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This is a BBC adaptation of the fantasy trilogy written by Philip Pullman . The first book was previously adapted into a movie, The Golden Compass (2007) , which flopped and failed to produce the two sequels.
The protagonist is a young girl who lives in Oxford University. This is in a parallel world, run by a religious dictatorship. Oxford has relative immunity, on academic grounds, much like how the Roman Church could claim it was outside the law of the land in many ways.
The protagonist awaits the return of her uncle, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy - Atomic Blonde (2015) ), who has been on an expedition to the Arctic. When he arrives, he delivers exposition that changes the understanding of their world. However, intrigue begins as there is a conspiracy to suppress his research.
Uncle Asriel returns to his expedition, leaving the girl alone. She is approached by Marissa Coulter ( Ruth Wilson ), who is working for persons unknown and may not be trustworthy.
There is a subplot about missing children. One of the protagonist’s young friends goes missing, and everyone says that monsters called Gobblers are responsible. Nearby, the local canal-boat gypsies led by James Cosmo ( Braveheart (1995) ) are out to rescue their own children from these monsters. Bear in mind, this may be a Fantasy story but nobody has actually seen the monsters yet.
Lyra goes to live with Marissa Coulter ( Ruth Wilson ), who seems to be very nice at the start but has a nasty undercurrent. There is something creepy about her, like how her daemon (soul monster) manages to travel around the place. It turns out that the daemon, an orang-outang, uses a series of secret passages inside the walls. Like Bruce Willis in Die Hard (1987) , only this version actually makes sense. Since Lyra is a child, and thus almost as small as the daemon, she can also crawl around and explore the place.
A journalist ( Georgina Campbell ) gate-crashes the party. She gets a main billing as a character, and we can assume she quit her role in Krypton so she could get this role, but it seems somewhat limited.
James Cosmo ( Braveheart (1995) ) and the gypsy people are still looking for their stolen children. It turns out that the Gobblers are just a gang of kidnappers, not supernatural monsters, which is a bit disappointing. They store the kids in an illegal orphanage which seems reminiscent of Oliver Twist . Yes, alternate universes do not need to look to the future to create a dystopia - they just evoke the Victorian era.
Lyra is in the hands of the Gobblers. However, they are themselves being hunted by the gypsies. Finally, the heroine gets to hide out with James Cosmo ( Braveheart (1995) ) and his friends.
A couple of gypsy boys, acting on Lyra's suspicions, decide to break into the office of Marissa Coulter ( Ruth Wilson ). Unfortunately it is in her apartment, and they will not have as easy a time of it as Lyra did.
It seems that a couple of people are regularly travelling between worlds, using a secret interdimensional portal. Not only do they keep it secret from their governments, they are also secretly investigating other portal users.
Lyra takes a ship to Norway, with James Cosmo ( Braveheart (1995) ) as her guardian. This episode is spent introducing new characters. One is Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda), an American who is an airship pilot. Another, a friend of the pilot, is a polar bear who has been debt-slaved by humans in the town.
This is also the first mention of the witches of the north pole. One of them in particular is mentioned - Serafina Pekkala. Presumably this is the character played by Eva Green in the movie, which seemed a gratuitous cameo at the time but was no doubt setting up her introduction in the intended sequel.
Lyra accompanies James Cosmo ( Braveheart (1995) ) and the others on the way north. They discover what happened to Billy Costa.
The plotline in the alternate universe is still plodding along, with no sign of development in any real sense. There is still no sign of how this will affect the main storyline. The investigators are after Col. John Parry / Jopari (Andrew Scott - ), so they interview his widow Elaine Parry ( Nina Sosyana ).
Lyra is now in the hands of the Gobblers. As always, she has a plan to cause chaos.
Lyra finally gets to confront her mother, Marissa Coulter ( Ruth Wilson ).
This leads up to a climactic battle. After the events of the previous episode, the so-called good guys do not fight fair.
Lyra finds herself in the hands of the polar bears. They are not nice and friendly like her buddy Yoric. The Polar Bear King has made a deal with the villains. However, Yoric the outcast is a potential replacement for the King. Real Sword in the Stone stuff.
In the other world, the plot thickens. The investigators ramp up the pressure on the widow Elaine Parry ( Nina Sosyana ) and her son.
Lyra is reunited with her father, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy - Atomic Blonde (2015) ). However, he is less than happy to see her. She may have gone through a lot of trouble to find him, but she fails to point out that there was no safety for her back in England. On the good side, he gives her some exposition.
Marissa Coulter ( Ruth Wilson ) is en route with a gang of well-armed henchmen. We get the start of a good battle scene, with her airships and paratroopers against Yoric and his army of armour-plated polar bears. However, the real climax is focused on characters instead of spectacle.
Lyra and her demon have passed through into another world. The bad news is that there does not appear to be anyone else around, until she bumps into Will. Yes, he has crossed over from the other plotline in the other world.
Mrs Coulter ( Ruth Wilson ) has made it to the villains' new HQ, a submarine the Magisterium have moored off the coast of Scandinavia. She volunteers to interrogate a witch they captured in the hope of locating Lyra.
Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda - Mary Poppins Returns (2018) ) visits the witches for mutual assistance. Serafina ( Ruta Gedmintas ) invites him as a guest, but rival witches are apparently opposed to the presence of men. Their primary agenda is to rescue their friend from the submarine.
Lyra and Will pass through the portal to Earth. Then they split up, each to follow their own mission. She goes to Oxford University, to see a Physicist named Mary Malone. It turns out that the nearest thing to Dust they are investigating is a form of Dark Matter.
Will tries to visit his mother ( Nina Sosanya ), but the cops are still looking for him. He visits the family solicitor, so he can gain access to the financial trust his father left them. Since he is under the age of eighteen he will need a trustee's signature, so he goes to visit his estranged grandparents.
Mrs Coulter ( Ruth Wilson ) is back at the Magisterium headquarters in England. She attends the trial of the witches envoy, Doctor Lanselius (Omid Djalili - The Mummy (1999) ). The prosecutor is her political rival, so she gives a few tips to the one she is reluctantly backing.
Lyra is overcome with curiousity about the Dark Matter. She abandons Will on the in-between world, and heads back to Earth with her daemon. Unfortunately a couple of men are waiting for her. One is a police detective who is after Will, while the other is after Lyra's magical object.
The witches are on the warpath, after the Magisterium used zepplins to flatten the witches headquarters with aerial bombing. Serafina ( Ruta Gedmintas ) only cares about saving Lyra, because the prophecy indicates that the worlds all depend on the girl.
Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda - Mary Poppins Returns (2018) ) is floating from town to town in his hot air balloon, in search of Professor Stanislas Grumman. Unfortunately the Magisterium has a lot of influence, and the Professor has been deemed a heretic. Mrs Coulter ( Ruth Wilson ) is also in the same area, looking for Lyra. Their encounter is inevitable, but the outcome is unexpected.
Lyra has been given a choice - if she obtains the Subtle Knife she can exchange it for her truth-teller box. Yes, she basically has to exchange one magical device for another. Will plans to break into the tower where the knife is hidden. Unfortunately the spectres are stalking him, since he is almost old enough for them to devour.
Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda - Mary Poppins Returns (2018) ) almost had his hot air balloon confiscated by the Magisterium, so he hid it in the woods. Now he uses a boat in his search of Professor Stanislas Grumman. He finds Jopari (Andrew Scott - ), who is on a quest of his own to obtain the Subtle Knife and bring it to Lord Asriel.
The bearer of the knife (Terence Stamp - Star Wars: Phantom Menace ) is old, and is due to pass the knife on to a new bearer. He teaches that person how to use the blade, which can cut a hole from one universe to the next, and gives the four rules that every bearer must follow. The rules are basically common sense, but the important ones are to keep the knife safe. In other words, he cannot just hand it over to Lyra even if she needs to swap it for the alethieometer.
Serafina ( Ruta Gedmintas ) and the witches want to destroy the Magisterium in revenge for the bombing. First, they must secure the opening between worlds so they can rescue Lyra and force Asriel to return home. It turns out that a single witch, using her superpowers of flight and super-speed, can easily wipe out a whole airship full of soldiers. Luckily the Magisterium's soldiers are dressed and equipped in a manner reminiscent of Germans in World War Two, so this horrendous slaughter seems more honourable. If only the witches had fought this hard when their capital was under attack, their revenge mission would not be necessary.
Carlo has Lyra's alethieometer, but he cares about more than just getting the Subtle Knife from Lyra. In order to curry favour with Mrs Coulter ( Ruth Wilson ), who has recently returned to parallel Oxford from the Northlands, he takes her through a portal so he can reunite her with her daughter.
Mrs Coulter ( Ruth Wilson ) takes a break from waiting with Carlo, and pays Molly Malone a visit. This leads on to a certain amount of jealousy concerning the amount of academic freedom accorded to females. Coulter was top of her class, but was denied her Doctorate because of her gender identity choice. Although she has written many academic papers, she cannot have them published unless she uses a male pseudonym. In other words, if she used a default male name - like Robert Rowling or JK Galbraith - she would technically be a trans-man and thus allowed so-called male privileges. In fact, if only men can have a Doctorate then by adding Doctor at the start of her name she would become a default male.
Lyra and Will have no intention of going through with their end of their deal with Carlo. They plan to steal the alethieometer.
Serafina ( Ruta Gedmintas ) and the witches are reunited with Lyra.
Molly Malone travels through the rip in space-time, and finds herself in the spectre world. Despite being a career woman with no time for children, she ends up as care-giver for the city's abandoned children.
Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda - Mary Poppins Returns (2018) ) and Jopari (Andrew Scott - ) have set sail together in the airship. They have crossed into the spectre-world, but the Magisterium sends three air-ships after them.
Mrs Coulter ( Ruth Wilson ) and Carlo follow after Lyra. Of course, Carlo does not realise that when Coulter has no further use for him she will dispense with him permanently.
The plot threads all converge on the middle world. Since the city on the island is full of spectres, everyone heads into the wooded valleys on the mainland.
Mrs Coulter ( Ruth Wilson ) wants Lyra back, so she goes after the witches.
Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda - Mary Poppins Returns (2018) ) holds off the Magisterium's soldiers, and Jopari (Andrew Scott - ) goes after his son.