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Series / His Dark Materials

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His Dark Materials is a 2019 fantasy TV series that runs on BBC One in the UK, and on HBO in the rest of the world. It is based on the trilogy of books by Philip Pullman: Northern Lights/The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

The protagonist is a young girl, Lyra Silvertongue (played by Dafne Keen) in a fantasy world very similar to our own, in which people's souls live outside their bodies in the form of dæmons, which take on animal forms according to the person's personality.

Notably, this show is a co-production between the BBC and HBO. The show aired on Sundays in the UK on BBC One, and the following night everywhere else in the world on HBO.

The series is unrelated to the 2007 film adaptation The Golden Compass (outside of using the same source material), which only adapted the first book and didn't have any sequels.

It was renewed by the BBC for another season of seven episodes (Unfortunately losing one standalone episode to the COVID-19 Pandemic, as one day into filming, the UK's restrictions came into effect), and Series 2 started airing on November 8th, 2020.


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His Dark Materials contains examples of:

  • Adapted Out:
    • Mrs. Lonsdale, Lyra's primary caretaker at Jordan.
    • Dame Hannah Relf was also removed. No minor character who goes on to be significant in The Book of Dust has appeared in the series as of yet.
    • Mrs. Cooper, the woman Will entrusts to look after his mother while he’s away, does not appear. Will leaves Elaine in the care of his male boxing coach instead.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Mrs. Coulter is hinted to be a survivor of childhood abuse, something which was never mentioned in the books.
  • Adaptational Backstory Change: Roger is now an orphan who was brought to the college by his aunt, while in the books he had a family.
  • Adaptational Badass: Downplayed, and more in a technical sense. Will Parry was never incapable in the original books, but here he is shown taking real boxing lessons at school, as opposed to the books where his skills amounted to self-taught impulse and street fighting experience.
  • Adaptational Explanation Extrication: Boreal examines the skull the Lord Asriel previously proclaimed to belong to Stanislaus Grumman, and declares it to be an imposter after examining a hole in the skull. While this scene does not occur in the books, the meaning of the hole is explained. Grumman had his skull voluntarily trepanned as part of his initiation to become a Shaman, and all of his scholarly colleagues knew this. But, he had the procedure performed several years before the book starts, meaning the rim of the hole would have had the skin healed over and the sharp edges rounded. One of the characters later concludes that Asriel must have performed the trepanning on the skull post-mortem in order to fake Grumman's death, and that the examiners would have noticed this had they looked more closely. None of this is explained, and to an unread viewer it appears that Boreal concludes the skull is a fake after looking at a hole leftover from a bullet, leaving the viewer wondering why he thought this.
    • When we meet Grumman in series 2, the scar from his trepanning is visible at about his hairline, so it may be that Boreal knew where the trepanning hole was on Grumman's head.
  • Adaptational Diversity: The Gyptians are described in the books as being a British-Netherlander ethnic group, with most of its members having Dutch or vaguely European names to match. Here, a fair amount of the Gyptians and the kids are of differing ethnic backgrounds.
  • Adaptational Early Appearance: Several major characters and plot elements not introduced until the second and third books were incorporated into the first season, such as Father MacPhail, John Parry/Stanislaus Grumman, his son Will, the windows between worlds, and the fact Lord Boreal has been regularly crossing over into "our" world.
  • Adaptational Modesty: The witches from the books were described to wear only a couple pieces of cloth, with religious characters even describing them as temptresses. The series' version of Serafina Pekkala, in turn, wears a long dress with not even a bit of cleavage.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Angelica, Paola and possibly the rest of the children in Cittàgazze. In the book they chase Lyra, Pantalaimon and Will to a villa outside the city, threaten them with a gun, and things get really nasty before the witches show up in time to save the heroes; plus Angelica is completely unrepentant when asked about it later. In the show Serafina Pekkala arrives before a fight starts and scares the children away. Later when Angelica and Paola encounter Mary (mentioned in the book, the details of the scene were created for the show) and they learn she's looking for Lyra, Angelica casually says they tried to kill her; seeing the appalled look on Mary's face, she tentatively asks 'Was that wrong?' Paola then begs Mary for a hug. It wakes viewers up to the fact that however feral these two are becoming, they're still scared and traumatised children whose world has utterly fallen apart, and they just want their parents and brother back.
