TV and film just love a ticking drama and high jeopardy, both of which are at the centre of new UK series Cobra.
The 6 part series by Ben Richards (Spooks, The Tunnel) centres around the fictional idea of a solar storm hitting Europe and blacking out power across the continent. There are references to 1859’s “Carrington event” when flares caused a geomagnetic storm -the largest on record to have struck our planet. But what if it were to happen in the modern era?
Richard places his action at the highest level of 10 Downing Street, as Chief of Staff Anna Marshall (Victoria Hamilton) advises her Conservative Party PM Robert Sutherland (Robert Carlyle) through an impending disaster.
Cobra, a title which feels like it undersells the concept, is the name of the high-ranking crisis team which meets in a shiny high-tech war room, and debates what lies ahead. Is the threat real or likely to be averted? Fraser Walker (Richard Dormer) the Director of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, warns of a national grid blackout, and planes potentially losing control.
But Home Secretary David Haig (Archie Glover-Morgan), who is already undermining his leader, talks down any hysteria. The villain of the piece…
For the PM it’s a tough choice between cautious steps or triggering panic.
“We’re the ones who have to make the decisions while others talk about them in pubs,” says Fraser.
The script also injects personal subplots, which feel distracting against such monumental threats: a romantic liaison from Anna’s past (Alexandre Willaume) comes a-callin’ and the PM’s teen daughter (Marisa Abela) is swept up in a drug scandal (aren’t they always?).
One major stunt in the first episode is impressive, yet while things begin promisingly, the more they unravel so too does the credibility. The action becomes more melodramatic, and personal sub-plots -which were already a stretch- feel pretty flippant.
There’s nice use of London locations, and some heavy regional accents. But despite some good performances, notably from Victoria Hamilton, this can’t quite settle on whether it’s a political thriller or a disaster mini-series. I’m reminded of Irwin Allen films, or even National Geographic’s American Blackout, with more satisfying results.
At a time when an actual crisis is very real across the globe, a fictional one in which we lose a bit of power for a while could be the softer option.
Cobra airs 8:30pm Wednesday on BBC First.