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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Edge of Darkness (1986)

Edge of Darkness (1986)

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Released 1-Oct-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio & Animation
Menu Audio
Isolated Musical Score-Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen's BAFTA award winning score
Featurette-"Did You See...?" - episode of BBC arts programme
Interviews-Cast-Bob Peck interview, from BBC Breakfast Time programme
Awards-BPG Awards 1986, interviews with Bob Peck& Michael Wearing
Awards-BAFTA awards, interviews with Bob Peck and Joe Don Baker
Alternate Ending-Episode 6
Featurette-Making Of-"Magnox - The Secrets of Edge of Darkness"
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1986
Running Time 316:04 (Case: 314)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (46:03)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Martin Campbell

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Bob Peck
Joanne Whalley
Joe Don Baker
Charles Kay
Ian McNeice
John Woodvine
Zoe Wanamaker
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $49.95 Music Eric Clapton
Michael Kamen

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Isolated Music Score Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The BBC has been known for some high-quality TV drama series productions over the last couple of decades and this series is a standout example. I remember seeing the first broadcast of Edge of Darkness here in Australia on the ABC in 1986 and remember how it impressed upon me at the time as one of the best TV drama series I had ever seen. So when this DVD came up for review, I jumped at the chance to see the series again and to find out whether it still held up to those original impressions. My opinion has not changed. I would still go so far as to rate this as one of the best TV drama series I have ever seen. And I am not alone - well, at least not in the UK, as this series is still often rated near the top of many BBC viewer and critic polls, even after all these years.

    So why is this series so good? Well, for one thing, this series boasts production values more akin to a feature film than a made-for-TV drama series. It is stylistically directed, with some great cinematography. Secondly, it is a fascinating story in an interesting genre (political-thriller), built upon an intelligently written script. Thirdly, it features first class acting from relative unknowns (at that time) Bob Peck (later to go on to star in Jurassic Park), Joanne Whalley (later to become Joanne Whalley-Kilmer and star in Willow) and Joe Don Baker (a much under-rated but always impressionable actor, later to star in Cape Fear and assume the character of Jack Wade in the James Bond films). Fourthly - and here is the crux of it - this is a TV drama series that does not pander to its audience like most TV dramas do. It is directed in such a way as to entice the audience into a complex, but ultimately satisfying, mystery-thriller plot. Fifthly, this series explores some important social issues, in fact airing several issues around nuclear processing and waste for the first time for many back in 1986, thereby raising public awareness. These issues still resonate today. Sixthly, this series benefits from a truly beautiful and haunting music score composed by none less than Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen. With all this going for it, it is no wonder then that Edge of Darkness won immediate and widespread critical acclaim on its initial broadcast, claiming 7 BAFTA nominations and winning the 5 categories of Best Drama Series, Best Actor, Best Cameraman, Best Film Editor and Best Original TV Music.

    The plot of Edge of Darkness is a rather complex one and quite difficult to summarise succinctly and yet do justice to. After several stabs at this plot synopsis, I found the BBC themselves summarised this storyline most succinctly, and I could not do any better than the following:  "Edge of Darkness is the story of the hunt by Yorkshire detective Ronald Craven (Bob Peck) for the murderer of his daughter Emma (Joanne Whalley), a political activist who, unbeknownst to Craven, had recently penetrated a nuclear plant. Craven's enquiries lead to sinister encounters with Scotland Yard, British intelligence, the CIA and a private company that handles nuclear waste. Throughout his search, thoughts of his dead daughter are never far from Craven's mind and he still sees her wherever he goes."  Now this still only scratches the surface of what unfolds to be a very complex and well-crafted political thriller. Just watch it.

    The series is comprised of six episodes, being "One: Compassionate Leave" (54:44), "Two: Into The Shadows" (50:35), "Three: Burden of Proof" (50:42), "Four: Breakthrough" (53:58), "Five: Northmoor" (50:27) and "Six: Fusion" (55:38). To tell you any more than the actual title of each episode would be giving away far too much of the plot for you.

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Transfer Quality


    The video transfer on this DVD is satisfactory, but grainy.

    The transfer is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame.