  • Adaptational Personality Change:
    • Lyra in the books was usually very hyper, carefree and mischievous, and just as childish and playful as could be expected of someone her age. It took some heavy Character Development up until the last book for her to outgrow this, and even so, she remained an extroverted person up to the end. In stark contrast, her TV series incarnation is much more mature, serious, subdued and conventionally heroic, and largely starts out that way instead of it being the result of her experiences (she does run around a lot and is clearly excitable at certain events, only not nearly as much as her book self). Dafne Keen's performance also gives Lyra a darker, more intense vibe in her mannerisms, especially compared to prior interpretations of the character.
    • Ma Costa is described in the books as a feared Gyptian matriarch with Mama Bear tendencies, which is also her portrayal in most adaptations. Her TV version, however, is infinitely less assertive and spends much of her early screen-time crying over Billy's disappearance, and doesn't seem to have any special reputation among her peers. Only later she grows a tougher side by way of Batman Grabs a Gun.
    • Lee Scoresby had a stoic, professional attitude in the books, only sometimes showing a softer side towards Lyra. His TV series counterpart, who is also substantially younger, is a playful, showy hustler. Some of his traits here seem to come from his appearance in the Once Upon a Time in the North short story, which features a younger Lee.
    • Mrs. Coulter, while still cunning, manipulative, glamorous and cruel, doesn't show as much effortless grace as she does in the books. In fact, this version of Coulter appears to have a very noticeable Ambiguous Disorder, and her behavior is almost bestial at times, especially when she's angry. This is opposed to the cold and calculating character from the books, who very rarely showed any cracks in her mask.
  • Adaptational Skimpiness: Insofar as the term can apply to a bear. In the books, Iorek and Iofur are fully-armoured in their Duel to the Death; in the series, they fight in just their fur.
  • Adaptation Amalgamation:
    • References to The Great Flood and Scholastic Sanctuary are nowhere to be found in Northern Lights, and are taken instead from The Book of Dust. The first episode's opening scene, depicting Lord Asriel delivering Lyra to Jordan during the flood, is based on the ending to La Belle Sauvage.
    • Dr. Carne was only ever referred to as "The Master" in the original trilogy, and it wasn't until The Secret Commonwealth that his name was revealed.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job:
    • Lyra is described as having dirty blonde hair in the books but is a brunette in this series, with Daphne Keen’s hair being much darker than even the light brown Dakota Blue Richards sported in the film.
    • Somewhat zig-zagged with Mrs. Coulter. Ruth Wilson portrays her with dark brown hair, just as the character was first described as having in the initial trilogy. However, Philip Pullman was so taken with Nicole Kidman’s blonde tresses in the film, he declared he’d been “wrong” in making her brunette and has subsequently written Coulter as fair-haired. So while Wilson’s appearance is in keeping with Pullman’s original vision, it disregards his later reimagining.
    • Dr. Mary Malone has black hair in the books, but is a redhead in the series.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • Northern Lights / The Golden Compass, save for a few instances, takes place from Lyra's point of view. The series adds plenty of scenes to bulk up the narrative, such as the Gyptians reacting to their children being stolen and heading to London to find them, Lord Boreal working for the Magisterium and visiting "our" world, and more scenes of Mrs. Coulter alone and dealing with the Magisterium.
    • Barely any of The Subtle Knife takes place in Lyra's world, but the second season lets viewers see the repercussions of Asriel's experiment and the escalating war between the witch clans and the Magisterium.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: Iorek's claims that "You cannot trick a bear,” due to the scene of him demonstrating this to Lyra through fencing being Adapted Out. Instead, he just tells her it's impossible, even though she has evidence that the people of Trollesund tricked him and the audience has seen Mrs. Coulter trick Iofur.
  • Adaptation Species Change:
    • In the books, Serafina Pekkala's dæmon Kaisa is a snow goose; in the series, he's a gyrfalcon (in a case of Real Life Writes the Plot, when trying the goose they found it was difficult to animate it speaking in any way that didn't look silly).
    • In addition, Fra Pavel's dæmon has been changed from a frog to a rat, and Cardinal Sturrock's is no longer a macaw, but an insect.
  • Adults Are Useless: Lyra and Will both start out thinking this, but it's subverted to hell and back with the Gyptians, who are incredibly capable and take dangers the children face quite seriously.
  • Adult Fear: Children are being abducted right from under families' noses — Billy Costa is snatched at a Gyptian celebration, and Roger is taken from within the halls of Jordan College itself — and the government is not only refusing to do anything about it, part of it actually sanctions what's happening. Worse still, the children are being held captive, abused, experimented on and essentially lobotomized; when Billy's found he's completely catatonic and unresponsive, and dies only a little while after he's brought back to his grieving mother and brother.
