The Rig

How scary can an oil rig and some fog be? Pretty damned scary!

What’s The Show? The Rig

What’s It All About, JG? On a remote Scottish oil rig, the Kinloch Alpha, Something Mysterious Is Stirring. Something, perhaps unsurprisingly, from the deep. Communications with land are cut off when a speedy fog zips in to engulf the titular rig. After surviving what ought to have been a fatal fall during this thick and mysterious fog, Baz Roberts (Calvin Denba) appears to have been infected with something which starts to rapidly heal his body. As he recovers it’s also clear he has, at least in part, been taken over by something. Mysterious.

When ash starts raining from the sky it becomes clear that this is one medium the infection and the crew must battle each new hurdle to remain alive and try to escape the stricken oil rig without being able to call for help. Magnus MacMillan (Iain Glen) leads the crew but struggles to keep it together, weighed down as he is by guilt over not being around when his young son was killed. Eventually they discover their sister rig, Kinloch Charlie, has been destroyed too and must rush to understand the mysterious (there’s that word again) life-form that may or may not be trying to kill them before the worst happens. When survivors from the Charlie come on board, their nominal leader and company man, David Coake (an appropriately odious Mark Addy) just makes the situation a whole lot worse…

Why Did You GiveIt A Go? Well the cast is absolutely top-to-bottom stacked with Scottish talent (in many senses of the word) who are always worth watching. And it seemed like an intriguing enough premise, if not necessarily dripping with originality. And it’s January – there’s fuck all on.

Is It Any Good? You know, Amazon are a funny old streaming service when it comes to original content. They’ve produced shows which have been genuinely good (The Man In The High Castle sticks out) but honestly, not all that many. The Rings Of Power had more money thrown at it than many small countries could muster for a fairly meh plot that reeked of fan-fiction and which no amount dollars in the world could really salvage. There’s a lot of yea-stick-it-on content on Prime but, ironically, not much of it sticks. There was a fair bit of buzz around The Rig but the mere fact that it’s on Amazon made it strangely difficult to care about.

Which is a shame, because it’s bloody great! But, and this is important, it’s also just Doctor Who but for people who don’t want to watch a show about a man wearing an implausibly long scarf and who uses a blue box for transport. Because this is, very precisely, Terror of the Zygons (the Tom Baker story), The Silurians (the Jon Pertwee story) and The Waters of Mars (the David Tennant story). There’s a few other things mixed in there too – especially Quatermass, from which the “mysterious beast down below” is very much a lift from – but yeah, this is just Doctor Who. Long term readers of this blog will know that, from me, this is very much not a criticism.

Because the show is really good at playing with Doctor Who tropes and getting them to work without the person in the TARDIS turning up. Much of the mystery surrounding the infection and the eventually-discovered mysterious (hey-ho!) rings on the surface of the seabed pivots around whether this is going to turn out to be some kind of alien life, something supernatural or something else. They go for “something else” (that’s the Jon Pertwee/Quatermass bit) but the tension around this is exactly the sort of thing Doctor Who has been milking since Kennedy got shot. And the show really knows how to drag tension out of those scene. It’s rare that we get one big infodump, rather the crew figure bits and piece out then let the nature of each reveal add to the whole. It works well and largely gets round big and-now-the-point speeches.

Oh, and that cast is pretty Doctor Who-adjacent as well, but that’s the right call given the type of material getting thrown at them. Iain Glen (Father Octavious in “Flesh And Stone” / “Time Of Angels” and also of Game of Thrones I guess, not that I give a stuff about that show) gives an absolutely fantastic performance here. Guilt over a dead son isn’t the most original character burden in the world but Glen sells is so, so well with a deeply affecting performance that goes way above and beyond the call of duty. Mark Bonner (“The Rebel Flesh” / “The Almost People”, as well as a host of Big Finish work) only lasts two episodes but makes a small part seem almost indelible with a quiet, compassionate turn that’s all the more effective for being underplayed. Owen Teale (“Vengence on Varos”, plenty of Big Finish, and Torchwood) plays an absolute bastard perfectly, with his Lars Hutton given just enough boo-hiss credibility to be an effective counterpoint to Glen’s Magnus and with just enough depth to engender sympathy. And that’s just the Doctor Who cast! Everyone is great here – Martin Compston has a tendency to be slightly swallowed by the rest of the cast and struggles a bit with the material, though he’s still good – and the strength of the cast really lends credibility to the situation.

The actual plot – glowing thing under the sea attacks! – isn’t really complex enough to screw up, but in the end it’s the character dynamics that really drive the drama here. The sci-fi plot is fine, and more than enough to keep everything ticking along and each mystery interesting, but it’s the people that really make The Rig such a worthwhile watch.

How Many Of These Did You Watch? Well, all six episodes. As far as I know I’ve never seen anything by series-creator David Macpherson before but he’s definitely one to keep an eye on, if The Rig is anything to go by.

Would You Recommend It? Oh, very much so. It’s not a long investment in terms of episodes and everything builds so very effectively. The cast are almost all Scottish – including no-relation Stuart McQuarrie as the appealingly dour and sarcastic rig chef – and the series was filmed in Leith, Edinburgh, just along the road from where this very blogger lives. It gives things a ring of authenticity, yet having a Conspicuous Welshman (Teale) or Londoner (Debna) makes things feel like it’s not just pandering and we have a properly mixed crew.

The production design is also genuinely fantastic – given that it’s filmed in a studio it’s hard to imagine you’re really not out on a rig when watching it and there’s something incredibly absorbing about the setting – it just feels real. There’s a couple of ropey CGI shots (the speedy fog zipping looks cheap as hell and if you want to add that to your list of Doctor Who comparisons, well, I’m not going to disagree with you) but for the most part this is an incredibly immersive environment that draws you into the mystery. That it’s been released in the absolute dead of winter, in a chilly, dark January, helps too – it really is the perfect time for a series like this to be let out into the world.

It’s not quite perfect, though. The last couple of episodes, in particular, suffer a bit. The addition of Coake – a perfectly-pitched panto villain if ever there was one – is fine, but Hutton and his cohort of rebels are convinced to follow him just a little bit too easily, with fairly predictably consequences. And the last episode simply doesn’t have enough time to wrap everything up. We get a few revelations, an understanding of what’s transpired then it’s a bit of a smash-cut and a here’s-hoping-we-get-a-second-season Hail Mary. That’s not an especially inspiring as a way to wrap the season.

Still, if the show does get a second season (and one hasn’t been announced at time of writing) then it would be excellent news all round. This is a show filled with great characters, a premise that can definitely be expanded upon, and lots of new plot and character alleys that can be explored. And if it doesn’t get a second season, then it’s still a remarkably effective thriller, a great bit of sci-fi and a fantastic way to view a cast absolutely giving it their all in their commitment to making any of this nonsense seems remotely real. That they pull it off so well is a real testament to everyone’s abilities here, and after all making nonsense seem remotely real is – again – pretty much Doctor Who‘s best trick. It’s amazing how well it still works.

Scores on the Doors? 8.5/10 One and a half marks off for the slightly shonky last episode and killing off Mark Bonner so early.

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