The episode begins with Texan aeronaut Lee Scoresby (Lin Manuel Miranda) and his daemon Hester (Cristela Alonzo) searching for Iorek (Joe Tandberg), an armoured bear that saved Lee’s life. Lee arrives in a spectacular sequence involving his balloon and it is a wonder to behold it on screen; the CGI and other graphic effects used in His Dark Materials are superbly rendered and it is a credit to the production team that they make it all look so realistic whilst also investing the imagery with a sense of true magic.
At the same time, Lyra and the Gyptians are heading in the same direction, to the North in order to seek the help of the Witches’ Consul in order to locate Roger and the other missing children. Meeting the Witches’ Consul, Dr. Lenselius (Omid Djalili), they discover that the Witches are nervous to go against the Magisterium but that he will not hinder them in their quest.
The Gyptians decide that the best thing to do is to meet with Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas), the clan Queen of the Witches on whose authority it will be decided whether the Witches help the Gyptians in their quest to find their children. Dr Lenselius suggests that to truly be able to fight the Magisterium, they need the services of an armoured bear who lives in Trollesund; Iorek the same bear that Lee Scoresby is searching for. The tension over whether Iorek will or won’t join Lyra and her friends is the central crux of the episode and depending on how invested you are in this point will prove whether you enjoy the episode or not.
Whilst Lyra and her friends attempt to procure the services of York, Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) goes to visit Cardinal Sturrock (Ian Peck) and Father MacPhail (Will Keen) who rebukes her for invading Jordan College and stripes her of all official duties in the service of the Magisterium. However, Mrs Coulters reveals that they cannot strip her of her power as she has captured Lord Asriel (James MacAvoy) in a jail in the north, guarded by bears who are under her control. In exchange for passing on Asriel to them, Mrs Coulter insists that she is allowed to continue her experiments using the kidnapped children.
Meeting Lee Scoresby, Lyra discovers that Lee is searching for his old friend Iorek. Three years have passed since Iorek saved Scoresby’s life and he was cast out of the Bears. However, though Iorek does not want freedom Lee is determined to get it for him in an attempt to convince Iorek that all is not lost. Finding his armour, Lyra convinces the Gyptians that Iorek and Lee are needed in their quest to fight the Magisterium and find the children.
Many series suffer from a bit of mid-season fatigue and His Dark Materials is no exception. As we reach the mid-point of the series, it seems as if this episode is more about taking a breath and restocking our understanding of where we are before proceeding to more important plot points. This may be welcome for some audience members; the first three episodes were overflowing with plot details and backstory so it may revive interest in the hearts of some viewers to see more action.
The problem is though that this also leaves us with a sense that this episode is not as consequential as others. The main purpose of the episode is for Lee Scoresby and Iorek to join our heroes in their quest to find Roger and the other missing children. However, because Iorek is in the service of the town of Trollesund he needs some convincing to join the team and escape from both his sense of pity and his enslavement at the hands of the people of the town. We know that Iorek will eventually join Lyra and her friends but so long is spent getting up to the point where he breaks free that it slowly begins to lose its dramatic impetuous. Instead of actually moving the plot forward our heroes spend most of their time waiting for it to catch up to them so they can go to the North and meet with the Witches. This is not to deny that the acting and direction is not excellent; in that regard it is. But the plot lacks the same sense of continual motion and desire for adventure that previous episodes have.
The performances are great with Lin Manuel Miranda’s portrayal of Lee Scoresby being particularly engaging. Miranda’s playful and brilliantly comedic personality is perfect for Scoresby and he brings both a sense of fun to the part which he brilliantly combines with a more serious undertone. Scoresby’s first meeting with Lyra is done with real deadpan excellence by Miranda and shows off not only Scoresby’s humour but also his commitment to freeing Iorek. It is Miranda’s performance that makes the episode and without it, it would not be nearly as enjoyable.
Whilst the fourth episode of His Dark Materials is not entirely as impressive as the previous three it does still bring a sense of wonder and adventure to our TV screens. As the dark nights close in it is great to have a series to turn to that know how to use the frosty winter to its advantage and make it less of a misery and more a time for inspirational adventure.
Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor
His Dark Materials Continues Sunday at 8.00pm on BBC One.