  • Age Lift:
    • Downplayed with Lyra, who in the books was 12-going-on-13, yet is played by the 14-year old Dafne Keen, with her canonical age being implied to be the same. It's easy to overlook, though, as Keen doesn't really look much older than Dakota Blue Richards (who was 12-13) from the movie.
    • Lee Scoresby is decades younger than his book and movie counterparts.
    • Will Parry is explicitly stated to be fifteen years old, while in the books he was the same age as Lyra.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Will's mother Elaine Parry has some form of mental illness. It's debilitating enough that Will's daily routine involves checking on her in person during his lunch breaks from school, and later has his boxing coach take care of her when Boreal starts harassing them.
  • Ambiguous Robot: The Spy Flies. They look mechanical but sound organic, are far too advanced for the technology level seen on Lyra's world, but don't act like living organisms, instead like perpetual motion monsters. Ma Costa claims they cannot be killed, and are animated by dark spirits.
  • An Aesop: Lee Scoresby spells out a hard one for both Mrs. Coulter and the audience: even if you love someone deeply, it doesn't automatically mean your relationship is healthy or that they'll be safe around you. Not even if they're your child, and especially not if you've been abusive in the past. Love, and a selfish love at that, is not enough; you need to show that you're willing to put their needs above yours.
  • Animal Stereotypes: Played up from the source material. Several of the main characters have small traits in common with their animal dæmons. Mrs. Coulter and Lee Scoresby both fight like their dæmons, with Mrs. Coulter jumping and beating on people like a monkey, and Lee jumping and kicking people like a hare.
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: The Svalbard Armored Bears have very strict rules about when bears are permitted to kill each other. Iorek Byrnison, then a prince, killed another bear and was exiled to become an Impoverished Patrician as part of his backstory.
  • Archnemesis Dad: As well as Lyra's complicated relationship with her parents, Will has a brief encounter with his paternal grandparents which ends when he realises they're willing to turn him over to the police.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Due to the addition of new and expanded subplots, many minor characters from the books have significantly larger roles in the series. Examples include Lord Boreal, Benjamin de Ruyter and Elaine Parry. Perhaps most notable, however, is Father MacPhail, who wasn’t introduced until the third book but has played a major role in the series since the premiere episode.
    • Mrs. Coulter’s role in The Subtle Knife is quite limited compared to the other books, but season two substantially expands her involvement. She features in many original scenes not present in the novel, and even interacts with characters she never met book-wise, such as Lee Scoresby and Dr. Malone.
  • Bizarrchitecture:
    • The opening title sequence has this, with Lyra and Will going up separate stairs, with the same set of stairs folding in on itself multiple times in a corridor.
    • When Lyra destroys the intercision machine at Bolvangar by running it with its doors open, it seems to implode, and cause the corridors and rooms around it to do so, too, before finally blowing up.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: Throughout the first few episodes Ma Costa refuses to fight with the Gyptians. That is, until Billy Costa is killed after his Intercision, and suddenly changes her mind, with Ma Costa unhesitatingly killing Dr. Rendal during the storming of Bolvangar.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: The best description of Giacomo Paradisi's decision to poison himself rather than let himself be attacked by the spectres after he passes on the subtle knife to Will.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: In episode 3, the Zeppelins from Another World aesthetic takes on this vibe, as the Magisterium uses them to look down on the populace.
  • Big Red Button: The intercision machine machine has one that says "ON" on it. Guess what it does.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Of the adult characters we've spent the most time with, it's Lord Carlo Boreal who dies first.
  • Bloodier and Gorier:
    • It's here, and boy does it show up from time to time. The show airs fairly late in the evening, so the books' violence and themes remain intact. This is something that the film adaptation notoriously struggled with, as none of the film studio's involved wanted to tackle the violence or themes the book was trying to convey. It also helps that both The BBC and HBO have very relaxed guidelines for the mature content the show happens to delve into.note 
    • Inverted in the Iorek-Iofur fight, which goes for a Battle Discretion Shot instead of swiping Iofur's jaw off and snapping his neck centre frame, as the movie adaptation did.
  • Breather Episode: "Armour" is a good deal more comedic than the rest of the first season, what with the introduction of Lee Scoresby and Lyra fully transitioning into a Guile Hero.
  • Button Mashing: Lyra does this to destroy the intercision machine, even admitting not even she knows what's gonna happen.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": On Lyra's world, the Magisterium nominally controls most academic study, and therefore the sciences are credited as part of the church, and not individual areas of study. Physics for example is referred to as "Experimental Theology".
