Tuesday, 4 April 2017
Toby Whithouse's "Being Human" (2009-2013): A retrospective
One of the SF/fantasy success stories of the 2010s, Being Human ran on BBC3 for five seasons between 2009 and 2013, gaining a large and devoted fanbase in the process. Its cast ranged from the already well-established (star turns from Mark Williams, Julian Barratt, Jason Watkins, and the like) to up-and-comers who went on to even greater things – such as Aidan Turner (who dazzled viewers as Kíli in the Hobbit film series, Ross Poldark in Poldark and Philip Lombard in And Then There Were None) and Lenora Crichlow (who was handed one of telly’s most sickening twists in the Black Mirror episode White Bear). The show was created by Toby Whithouse, formerly of medical drama No Angels but best known for his six – soon to be seven – episodes of the 2005 revival of Doctor Who, and who returns to the stage later this month in his own one-man play about capital punishment.
The core premise of Being Human was straightforward: a flat-share sitcom mashed up with the supernatural horror genre that was exploding in popularity among young adults circa 2009. Or, to put it another way: “it’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but everyone’s in their twenties instead of at school”. The Fresh Meat to Buffy’s Inbetweeners, if you like.
Whithouse has always been one of the most overtly post-Buffy writers to work on Who (look no further than School Reunion, which saw the Doctor go up against Anthony “Giles” Head and evil bat creatures in a school setting), and the comparisons between Being Human and the infamous Joss Whedon show are not without merit: the dark and brooding vampire Mitchell clearly has his roots in Buffy’s lover Angel, right down to the Irish heritage, whilst the trick of opening with a flashback to, say, somewhere in Europe in the 17th century, before cutting back to the present day after the show's title card is absolutely a formula stolen from Buffy.
Additionally, its general humour and sense of aesthetic is often fairly similar – mingling the everyday (house-cleaning rotas, job interviews, nights out) with the horrific (vampire rebellions, succubi, and the rise of the Devil himself). There is clearly a streak of common DNA in the two shows.
And yet where Being Human was most interesting was where it differed from Buffy – was where, instead of being a story about a “Chosen One” determined to save the world and slay vampires with the help of her slightly dorky sidekicks, it was about something as simultaneously simple and complicated as just trying to get by in the world. There are no “Chosen Ones” in Being Human, except perhaps the ‘War Child’ Eve, daughter of principal characters George and Nina, and her status as “Chosen One” is explicitly undermined by the fact that her destiny is, as it turns out, to die as a baby. The show consistently argues against the allure of being heroes and history-makers.
This article was originally written for CultBox.co.uk. You can read the rest of it here.