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Life Line review

A soul-chilling tale of reincarnation

Original UK airdate: 24 April/26 April 2007

Written by: Stephen Gallagher

Directed by: Jamie Payne

Rating:

With all the broo-ha-ha over the strutting return of science fiction to mainstream telly, it's sometimes easy to overlook the simulaneous second coming of the supernatural drama. Thankfully, the sometimes painfully serious Afterlife hasn't killed the genre, and it's good to see BBC1 making eyes at it again.

Despite a credit for Stephen Gallagher (writer of Eleventh Hour, Chimera, and a couple of Doctor Who stories) Life Line isn't a sci-fi thriller in supernatural clothing. Gallagher's reigned in his usual leather patch tendencies with a sharply contemporary and urban take on the kind of stories MR James used to write in his sleep.

In fact, it was a shame Life Line was promoted so heavy-handedly as a supernatural chiller. Its first half hour is so (brilliantly) run of the mill post-watershed BBC drama that it's a head-lashing jolt when it all goes Shyamalan. Even the casting of Joanne Whalley, the serial's only bona fide star, is cunning: a few scenes of her warbling about art and humping her ex Peter Briscoe and then she's worm food.

The Life Line of the title is an intriguing idea: a phone “chat room” where it seems you can chat to a lost loved one. It’s never properly explained what it is, and ultimately it turns out to be a bit of a red herring - and not terribly well weaved in. But it does manage to keep us from looking too closely at the real mystery of the serial...

Gallagher's lean and crisp script, coupled with Jamie Payne's non-hystrionic direction make this a genuinely powerful, involving and unpredictable thriller which bodes well for this kind of drama cropping up more and more as two-part treats.

Steve O’Brien

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Available platformsTV