Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5

With Britain’s TV schedules currently at an all-time low it’s refreshing to be able to get a second chance to take a look at quality drama like OKTOBER and to remember, with a shudder, that it was only made six years ago. Now we’re awash with lowbrow drivel like FOOTBALLER’S WIVES and BAD GIRLS in the name of modern drama and it’s frankly hard to believe that OKTOBER ever existed, let alone that it was broadcast at a prime time slot on the ITV Network, now dangerously obsessed with soaps and reality. How times change…

OKTOBER is a fast-paced, high energy contemporary conspiracy thriller adapted by Stephen Gallagher (who also directs with considerable gusto) from his own novel published some ten years earlier. It’s a gripping scenario. Jim Harper (Tompkinson) is a teacher working with the children of the filthy rich in an exclusive school in Switzerland. He takes a shine to the egghead sister of one of his young pupils and, on whim, inveigles his way into a top secret scientific function at a forebidding mountain facility high in the Alps. Almost immediately Jim’s in trouble when his credentials are questioned. Before what would have been the first commercial break Jim’s duffed up, knocked out, injected with an experimental drug and almost thrown into a furnace. This, to my knowledge, is not the way of things in your typical episode of ROSEMARY AND THYME. Fleeing for his life Jim races back to the UK where he goes into hiding and tries to start a new life but he doesn’t initially realise that the drug he’s been injected with has turned him into a walking experiment, linking him in some bizarre subconscious level with an earlier failed experiment – a group of catatonic soldiers. What follows over the next three episodes is an exercise in paranoia as his entire new life is a sham and so are his new best friends. As the effects of the drug become even more pronounced, Jim realises the true nature of what’s happened to him and the awful repercussions for Mankind if the drug should fall into common usage…

This is thrilling stuff, three episodes so packed with drama and incident that it’s over before you’ve even appreciated it’s begun. Gallagher’s script rattles along and Tompkinson, previously best known as a wet cleric in some drivelly BBC Sunday night drama or other, is a revelation as the desperate, haunted Jim. His transformation from doe-eyed lovestruck teacher into reluctant action hero is irresistible, even if the three-episode structure of the series makes it seem a little rapid. I recall at the time of OKTOBER’s original screening musing that here we had an actor ideal for some future incarnation of the Doctor in DOCTOR WHO. But that’s all been taken care of now, of course…

There’s much to recommend in OKTOBER, from the icy Swiss mountaintop location where much of the action occurs, confidant performances from the supporting players (particularly James Duke as the creepy Daniel) and a genuine sense of threat. The narrative drifts into the spiritual towards the end and the conclusion is a little bit unsatisfying but all in all OKTOBER is an enjoyable and riveting piece of fantasy television. Although they don’t make ’em like this any more it’s heartening to know that Gallagher has a new four-part imaginative drama entitled ELEVENTH HOUR currently in production. Something to look forward to at last!

THE DISC: Revelation have done a good job with this worthwhile release. Picture and sound are clear and blemish-free and there are decent extras including a curious commentary (or lecture as the cover pompously puts it) by Dr Matt Hills, lecturer at Cardiff university (and an acquaintance of mine!), a half-hour interview with Gallagher chronicling the genesis of OKTOBER and some generous text-based stuff including extracts from Gallagher’s production diary (which, I’ve since discovered, are already available on the web). An excellent disc, worth checking out if you’ve an interest in quality television before the lunatics took over the asylum.

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