Edge of Darkness — Killer TV No 24

BBC2, 1985

‘Which brings me to your daughter.’ – Pendleton

‘What about her?’ – Craven

‘She was some sort of terrorist, wasn’t she?’ – Pendleton

Bob Peck, Joanne Whalley, Joe Don Baker, Charles Kay, Ian McNeice

Identikit: Detective Ronald Craven investigates the brutal murder of his activist daughter, Emma, and soon finds himself enmeshed in a government/corporate cover-up.

logosALONG WITH State of Play and A Very British Coup (1988 version), Edge of Darkness is the finest political thriller made by British Edge of Darknesstelevision. It is a superbly noirish six-parter that conveyed suspicions about just how sinister the government and corporate powers might be, and perfectly captured the troubled spirit of 1980s. It is a politically charged series, influenced by the 1980s secrecy surrounding the nuclear industry and the divisive mood of the Thatcher era. Detective Ronnie Craven is returning home one rain-soaked night with his daughter Emma, having given her a lift from a student political meeting she was chairing, when a man steps from the bushes, shouts, ‘You bloody murdering bastard,’ and fires both barrels of a shotgun. The blast kills Emma, leaving widower Ronnie now entirely alone in life. As Eric Clapton’s bluesy, mournful guitar highlights the policeman’s desolation, the question remains, was the killer after Ronnie or Emma? Finding a gun and Geiger counter among Emma’s belongings – and that a lock of his daughter’s hair is radioactive – Ronnie heads to London to start snooping. When the mysterious Pendleton (Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s assistant) makes contact and suggests Emma was a terrorist, it is clear she was mixed up with dangerous forces. Craven then finds out his daughter was one of six women who broke into a nuclear plant, all of whom are now dead. The plot twists as it gradually unfolds, and Ronnie’s compulsion to find out what happened is emotionally charged by ghostly flashbacks of moments with Emma. The story ends on a bleak but powerful environmental point, Troy Kennedy Martin (Z-Cars, The Italian Job) having written the series in frustration that ‘at the BBC there was no political dimension to their drama whatsoever’, and suspecting it would not be made. These days he would probably be right and such an ambitious drama, argumentative and with an almost mythic dimension – inspired by James Lovelock’s Gaia theory of the Earth as a single living entity, which Craven was fighting for – would not be produced. It is a series that grew out of the Cold War, but was ahead of its time in its fears for the environment. Edge of Darkness was critically acclaimed, Bob Peck’s performance was praised and the series won six Baftas (including best drama series and best actor).

Musical score: Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen

Classic episode: The last episode, entitled Fusion, sees Craven, suffering from radiation poisoning, uncovering the true extent and jeopardy of the nuclear conspiracy. The story reaches a tragic, but poetic ending.

Watercooler fact: Edge of Darkness made Bob Peck, until then best known for his stage roles, into a TV star. He died of cancer aged just 53 in 1994, after having gone on to numerous film and TV roles, including an appearance in Jurassic Park as park gamekeeper Robert Muldoon.


  1. Bernard says:

    Nice call. This is one of the first series I watched after coming here to the UK in 1985 (I guess therefore in repeat) and it was riveting, Still was the same was when I re-watched it some years ago in a library boxed set. It’s the template against which I judge all other conspiracy thrillers. There is everything in this that, had it been a film, should have given it an Oscar. The plot, the cast, the writing, the filming … nothing could have been made better. And then there is Bob Peck, a colossal part in it’s success – what a loss his death is.

    This was British TV at it’s finest. It’s our Breaking Bad if you will.

  2. Bernard says:

    Oh Rob. to add, keep up the amazing work. It informs me and my EPG depends on you. Thanks a lot for all your hard work.

  3. Geoffrey says:

    I look forward to finding this series. thanks for the tip! However I am still waiting for a multitude of series that were supposed to come out in 2015, like SS-GB, Top of the Lake 2, Night Manager, The Secret Agent, the list goes on. Do you know why they have not aired yet, or when we might expect them?

    • robinjarossi says:

      Good point! None of those has been shown yet, which should make 2016 all the more interesting.

  4. I chuckled as to how influenced Gideon Raff’s Dig (2015) was to Edge of Darkness. Raff didn’t go as far as copying a dildo scene…but you could tell he must have truly loved EoD, due to all the strange parallels. I have to sit down with EoD at least once a year and each time I watch it, it seems brand new.

    Please don’t forget Hit and Miss in your KILLER TV category. I still shake my head when it comes to SKY TV and their utterly stupid decision to pass on a second season. That show was a masterpiece of television.

  5. Well, I don’t know that “These days .. such an ambitious drama, argumentative and with an almost mythic dimension … would not be produced”

    The recent “London Spy” had a lot of those qualities. Its issues were less apocalyptic, but the tactics of government security agencies was even more immoral and ruthless.

    • robinjarossi says:

      Good point, but I did write that review a long while before London Spy. But perhaps it does show that such dramas are certainly rare.

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