  • Call-Back: In season one, Mrs. Coulter has the Golden Monkey physically attack Pantalaimon to subdue Lyra, an event taken straight from the novel. In season two, Lyra has Pantalaimon attack the Golden Monkey in the exact same way during her reunion with Mrs. Coulter, a moment created specifically for the series.
  • Can't Stop the Signal: Lord Asriel offhandedly mentions this, as his idea is to open up a rift between worlds, and thanks to the portals's luminescence and prominence in the night sky, the Magisterium can't hide the information about his research any longer, and must publish it in some capacity.
  • Casting Gag: John Parry's dæmon Sayan Kötör is voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Andrew Scott's co-star in Fleabag. In the former show her character fell in love with Scott's priest character; here she literally plays his soul!
  • Ceiling Cling: Lyra ends up imprisoned with the other kidnapped children in the girls dorm at Bolvangar, with Mrs. Coulter comes calling. She ends up bracing herself under her bed to avoid the Golden Monkey.
  • Chekhov's Gag: In "The Scholar", Mrs. Coulter and Boreal getting coffee before going to the latters' house, and at the end of the episode, Will and Lyra do the same thing when getting back to the crossroads.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The tiki statue Boreal shows off to Coulter that is worth what he claims is "more than Jordan College" gets beheaded by Will in an attempt to get Boreal to get away from him
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • One of the scientists tells Dr Rendal to not leave the doors open to the intercision machine, otherwise it will go "on the fritz". Lyra uses this information while escaping from Bolvangar to blow up the device.
    • In "The Scholar", Mrs. Coulter alludes to using self-control taught to her by witches that lets her control her dæmon and not get knocked out, while Coulter visited the scholar. Later in the episode, while her Monkey dæmon was being attacked by Pan, Mrs. Coulter slowly stands up, visibly trying to brush off the pain in defiance of her dæmon being mauled.
  • Composite Character: As in most previous adaptations, Tony Makarios and his storyline has been given to Billy Costa, with Billy's dæmon, Ratter, taking her name from Tony's dæmon in the book.
  • Cool Car: While in "our" world, Lord Carlo Boreal drives an entirely black Tesla Model X. Its near-silence, sleek shape and insectile folding doors allow it to double as a Sinister Car, very much in effect when Boreal 'helps' Lyra escape from DI Walters in order to steal the alethiometer.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The battle between the Gyptians and the Tartars at Bolvangar looks like it's going to be a close-run thing... until Serafina Pekkala swoops down and kills all the Tartars in about the time it takes to read this sentence.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Lee Scoresby recalls his own difficult past with an abusive father who once hit him so hard that he couldn't walk for weeks.
  • Darker and Edgier: Since the adaptation follows the adults more closely, the themes tend to get darker, faster, than if the children were followed. Also, considering its fantasy themes, it is noticeably quicker to start its intrigue than many of its counterparts.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Billy Costa survives in the novel, but dies in place of Tony Makarios here.
    • Dr. Cooper dies in the sixth episode, "The Dæmon Cages", while her book counterpart survives until at least midway through The Amber Spyglass.
  • Death of a Child:
    • Part of Farder Coram's backstory is losing his and Serafina Pekkala's young son to a disease. This led their estrangement for over 30 years.
    • Billy had undergone intercision, and escaped to a nearby fishing town to die. He dies not long afterwards back at the camp.
    • Roger also suffers the same fate, with Lord Asriel even admitting to invoking The Needs of the Many to Roger as to why he's using him and his dæmon to open up the portal.
  • Death Seeker: Mrs. Coulter implies several times that she has suicidal tendencies, even telling Lyra outright that she fantasizes about leaping from her penthouse balcony.
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: Played with. It's ambiguous how much of the characters' dialogue with their dæmons is actually out loud vs. inner monologues. They are all presented as out loud, but several don’t appear to make sense as anything but internal.
  • Dieselpunk: While most readers of the books think of Lyra’s world as Steampunk/Gaslamp Fantasy in style, the adaptation opts for a distinctly 1930s-like setting, from the Art Deco decor in much of the sceneries, to the Hollywood socialite aesthetic of Mrs. Coulter, and the concentration camp-like Bolvangar guarded by soldiers equipped with World War II-era MP-40s. This is logical in a way, as passenger airships (which feature heavily) were much more of a 1930s than a Victorian trope.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Lyra has her last name changed by Iorek from Lyra Belacqua to Lyra Silvertongue, in reference to Lyra pretending to be Iorek's dæmon to the King of the North Pole. When Lyra meets Lord Asriel, and he calls him by her old name, Lyra tells him to not call her that anymore.
