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Strange (2003)
Created by Andrew Marshall

review by Debbie Moon

John Strange is a former Anglican priest, defrocked after he was implicated in a series of vicious killings - including that of his own fiancée. Granted a house in the cathedral grounds and a tiny allowance, he now lives to clear his name. He claims the killings were committed by a demon - and that many other demonic presences, often in human form, stalk the earth, killing and destroying. That's not a view in favour with the church these days - least of all with Canon Black, the sinister, sharp-tongued resident priest at the cathedral. But why is he so opposed to Strange's crusade? Could it be because he's heavily involved in the occult himself...? Down-to-earth nurse Jude first crossed paths with Strange when he was investigating her partner, who turned out to be not entirely human. Now she's finding herself increasingly drawn into Strange's bizarre investigations - not least because of her fears for her young son Joey, and what he may have inherited from his father.
   Another year, and here's another attempt by the BBC to build on its once-great reputation for supernatural drama. In fact, Strange is one of the best efforts of recent years - it may be rather uneven in quality but, at it's best, it has atmosphere, humour, real characters, and real drama. Richard Coyle's John Strange is a prickly, unpredictable, but ultimately sympathetic hero, struggling to balance his obsessions with the demands of the real world and the difficulties of human relationships. Samantha Janus, as Jude, is a realistic working single mother, the voice of reason in Strange's world. The show is at its best when delving into their pasts and their insecurities; one of the series' finest moments has Jude discovering Strange incompetently bathing the ever-bleeding wounds the demon gave him to remember it by, wounds he's never shown anyone before. These are genuinely damaged people, and their pain roots the supernatural elements in the sad realities of loss, guilt, and grief that we all recognise. Timmy Lang has an interesting role as Kevin, a young man with Down's syndrome who works as the cathedral gardener. Both a spy in the Canon's household and abnormally sensitive to the paranormal; Kevin plays a vital role in Strange's world without any hint of tokenism. But every supernatural drama needs a villain, and Strange's trump card is Ian Richardson, as the villainous Canon Black. Witheringly sarcastic, coolly malevolent, Richardson plays all the ambiguities of a role that often leaves you unsure whether Black is simply a bitter old man opposing Strange out of personal dislike - or the devil himself...
   It's not going to win prizes for theological accuracy, but neither would any other show relying on medieval demonology, so we'll let that go. What does let it down from time to time is an unfortunate combination of under-par special effects and poor ideas. Thus, a superb episode covering apparent vampire attacks and the lives of victimised asylum seekers degenerates in the last few minutes into a struggle with a vampire tree. But when the ideas are strong enough, the effects can succeed spectacularly - for example, the devilish coach which tries to sweep our heroes away to hell at the end of a particularly effective ghost story. Bumped to a late-night graveyard slot towards the end of its run, Strange doesn't seem to have pulled in the audiences its makers would have liked. That's a pity, because this is a show with real potential, that, given enough time and space, could mature into truly great drama. Let's hope it gets the chance...

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