Spartacus: War of the Damned (Anchor Bay) concludes the story of slave-turned-gladiator Spartacus that began with Blood & Sand and went on to encompass two additional seasons, Gods of the Arena (a six episode prequel) and Vengeance.
Many months have passed since the defeat of Gaius Claudius Glaber, and the rebel army -led by Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) and his generals Crixus (Manu Bennett, The Condemned), Gannicus (Dustin Clare, Underbelly) and Agron (Dan Feuerriegel) -have seen their ranks swollen with thousands of freed slaves. Spartacus is more determined than ever to bring down the entire Roman Republic, but he may have met his match in Marcus Crassus (Simon Merrells), a wealthy strategist enlisted by the Senate for support. Unlike his predecessors, Crassus has nothing but respect for Spartacus, and enlists a young soldier by the name of Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance, Home & Away) to infiltrate the rebels’ ranks and help bring Spartacus to his knees.
When Spartacus: Blood & Sand burst onto our screens in 2009 in a sweaty blur of frenzied violence and soft-focus sex scenes, few people would have credited the show with the scope required to tell such a compelling, wide-reaching story. However, it quickly became apparent that beneath its gaudy exterior a fierce intelligence was at work, and the producers set about weaving together a labyrinthine storyline -that wasn’t even knocked out of its stride when original Spartacus actor Andy Whitfield tragically passed away after the first series. That storytelling verve is still present and correct in this final outing, and War of the Damned is arguably the bloodiest season yet; the fact that the most extreme violence no longer takes place in the gladiatorial arena gives the proceedings an undeniably queasy edge. Similarly, the tension is cranked up by the presence of supreme strategist Crassus -who easily represents Spartacus’s most dangerous opponent yet. Not the guilty pleasure you may be anticipating, Spartacus: War of the Damned is a fitting end to an excellent series.
Originally screened on Channel 4 back in 1998, the out-of-print Ultraviolet -The Complete Series (Medium Rare) returns to DVD boasting impeccable before-they-were-famous credentials. Written and directed by former This Life writer Joe Ahearne, the series follows jaded cop Michael Colefield (Jack Davenport, Pirates of the Caribbean), who finds himself plunged into a subterranean gothic world of vampirism and medical experimentation after his best friend and partner Jack (Stephen Moyer, True Blood) disappears on the night before his wedding. Against his better instincts Michael falls in with a group of government-backed vampire hunters comprising ex-soldier Vaughn Rice (Idris Elba, The Wire), scientist Angela March (Susannah Harker, House of Cards), and a Catholic priest Pearse Harman (Philip Quast, The Devil’s Double).
Although time hasn’t been particularly kind to Ultraviolet, it feels unique insofar as high-concept TV dramas weren’t exactly commonplace on British television in the late-90s. The sluggish scene-setting opening episode does the show few favours, but things arguably pick up as the series finds its feet, with some quirky narrative touches keeping things fresh. Although post-This Life Davenport takes centre stage, it is arguably more interesting to watch Elba in his first role of note -his previous claim to fame was a bit-part in much-maligned soap Family Affairs! The early appearance of Stephen Moyer, who went onto to star as Bill Compton in HBO’s True Blood, is similarly intriguing, especially considering the overlapping subject matter of the two series.
In 2000 the Fox Network attempted to develop a US version of Ultraviolet, with Idris Elba reprising his role from the British series, only to fall at the first hurdle, with the show not getting beyond an unaired pilot episode -despite the involvement of 24 producer Howard Gordon. All in all, it may offer a slightly creaky viewing experience in retrospect, but Ultraviolet makes for a fascinating a TV footnote.