  • Dull Eyes of Unhappiness: Those who have had their dæmons removed display this and show no reflections in their eyes.

  • Emotionless Girl: Played with. The nuns/nurses who staff Bolvangar appear to be this, but are actually an example of...
  • Empty Shell:
    • People with dæmons removed from them seem to have an affliction where they will stare into a deep space if their dæmon's name is mentioned. Lyra finds this out, and abuses this to escape one of the converted nurses at Bolvangar
    • Dæmons that have been separated from their person seemingly go brain-dead, and won't even talk.
    • Anyone who's fed on by a Spectre doesn't physically die, but there's absolutely nothing left of their consciousness or personality. In Cittàgazze Lyra and Will come across a man who was clearly attacked while fetching water, and is still standing staring at the wall in front of him after what must have been at least a full day and night.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: At least suggested for Mrs Coulter; when she finds Lyra in Bolvanger and Lyra mentions Roger and Billy, Mrs Coulter assures Lyra that her friends will be spared, assuming that Lyra is only angry at the experiments due to her being personally endangered rather than out of anger at innocent children being subjected to such treatment.
  • Evolving Credits: The opening credits subtly shift to foreshadow things in each season. Season 1 shows things like a misty valley and Lee Scoresby's balloon, focusing on Lyra's world, while Season 2 has two appearances of the Subtle Knife, Mary Malone's 'shadows' machine, and finishes with the Tower of Angels and Cittàgazze.
  • Exposed to the Elements: Witches aren't bothered by the cold of the arctic. Serafina often wears a thin dress in a blizzard around people bundled in thick wool and furs.
  • Fingore: As in the novel, Will loses the little and ring fingers of one hand when fighting for the Subtle Knife (although in this version the lost fingers are on his right hand as Will's actor is left-handed).
  • Foregone Conclusion: We know Lyra's fall from the balloon isn't fatal at the end of "The Dæmon Cages", as she appears in the next episode promotion.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The very opening of the shadow hints at Will making their debut far sooner than they do in the books.
    • Lyra discovers blueprints of "The Station" (Bolvanger) and the intercision machine several episodes before either makes an actual appearance.
    • Mrs. Coulter picks up a small bottle and sniffs it, reacting with distaste. It's poison, and she later pours it into a bottle of wine that she gives to Lord Boreal, which kills him.
  • Forgotten First Meeting: Invoked. Lord Boreal at one point uses the alias "Charles Latrom", and approaches Elaine Parry on the street, claiming they while her husband was in the military. He's counting on her mental illness making her doubt her memories.
  • The Fundamentalist: Father Macphail presents himself this way, and it's one of the sources of his dislike for Mrs. Coulter, as he does not seem to consider her a believer in Magisterium doctrine.
  • Gas Lighting:
    • Mrs. Coulter does a small-scale variation with Lyra, outright denying things Lyra can see with her own eyes, such as the Golden Monkey being able to move more than a few feet from her.
    • Lord Boreal and his mooks attempt this on Elaine Parry, with the added benefit that she is already mentally ill. Fortunately for her, her son Will is completely cogent and becomes suspicious.
  • Gay Conservative: Fra Pavel, the Magisterium's resident Aletheiometer reader, is heavily implied to be a closeted homosexual that Lord Boreal threatens to out if he doesn't start doing a reading for him at one point. In addition, the homoerotic body language in that scene also implies Boreal himself is one and an Armoured Closet Gay too, and that the two were possibly involved in the past, although his later attempts to seduce Mrs. Coulter and asking her to share his life subvert that.
  • Gender Flip:
    • Dr. Cooper, one of the scientists working on the Intercision.
    • Will's female piano teacher becomes his male boxing coach.
    • Angelica and Tullio's younger brother Paolo becomes their younger sister Paola.
  • Genre Refugee: Lee Scoresby. He is a Steampunk Cowboy in a fantasy Diesel Punk setting.
  • Genre Shift: The show sometimes plays with genre based on who's point of view we are watching. Lee's viewpoint in "Armour" becomes The Western, and Lord Boreal and Will Parry's viewpoints become a mystery/thriller.
