I'd hate to call Ultraviolet a forgotten gem, but in a way it kind of is. Shown on Channel 4 back in 1998, Ultraviolet was a six-episode series that was heavily billed as Britain's answer to both The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's essentially a modern update of the vampire myth, revolving around a government-funded paramilitary organisation with connections to the Roman Catholic Church fighting a secret war against a worldwide vampire conspiracy. If that doesn't sound utterly awesome to you then you I guess you might as well stop reading now or alternatively you could read on and let me convince you of its absolute greatness. Jack Davenport is our main character Mike Colefield, a decent sort of chap with a thing for his best friend's fiancée. When his friend disappears, Mike is sucked into a dark world of "leeches", shadowy organisations and all sorts of disturbing blood-related unpleasantness.
Take every embarrassing cliché about vampires that's built up over the years, remove said embarrassments and add a slightly unsettling streak of grim reality and you've got Ultraviolet. Imagine if vampires were real, how would they really behave? And that's where Ultraviolet really pulls its punches, in the sheer bloody reality of it all. There are no implausible stunts, no fangs, no hissing, no stakes in the heart (well, sort of), just a disturbing sense of realism that really gets under your skin. "This could actually happen!", you think. "Maybe vampires are real!" Well, that's what I thought anyway, but I have a ridiculously childlike, overactive imagination.
The storylines are, without exception, completely great. Different aspects of the show's mythology are explored, expanding into an overall story that is really quite terrifying. Every episode has a subtle but gradual build in intensity, ramping up the tension for all its worth until you're hanging to the edge of your seat by a sort of home-made cable. This is especially well done in episode five, Terra Incognita, possibly one of the finest TV episodes of all time, and one so unbearably tense I guarantee you'll be digging your fingernails into the palms of your hands.
Before Torchwood aired and people discovered how rubbishy it was, fans were using this series as a benchmark for what Torchwood should aspire to, which shows the high esteem in which it's quite rightly held. It's not hard to see why it's remembered so fondly, because Ultraviolet really is brilliant in every department. It's slick and beautifully made. It's incredibly well written and directed by Joe Ahearne (director of all the best episodes of the first series of New Doctor Who). It's blessed with a tremendously atmospheric musical score. Every episode is plotted to perfection, and all the regulars are excellently cast with not a duff note among them.
It's a shame that there wasn't a second series, but I can understand why. As great as it would've been to have more episodes, Ultraviolet nonetheless works beautifully the way it is, achieving more in six hours than most series do in five seasons. If you're a genre TV fan, if you dig horror and vampires, if you like The X-Files, if you're wondering what Torchwood should've been, if you just generally love great television then this is a must-see. You won't regret it.