WRITER: Paul Cornell[SPOILERS] The clichéd jump-scare of a ghost being reflected in a bathroom cabinet's mirror is trotted out within three minutes of Pulse's opening, and this medical-horror pilot from Paul Cornell (Doctor Who) never shakes an air of predictability, teasing an hour from a story best-suited as a short film.
DIRECTOR: James Hawes
CAST: Claire Foy, Stephen Campbell Moore, Ben Miles, Arsher Ali, Alan Williams, Caroline Goodall, Emily Beecham, Gregg Chillin, Matti Houghton, Eileen Davies, Jo Hartley & Emma Stansfield
Trainee doctor Hannah Carter (Claire Foy) has returned to her teaching hospital to continue her education, having taken a sabbatical to grieve the death of her mother, whom she's started seeing visions of. Throwing herself back into her studies at St. Timothy's, Hannah starts to become suspicious of malpractice when gastric cancer patient Charlie insists he's being given furtive injections. Later, Hannah witnesses Charlie's stomach tumour undulate during a routine stomach inspection and begins to think surgeon Dr. Nick Gates (Stephen Campbell Moore) is indeed administering harmful injections for nefarious purposes, unaware that Nick himself is dealing with a swollen, infected hand cut he sustained while operating on Charlie.
It's Garth Marenghi's Darkplace without the laughs, or perhaps Holby City-meets-Fringe is a fairer description. The idea of a training hospital being a cover for bizarre experiments on unwilling guinea pigs is a decent one, but after this pilot I was left feeling uncertain about exactly what Pulse will offer as a series. Every week Hannah will stumble upon some unethical, gross-out activity perpetrated by conspiratorial superiors and, rather than inform the police because innocent people are being killed/abused/butchered, she'll just sabotage things in secret and keep quiet? I'm not sure. This episode didn't succeed in convincing me Pulse will work as a weekly series; it was more a serviceable Outer Limits story.
None of the characters took on much life, or felt like developed human beings to me. Foy and Moore are both good actors and did their best, but their roles felt thin and uninteresting to me. Pulse instead leaned on discordant music, a chilly ambience ripped from '90s clinical dramas, the aforementioned jump-scares (people appearing suddenly from behind swishing curtains!), the obligatory yuckiness of open stomachs and blood sprays, and a whole heap of corny clichés. When Hannah found herself locked in a library after closing time, the lights started going off and books flew off shelves, for no reason other than to provide a set-piece that reminded you of better sequences in Angels & Demons and Ghostbusters.
And here's the problem we have with British sci-fi/fantasy programming right now: there's so little around, despite the genre's validation thanks to Doctor Who's revival, that you feel guilty picking fault with whatever manages to get made. Instead, fans of the genre feel duty-bound to champion everything different to the norm. But I do understand it's unfair to stamp on a green shoot poking its head out of the soil, just because you're unsure of the flower's beauty. Pulse could easily become something very good, but I just wasn't very impressed by this pilot. I'd have liked stronger characterizations (a suicide at the end carried zero weight because you didn't connect to the victim), less reliance on hammy scare tactics (was anyone frightened or unnerved by anything, in all honesty?), and realistic medical jargon to give everything an X-Filesian ring of truth to it. Where's doctor-turned-writer Jed Mercurio (Cardiac Arrest, Bodies) when he's most needed?
Overall, the concept has potential and the cast show promise (especially Anna Friel-alike Foy), but this pilot felt flat and corny to me. But while its pulse may be faint, it certainly wasn't D.O.A, and I'd sample more if (nay, when) BBC3 commission a proper run.
3 JUNE 2010: BBC3, 9PM