Honestly, how did it take this long to get a good adaptation of Philip Pullman’s bestselling series: His Dark Materials? Anyway, the joint production between HBO and the BBC has more than successfully adapted the first two books, The Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife, with an anticipated third season on the horizon. So, why not look back at the best episodes from the first two series in anticipation for the third season? Before I get into the list properly, here is some history about the show.
His Dark Materials first premiered on BBC One and HBO in 2019 and as mentioned above is moving towards its third season. This upcoming third series is an adaptation of the third book: The Amber Spyglass. The first series covered how Lyra Belacqua makes her way to the frozen North from Oxford in an attempt to save her kidnapped friend, Roger. The Northern Lights also covers daemons and who Lyra’s parents are. Now, the second series (The Subtle Knife) sees Lyra and new friend Will attempt to retrieve the reality cutting knife from Cittagazze: The City of Angels. His Dark Materials received high praise for its visual design and performances, especially from Ruth Wilson (Mrs Coulter), James McAvoy (Lord Asriel), Dafne Keen (Lyra) and Lin Manuel Miranda (Lee Scoresby). So, without further ado here are the best episodes of His Dark Materials ranked.
10: Lyra’s Jordan (S1, E1)
Kicking off the list of the best His Dark Materials is the first episode of the show: Lyra’s Jordan. Here, we are introduced to Dafne Keen’s Lyra Belacqua and her best friend Roger as they adventure around Oxford College. However, her world is turned upside down by two massive arrivals. The first is when her uncle Lord Asriel returns from an expedition to the North talking about a mysterious substance called Dust. Oooh…. Anyway, the other massive arrival into Lyra’s life is the mysterious Mrs Coulter, who has a rather interesting proposal for Lyra regarding her future at Oxford. Overall, a very good first episode.
9: Theft (S2, E3)
Well, speaking of Lyra this episode sees her forced into a difficult choice: never get her alethiometer back or give a reality cutting knife to a mysterious and dangerous man in Lord Boreal. Anyway, if that’s not enough of a reason to love this episode, well how about lovable rogue Lee Scoresby and Mr Coulter meeting in a prison? This leads to a great scene where Mrs Coulter has to make a choice between releasing or not releasing Scoresby. Meanwhile, other highlights include Will arriving at Cittagazze and the witches meeting with Iorek (a talking polar bear) about Lyra’s prophecy.
8: The City of Magpies (S2, E1)
So, we’ve looked at Series One’s opening episode and now let’s look into the first episode of the Subtle Knife series: The City of Magpies. Now, this episode sees Lyra stepping through the portal after her ‘uncle’ Lord Asriel and eventually arriving in Cittagazze. Coincidentally, Will also arrives in Cittagazze at the same time. It’s almost like it’s both of their destinies…. Anyway, this episode also goes to some dark places with Mrs Coulter torturing a captured witch. This leads to an awesome fight on a submarine between the forces of the Magisterium (the religious government of Lyra’s World) and witch queen Ruti Skurdi’s witches. Also there’s the small matter of Will’s vision of the Subtle Knife….
7: The Lost Boy (S1, E5)
Also, if you haven’t read the books His Dark Materials goes to some very dark places. Case in point, Lyra and the Gyptians travelling to the North to rescue kidnapped children. This leads to a great scene where Iorek (a talking polar bear) agrees to protect Lyra when they go after a missing child: Billy Costa. Also, this episode sees Lord Boreal attempting to track down Will’s father, John Perry, who he believes has travelled between worlds. If that isn’t enough, Mrs Coulter decides to send spy flies after Lyra in order to keep an eye on her. Damn, that’s a lot of stuff..
6: The Fight to the Death (S1, E7)
After surviving a fall from the Bolvanger lab, Lyra is captured by an armoured bear and brought before Iofur Raknison (another talking polar bear) in Svalbard. This leads to an awesome fight between Iofur and Iorek with both the throne of the polar bears and Lyra at stake. So besides the polar bear fight, what else does this episode offer? Well, just a whole bunch of Lin-Manuel Miranda being brilliant as Lee meets with Serafina, another witch, after his balloon crashes. Also, we see Lyra reunited with her ‘uncle’ Lord Asriel in his lab within the Svalbard mountains. This sequence sees phenomenal performances from Dafne Keen and James McAvoy as Asriel grapples with the fact he didn’t send for Lyra, but instead Roger. How interesting and not at all disturbing…
5: The Scholar (S2, E5)
At the halfway point of the best His Dark Materials episodes is Series Two’s The Scholar. What makes this episode good? Well, the witches’ war with the Magisterium heats up when after an savage witch attack on an airship Cardinal McPhail takes action against, checks notes, the Magisterium. Wait what? Anyway, after imprisoning his rival he orders his men to keep track of Mrs Coulter’s location. Now speaking of Mrs Coulter she is with Lord Boreal trying to trap Lyra and Will by taking the alethiometer. I’m sure that idea won’t backfire at all….
4: Armour (S1, E4)
Aah yes it’s time to once again talk about everyone’s favourite talking polar bear: Iorek Byrnison. So in another massive coincidence Lee Scoresby, Lyra and the Gyptians all end up in the same place but for different reasons. Lee is there for Iorek whereas Lyra is there for the missing children. However, Lyra and Lee manage to convince Iorek to help them find the missing children. Aww, what a lovely giant polar bear…. Anyway, Mrs Coulter is also after a bear, Iofur Rakinson, as she wants to give their captive, Lord Asriel, to the Magisterium. All of this is so she can continue her not at all twisted experiments in the North. Another very good episode here…
3: Betrayal (S1, E8)
Speaking of Lord Asriel, James McAvoy puts in a terrific performance in the Series One finale aptly titled Betrayal. Why is that such an apt title for this episode? Well, Asriel has a very dangerous idea which involves opening a portal, the Northern Lights and Lyra’s friend Roger. Needless to say, Lyra is desperate to stop him going through with his plan. Other episode highlights include Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel meeting at the portal which leads to another world and a massive fight between the Magisterium and Iorek’s bears. Honestly, who doesn’t love seeing polar bears fight airships?
2: The Daemon Cages (S1, E6)
Remember when I mentioned about Lyra being kidnapped and taken to Mrs Coulter’s lab in Bolvangar? Well, this episode sees Lyra caught in a classic case of mistaken identity which leads to a phenomenal scene between her and Mrs Coulter. And by now I’m sure you can work out the connection between Lyra and Mrs Coulter…. Anyway, this isn’t just about Lyra and Mrs Coulter, it’s also about Iorek, Scoresby, The Gyptians and Serafina attacking Bolvanger. This leads to a massive fight where eventually Lyra escapes with Iorek and Lee….. only to fall off Lee’s balloon. This is a great cliffhanger for the next episode and a generally great episode.
1: The Tower of Angels (S2, E4)
And the best episode of His Dark Materials (so far) is….. The Tower of Angels. Now basically this episode sees anyone and everyone passing through Cittagazze: The City in the Sky. So, we see Lyra and Will battling for the reality cutting Subtle Knife with the children of Cittagazze. Besides Lyra and Will’s fight for the Subtle Knife, everyone’s favourite aeronaut Lee Scoresby being ‘summoned’ by Will’s father John Parry. And if that’s not enough, Lord Boreal and Mrs Coulter pass through Cittagazze in order to set a trap for Lyra in alternate Oxford. Oh, and there’s also the small matter of the witches trying to track down Lyra in Cittagazze. Damn, so much going on in the episode…..
What are your favourite episodes of His Dark Materials? Let me know in the comments below!