    This series was shot on 16mm film and this is apparent in the visible film grain in this transfer. In addition, the print from which this DVD has been sourced looks like it has seen better days, judging by its generally lacklustre appearance, and it is annoying that greater effort was not invested into cleaning/restoring the print prior to mastering for DVD. In any event, whether the cause be the age and state of the source print, or the lack of restoration effort, the resultant DVD transfer is let down by notable and persistent grain and soft resolution. Not to say that the resolution and image quality is completely unsatisfactory for a 1986 TV series, but certainly the image refrains from impacting with any real crispness in its newly presented format. Whilst there is no low level noise to speak of, the level of shadow detail is more problematic, ranging from just OK in most scenes to poor in others (the worst offending  scenes being the underground sequences in Episode Five).

    Colour is somewhat muted and drab in this transfer. OK, this is no doubt due at least in part to intended artistic choices of the director and cameraman, as the world of Detective Craven is clearly meant to register as oppressive and sinister. However the director also intersperses the bleakness with odd scenes of parks and gardens here and there to provide some welcome visual relief, and it is these scenes that confirm the overly washed-out appearance of the transfer. Having said that though, skin tones do come across as quite natural throughout, despite the washed-out appearance of other colours.

    I did not note any MPEG artefacts, despite a relatively low bitrate throughout the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts are also not a drama. Film artefacts are problematic though, in the form of numerous and persistent little scratches and negative artefacts on the source print. Not that any of these scratches or marks fall under the category of significant, it's just that the source print is riddled with them. As stated above, it is a d*** shame that more effort could not have been invested into cleaning up and restoring the source print prior to mastering.

   The only subtitle language included on the disc is English for the Hearing Impaired. I sampled this subtitle stream for a couple of episodes and found it to be clear, easy to read, well timed and accurate.

    Both discs are RSDL-formatted. The layer change on disc 1 occurs during Episode Two at 46:03, and on disc 2 during Episode 5 at 38:56. The layer changes are not overly disruptive, but I was quite annoyed to come across the layer change on disc 1 only five minutes before the end of one episode, when surely with a bit more thought and planning it could have been better placed in between the episodes.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio transfer is also best described as just satisfactory.

    Putting aside the isolated music score track (discussed separately under extras below) there is only one audio track on offer for the main feature, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at a paltry 192 Kb/s.

    Dialogue quality is relatively clear and mixed in at appropriate volume. I did find the odd line of dialogue a little hard to decipher at times, but only because of some of the actors' very thick accents, not because of a fault of the dialogue track. I did not have any issues with the audio sync.

    As mentioned above, the music score for this series is provided by Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen and the score is simply stunning. The main theme is a simple one, yet very emotive, revolving around sparse but haunting guitar chords to invoke Craven's grief, and embellished nicely  by Michael Kamen's accompaniment. The music score features more prominently in the first few episodes before the action of the middle episodes takes over, with the music theme then reprised again towards the end of the series.

    Unfortunately, the DVD's audio track does not reproduce this wonderful score well. The main problem with the audio track when listening with Dolby Pro Logic engaged is the almost complete collapse of the soundstage all to the centre speaker, which is relied upon for dialogue, music, effects, the lot. If you disengage the ProLogic decoder it is not hard to discover why it has been fooled, as the 2.0 track is effectively mono, with little if any stereo separation to speak of; virtually no L-R panning or directional placement for music, on-screen character placements or any other sound effects. Whilst the dialogue remains clear, the music is given very little room to breathe in the mix and so remains fairly flat and, at times, harsh.

    Another annoyance in the audio track is the prominent audio hiss throughout. Some allowance must be made for the fact that this was a 1986 audio recording and presumably all on-location (no ADR), but still, the degree of audio hiss is annoying. If you care to pump up the soundtrack to any great volume, then the audio hiss becomes quite detracting.

    Subwoofer use is minimal.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are quite a few extras on this disc and we can be grateful that at least some effort has been put into tracking down all the BBC interviews and footage to help put this important series into some perspective.


    The menus are provided in the appropriate aspect ratio of 1.33:1, commensurate with the feature. All menus contain audio underscore (some overly loudly), but only the main menu on each disc has animation, with the other menus are all stills. The menus are all minimally themed but are easy enough to navigate, so they do the job.

Both Discs: Isolated Music Score

    Both discs contain an isolated music score option. This is nice, but as stated above, once you get past the first two episodes the scoring starts to  be used more sparingly, so the value of this extra is questionable.

Disc 1: Interview Featurette: "Did You See...?" (8:06)

    This is a televised review of the series on the BBC's "Did You See...?" programme in 1986. The timing of this review makes it an interesting extra, as it is being discussed and evaluated by a panel of film/TV critics half-way through the first broadcast of the series in 1986 (episode 3 had just been broadcast). Therefore, this extra conveys some of the excitement being generated by the series as audiences were still half-way through it. The three film/TV critics give their opinions on why they feel the series has been successful, providing a few decent insights along the way.

