I was on a long-haul flight recently and, in light of a total lack of decent movies – ok, so I did watch Avatar 2, but I can't say the word 'good' is the first that comes to mind regarding that – I instead dug into the 'TV' section. And I'm oh so glad that I did because I stumbled upon the best fantasy series that I've seen in years – and it's now easy to stream at home too.
Yes, I know I'm late to the party, as His Dark Materials first aired back in 2019. But I don't mind that I've unknowingly had to wait, as all three seasons are available right now. Not on Netflix, not on Disney+, not on Amazon Prime nor Apple TV+, but available on BBC iPlayer. So if you've got a TV License in the UK then that means it's free to watch.
Better still every episode – and there are 23 in total across the three seasons – is available in 4K Ultra-HD with high dynamic range (HDR) for the best possible picture quality. And as I'm watching on one of the current best OLED TVs (for a future review) it looks a total treat in my living room (certainly better than a tiny in-flight entertainment screen!).
Sure, recent years have shown that we're living in a golden age for entertainment, where TV series (or 'box sets') are typically stronger than movie collections, and with the best streaming services consistently serving up modern classics, it's refreshing to get hold of some of the best available even if you've unsubscribed from Netflix to save some money this summer (or just been caught out by their cracking down on password sharing).
Now for my moment of shame, though: I've never actually read any of the His Dark Materials books by Philip Pullman. And seeing as the three volumes – The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass – have amassed over 17.5 million sales worldwide, you might think I've been hiding under a rock (I've not, honest, I'm just typically too busy reviewing the best phones for T3 to have the time to read in the evenings).
So while I can't judge the book-to-TV adaptation for its accuracy, I can say I've been revelling in this joint HBO and BBC production. The cast is superb, with favourites Ruth Wilson (as Marisa Coulter), Dafne Keen (as Lyra Belacqua), James McAvoy (as Lord Asriel), Will Keen (as Father MacPhail) all playing vital roles. The list of support cast is as long as my arm and everyone is excellent.
I wouldn't usually say I'm a big fan of fantasy novels or TV, but His Dark Materials strikes a great balance of being child-friendly – anything with cute and transforming talking animals (albeit known as 'daemons') will qualify that – with a dash of darker content thrown into the mix. Those daemons do a little too often sound like their child partners, but aside from that the way in which the show is shot, the beautiful staging and excellent CGI, all come together to make for a real show-stopper.
So if, like me, you've not seen it yet then definitely jump in – as His Dark Materials is available in UHD on BBC iPlayer right now. And on Rotten Tomatoes the series overview has a highly-rated 84% critics score and close-run 82% audience score. Knowing how much lower those scores are for many other shows, that's a strong showing!