If you’ve had your fill of festive cheer already this Christmas, Mark Gatiss’ chilling new drama The Dead Room might be just the story for you…
Written and directed by Mark Gatiss (Doctor Who, Sherlock), this standalone half-hour drama tells the tale of a long-running radio horror series, ‘The Dead Room’. At its centre is the series’ veteran presenter Aubrey Judd, portrayed by the magnificent Simon Callow. It also stars Anjli Monhindra (The Sarah Jane Adventures) as young producer Tara, as well as Susan Penhaligon and Joshua Oakes-Rogers.
BlogtorWho will be back on Christmas Eve with our full review, but for now we bring you our spoiler-free verdict on The Dead Room.
A Ghost Story for the 21st Century
The Dead Room, at its core, a love letter to the classic ghost story. Whilst it may not seem especially festive to many viewers, Gatiss draws on the age-old tradition of telling tales of the supernatural around Christmas time. He has already cited the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas series, which ran throughout the 1970s, as his inspiration for this drama. Gatiss has deliberately modelled his story after M.R. James’ formula for the perfect ghost story (as set out by Callow‘s Aubrey Judd himself) to brilliant effect.
He follows James‘ advice to the letter, as ghosts from a long, hot summer of years gone by comes back to haunt host Aubrey Judd. As such, the story begins rather slowly – only about halfway in do things start becoming truly sinister. Despite this, trust us when we say it’s well worth watching until the bitter end. There’s one particular seventies song you won’t ever hear in quite the same way again afterwards…
As well as drawing its inspiration from classic ghost stories, The Dead Room is in a very similar vein to Gatiss’ fellow League of Gentlemen co-creators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton‘s series Inside No. 9. This drama is a must-watch for fans of the series’ blending of the mundane with the macabre.
A Deeply Unsettling Viewing Experience
One of the more subtly unnerving aspects of The Dead Room is how claustrophobic it feels. As Mark Gatiss himself has explained to the BBC’s Alastair McKay:
“There’s no music. The score is entirely created from sound effects. I didn’t want to hammer anything out. I love that about Lawrence Gordon Clark’s Ghost Stories. They’re very spare. You don’t see the ghost for a long time, and there’s a slow accumulation of dread. It really does exert something very special if you get it right. If you don’t overdo it, it brings you to a very particular place of fear.”
It’s safe to say The Dead Room certainly does ‘get it right’. The action is almost entirely confined within the walls of the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios. Coupled with a minimal cast and sparse score, this all makes for an considerably more intimate atmosphere than most television dramas. It’s more akin to watching a stage play, making this an all the more unsettling viewing experience.
Furthermore, although Anjli Mohindra‘s youthful Tara does provide a perfect counterpoint to Judd’s yearning for the ‘good old days’, it’s Simon Callow himself who really steals the show. His performance is utterly compelling, such that he captures the viewer’s attention completely, even when merely recalling the events of days gone by to Mohindra‘s Tara, unaccompanied by any visual or musical aids. In addition, although they become ultimately peripheral to the central plot, his narration of the ghost stories he does read is superb.