Torchwood: Children of Earth) is creepy as The Angel Islington, mirroring the tale of Lucifer. Also remarkable are the villains Mr. Croup (Hywel Bennett) and Mr. Vandemaar (Clive Russell).
The production quality of Neverwhere is not that of a movie. It is shot on video, and frequently reminded me of Classic Doctor Who (Gaiman remarks on this also in the commentary)… but in my mind, this adds to the story and enhances the way it is portrayed on screen. I do find myself pondering what the tale would be like as a standalone film, but it may be difficult to capture magic now that Gaiman and Henry were able to capture on the television miniseries with the impressive work of director Dewi Humphreys and producer Clive Brill.
Also worth mentioning is the music by legendary Brian Eno – who contributes an amazing amount of his repertoire that truly add a deeper ambiance to the Neverwhere world. The opening sequence by longtime Gaiman colleague Dave McKean is sheer brilliance, apparently made on his old Mac “back in the day,” and quite literally looks like a creepy motion version of the wonderful covers and artwork he contributed to previous Gaiman compositions.
There are many subtexts interwoven within Neverwhere, though the primary focus is on Richard Mayhew’s trials – baptisms of ordeals and battle. There are homages to many traditional tales, myths, and legends; though the journey attribute often reminded me of The Wizard Of Oz… Gaiman was clearly aware of this, and included a few lines in the dialogue making light of the predictable comparison.
The special features on the DVD may not have been broad as some fans may hope, but are sufficient enough for someone like me who was a complete noob to the Neverwhere concept. There’s a short interview with Neil Gaiman from 1996; and a nice little introduction done by Gaiman, Henry, and Brill. The commentary tracks are great, though the solo Gaiman commentary from an earlier release is a little limited. The new track recorded by Gaiman with Henry and Brill is, on the other hand, is of an excellent standard.
There’s a nice little bonus with this DVD in the enclosure of the map insert with the packaging. I glanced at the map before viewing the series, unable to understand why it just didn’t make any sense whatsoever. After viewing, I get the gag, the ever shaping realm of nonexistence vs. existence is a key foundational component of the show, and fans are sure to love this little bonus.
Overall, Neverwhere is a wonderful experience. It may not be for everybody, but it was a 1990’s attempt at modern (urban) fantasy, and it actually stands the test of time. Now I need to get my hands on more work by Gaiman!