    The video quality in this featurette is decent - certainly with less grain and better resolution than the feature - but still with washed-out colours. It is also let down by some shocking aliasing/strobing, manifesting on one particular interviewee's shirt. (Someone should have told him to wear a different shirt for TV!)

Disc 1: Interview Featurette: "Breakfast Time" (6:48)

    This is an interview with Bob Peck on the BBC's "Breakfast Time" programme. Bob Peck comes across as a shy and introverted person - this was, after all, his first big TV break and brush with fame - and so he is the type of interviewee who really does require an experienced and personable interviewer in order to draw him out properly with probing, intelligent questions. Unfortunately, he doesn't get it on this programme. Instead, he gets a boring interviewer asking some truly banal questions, so it doesn't make for the most exciting TV interview you've ever seen. Still, the featurette is of interest to at least show how a reluctant and humble Bob Peck is starting to deal with all the attention this series is generating.

    The video quality of this featurette is better than the previous extra and audio is also fine.

Disc 1: Interview Featurette: "Pebble Mill" (6:04)

    This one is an extract from the Broadcasting Television Critics Awards of 1986 and includes interviews with producer Michael Wearing and Bob Peck again. The interview is pretty superficial, though, and doesn't help to enlighten much. The video and audio quality is fine.

Disc 1: Featurette: BAFTA Awards 1986 (7:31)

    As the title suggests, this featurette is an excerpt of footage from the 1986 BAFTAs, where Edge Of Darkness scooped the pool, winning Best Drama Series, Best Actor, Best Cameraman, Best Editing and Best Music. Joe Don Baker and Joanne Whalley also received nominations for Best Actor and Best Actress. The footage covers some of the awards announcements and then interview excerpts with Bob Peck (yet again), Joe Don Baker, who has some interesting and complimentary things to say, and the effects supervisor Mat Irvine, who also provides a different insight.

Disc 2: "Episode Six Alternate Ending" (2:24)

    This is NOT an alternate ending at all and I would not even count this as a real extra. The extent of the difference in this "alternate" ending compared to the original ending lies solely in a slightly quicker fade to black towards the end of the credits roll, hardly justifying calling this an "alternate ending"! Perhaps technically so, but highly misleading to say the least. This is what you call padding a DVD by trying to generate "extras" out of nothing.

Disc 2: Retrospective Featurette: "Magnox: Secrets of Edge Of Darkness"(34:56)

    This, on the other hand, is a quality extra. It is a half-hour, newly recorded featurette giving much insight into the writing and production of the series. It includes an extended interview with the series writer, Troy Kennedy Martin. Martin explains aspects such as what inspired him to write this script under the working title "Magnox", why he at first assumed the script would never be filmed, his initial concerns when it was being filmed that the emerging events of the day might overtake his story idea, and his originally scripted idea for the ending of the series and why this was re-written. This is all very interesting and succeeds in putting the series into better context.

    As well as the interview with Martin, this featurette also includes interviews with the producer, several of the actors and also Michael Kamen, discussing how both Eric Clapton and he came to work on the project and recollections of writing the main theme song.

Disc 2: Photo Gallery (60 shots)

    Some decent shots among these, mostly promotional shots and shots of the cast on-set, plus some behind-the-scenes shots.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This DVD appears to have been released twice now in Region 2 and is still available in both formats. The most recent release is a 2-disc set specified exactly the same as our Region 4 release, whist the original release is a 1-disc version missing out on all of the new video-based extras, but instead getting some text-based extras subsequently dropped for the 2-disc version. These text-based extras are production notes/essays and a copy of the script for episode 1. The loss of the text-based extras is more than made up for by the video-based extras, including the highly insightful and newly recorded retrospective featurette, so you can call it even now across Regions 2 and 4.

    The series is not available at all in Region 1.


    Edge of Darkness is a quality drama series from the BBC, arguably one of the best to come out of that stable in the last 20 years. The series boasts an intriguing and intelligently written story, solid acting performances and production standards more akin to a feature film than your normal TV drama series fare.

   Unfortunately, the DVD features only mediocre quality video and audio transfers, yet the content still shines through. At least the extras are something to cheer about, as they are many and enlightening.

    The series should not be missed.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen rear projection TV. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum/AVIA. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum/AVIA.
AmplificationElektra Theatre 150 Watts x 6 channel Power Amplifier
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

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