His Dark Materials has biggest British TV premiere in five years


Fueled by the popularity of author Philip Pullman’s epic fantasy trilogy, the premiere episode of BBC/HBO’s His Dark Materials TV series nabbed 7.2 million viewers on British TV, the largest number seen in the last five years. Launched in the vaunted 8:00 p.m. Sunday night time slot on BBC One, Materials far outperformed the debuts of the network’s other main dramas, including Gentleman Jack (5.1 million), Baptiste (4.5 million) and Les Miserables (4.5 million).

According to Deadline, Materials has the best opening day numbers since BBC One premiered The  Musketeers series in January of 2014 (7.4 million viewers).

Pullman’s trilogy consists of The Golden Compass (1995,) The Subtle Knife (1997) and The Amber Spyglass (2000). The steampunk-themed story chronicles the journey of the young Lyra Belacqua, who leaves her placid life as a ward of the scholars at Jordan College to go on a globe-hopping journey that will bring her into contact with witches, shadowy child abduction organizations, and talking armored bears. The series has been showered with awards, including the 1995 Carnegie Medal (for The Golden Compass) and the 2001 Whitbread Book of the Year (for The Amber Spyglass). In 2003, the BBC’s BIG Read poll ranked it third on a list of 100 of the nation’s best-loved novels.

While American critics have been somewhat unimpressed with the show, the British press has been giving His Dark Materials a lot of positive buzz. Here’s a sample from TV critic Lucy Mangan’s effusive five-star review in The Guardian: “There is time and space to do the books justice and the first episode, in all its steampunkish glory, gave every sign that the potential is to be realised.”

Compare that review to the one penned by Kathryn VanArendonk of Vulture: “His Dark Materials‘ first episodes are a mixture of unabashedly gorgeous visuals, several strong performances, and writing that demonstrates time and again that it has no confidence in either of those things.”


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We don’t yet know how well the show did on HBO in the US, where it aired last night, but these silver zeppelins are going to keep flying high on BBC One.

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