Being Human


Rating 4

Created by Toby Whithouse

Written by Toby Whithouse (four episodes), Rachel Anthony (one episode) and Brian Dooley (one episode)

Directed by Toby Haynes (two episodes), Alex Pillai (two episodes) and Colin Teague (two episodes)

Starring Russell Tovey, Aidan Turner, Lenora Crichlow, Gregg Chillin, Jason Watkins, Sinead Keenan, Annabel Scholey and Sama Goldie

George Sands (Russell Tovey) is a werewolf living in modern-day Bristol in the South West of England and working as a porter at a local hospital. He has a huge IQ and speaks several languages fluently. During a full moon he locks himself away in a cell in the disused basement of the hospital, until refurbishment work begins, when he is forced out into nearby woods. John Mitchell (Aidan Turner) is a vampire who fights against his demonic instincts. He was turned during the First World War by his commanding officer William Herrick (Jason Watkins). He also works as a porter at the hospital. Annie Sawyer (Lenora Crichlow) is a ghost. She haunts the house where she fell down a flight of stairs and died. The house, which is owned by her financĂ© Owen (Gregg Chillin), is rented out to George and John (commonly referred to as “Mitchell”). Herrick is a local uniformed police officer, making it his purpose to try to entice Mitchell back into the fold.


The first season of ‘Being Human’, six episodes in total, broadcast on BBC3 between 25 January and 1 March 2009. The series was created by Toby Whithouse, who had previously written ‘School Reunion’, the episode of ‘Doctor Who’ that saw the return of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, arguably the single most famous character in the history of that show outside of the Doctor himself, not counting the likes of the Daleks and Cybermen. Whithouse had also written for the ‘Doctor Who’ spin-off ‘Torchwood’; the first season episode ‘Greeks Bearing Gifts’, which remains, probably, my favourite episode of that particular series. Colin Teague who directed the final two episodes of this first season has also directed several episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Torchwood’, as well as an episode of ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’.

Although described in some places as a comedy-drama, it would be more accurate to call ‘Being Human’ a drama-horror with touches of (very funny) comedy. In this respect, it certainly bears comparison to ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, as so many series’ that came after that show do. It might be tempting to compare the character Mitchell to Angel in ‘Buffy’ and its subsequent spin-off ‘Angel’. Both are vampires with a conscience, haunted by the memories of their violent and brutal pasts, fighting to control their vampiric urges. George the werewolf is much like Oz in ‘Buffy’, attempting to lead as normal a life as possible and to control the wolf side of his nature, but knowing he will never be normal. He locks himself away during a full moon to protect others from what he becomes.

These similarities are very obvious, but the show never sits in the shadows as a pale imitation of the ‘Buffy’ concept, unlike, for example, ITV’s recent misfiring ‘Demons’. Instead, it proves to be one of the most refreshingly original and quirky series to come along in quite some time. The mix of the dark horror elements, the comedic moments and the drama of these displaced people, living in society but outside of it, is very nearly as perfect as it could be.

There was an earlier pilot episode broadcast in February 2008, which received mixed reviews, although it also resulted in a petition, started by Narin Bahar, a journalist on the newspaper the Reading Chronicle, to have the show commissioned for a full season. The actors playing Mitchell, Annie and William Merrick, as well as Lauren (played by Annabel Scholey in the series), were recast before the full season went into production, with only Russell Tovey as George remaining unchanged. I have never seen the pilot episode, but there seems to be widespread agreement (coupled with some isolated pockets of dissent) that these changes resulted in a definite improvement.

The three main characters are immediately interesting and work very well together. It was George I responded to first. I had seen Russell Tovey previously in an episode of ‘Doctor Who’ and in the recent BBC1 adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel ‘Little Dorrit’. Tovey, in fact, had been one of the many actors mentioned as being in the running to replace David Tennant as the Doctor in ‘Doctor Who’. At the time, I thought he was an entirely unsuitable suggestion for the role, but having seen ‘Being Human’ I have now changed my opinion. On this showing, I think he would have made a very interesting Doctor.

Ultimately, I think it turned out to be Annie who in many ways I responded to the most. At the outset, we know she died after falling down a flight of stairs and has idyllic memories of her relationship with Owen, but she is the last of the three main characters we really learn more about and begin to understand. Of note here is the third episode, in which George and Mitchell take Annie to a club where she meets Gilbert (a one-episode character played by Alex Price), a ghost who died in 1985 and seems to base his personality and character traits on the records of The Smiths and Marc and the Mambas. It’s a springboard for some wonderful mordant humour, but in subsequent episodes we discover a shocking revelation about Annie, which probably should have been obvious, but I didn’t see it coming.

The success of the revived ‘Doctor Who’ has opened the door to a lot of fantasy-based new television drama in the UK which would not otherwise have been made. Obviously, without ‘Doctor Who’, there would have been no ‘Torchwood’ or ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’. It seems extremely unlikely that ‘Primeval’ and ‘Demons’ would have been made. Steven Moffatt’s ‘Jekyll’ would probably not have happened without ‘Doctor Who’. The same applies to ‘Being Human’. Equally, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ has a huge influence on all of these shows, including the updating of ‘Doctor Who’, something Russell T Davies has been very quick to acknowledge. Where British and American series do part ways is in the number of episodes that make up a single season. In America it is common for a season to consist of 22 or 24 episodes (12 or 13 episodes for a mid-season start, in line with the very rigid scheduling of the main networks). Here in Britain, something like ‘Doctor Who’ or ‘Torchwood’ will be given a 13 episode run, but six or seven episodes is the norm.

The recently premiered new American series ‘Dollhouse’ (the work of ‘Buffy’ creator Joss Whedon) has received mixed reviews from critics and disappointing if not completely disastrous viewing figures. Whedon himself has claimed the show does not really start to fully spark until episode six and his fan-base (as loyal and vocal in their support as any such fan-base I can bring to mind), concerned that the show might be prematurely cancelled, are desperately trying to find ways to keep it on air for its full first season run, arguing that it will be well into season two before any real assessment of the long-term worth of the show can be made. The thinking is very different to here in Britain, where budget constraints mean that six episodes is an entire season, not just an opportunity to set down a basic framework for a story.

‘Being Human’ attracted over a million viewers for the opening episode of its first season, but then averaged a little over 800,000 viewers per episode. As a comparison, the first season of ‘Torchwood’ was also broadcast on BBC3. The opening episode attracted 2.5 million viewers and the thirteen-episode season as a whole averaged something in the region of 1.2 million viewers. ‘Being Human’ has been commissioned for a second season.

Review posted 3 March 2009


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