  • God Test: The Witch's Consul requests Lyra demonstrate that she can read the alethiometer without the use of books by choosing a specific sprig of Cloud Pine from a large unlabeled collection. She gets it after consulting the Aleithiometer for less than a minute.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Use of the Spy Flies are this to the Magisterium. Ma Costa claims that they are frightened of them, as they don't fully understand them, and forbid their use, even to the higher ups in the organization. Mrs. Coulter's use of them to hunt Lyra even disturbs the usually stoic Boreal.
  • Heroic Suicide: Benjamin De Ruyter, wounded and cornered by Mrs. Coulter, chooses to throw himself down a lift shaft to his death rather than be tortured into betraying the Gyptians.
    I betray my family for no one.
  • Hero of Another Story: Journalist Adele Starminster, with her investigations into the gobblers that led her to Ms. Coulter.

  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Dr. Cooper and Rendal both enjoy a drink after a day's work, and toast to "Freedom". The irony of this toast seems to go completely over the heads of people who run the equivalent of a children's penal colony.
  • Infodump: Similar to the narration which opened The Golden Compass, the shows' first episode starts with a text introduction, explaining the nature of dæmons, alternate universes, and vaguely what Dust is, and was included to clearly explain the explicit fantasy elements of the series. In "The Lost Boy" Kaisa narrates the opening to speak of the prophecy regarding Lyra and Will.
    • The fourth episode of series 2 opens with a backstory for the knife, done in voiceover by Xaphania. As the knife was going to be introduced in more detail in the cut Asriel episode, it's possible that this was done to cover for that lost information.
  • Just Following Orders: Dr. Rendal who had been experimenting on people uses this as an excuse when he tries to beg for mercy from the Gyptians. This doesn't do him any good, and he gets his neck snapped by the mother of Billy Costa once she's established his role in her son's death.
  • Just Think of the Potential: The doctors heading Bolvangar combine this with a For Science! attitude to justify the atrocities they commit at Bolvangar, although it's clear at least one of them knows it's a bullshit excuse, but falls back on Just Following Orders when it weighs too heavily on him.
  • Karmic Death: Dr Rendal gets killed by the mother of Billy Costa, a child he helped splice his dæmon from.
  • Kick the Dog: In "The City of Magpies", Will and Lyra rescue a cat who is being tortured by the children of the city, because Cittàgazze natives have susperstitions about cats being evil (as implied here when Angelica says Lyra and Will aren't from there and stated more explicitly in the books).
  • Kids Are Cruel: Besides the above mentioned cat torturing, the children of Cittàgazze, led by Angelica and Paola, form a mob to kill Lyra and Will and take back the knife. They probably would have succeeded if Serafina Pekkala hadn't shown up in time.
  • La Résistance: The Gyptians early on begin investigating the Gobblers abduction of children across Britain. Their efforts come to a head in storming Bolvangar to free the children and captured dæmons.
  • Lost in Imitation: This series does include some changes to the source material that were first introduced in prior adaptations:
    • Expanding the role of Billy Costa by having him take Tony Makarios’ place in the storyline, and giving his dæmon the name Ratter, which was what Tony’s dæmon was called in the novel.
    • Changing the manner in which Lyra learns of her true parentage, and having Mrs. Coulter be responsible for delivering at least part of the information.
    • Giving Ma Costa a more substantial part by having her accompany the Gyptians to the north (no women apart from Lyra take the journey in the novel).
  • Lovable Rogue: Lee's Adaptational Personality Change has him begin the series this way. Character development kicks in near the end of the first season, and he becomes more selfless and focused.
  • Low Culture, High Tech: Lord Boreal visits "our" world, and so far he's been shown to own a car (that has a tyre clamp on it he's visibly confused by), he's implied to have banknotes and other currency to purchase goods (he otherwise wouldn't own a smartphone), with the show implying he keeps the two technologies separate between worlds (he never takes his phone or currency to his home world) in case he gets frisked or whatnot.

  • Magic Compass: Naturally, the show features Alethiometers, which both Lyra and the Magisterium use to let them answer any question and point them to the truth. It's stated multiple times that reading one can take weeks of deliberation, guesswork, and manually checking through various guidebooks, which makes it more amazing that Lyra, a small girl with no prior knowledge of the devices, can read it just fine in often less than a minute.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Cardinal Sturrock is shown to be behind the efforts of both the Consistorial Court and the General Oblation Board, and seems to purposely like pitting Mrs. Coulter and Father Macphail against one another.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The child catcher under the employ of the Gobblers. His whistle seems to have a hypnotic effect on children's dæmons, allowing him to capture them easily, but it's never shown if this is outright supernatural or just a mundane, albeit creepy, distraction.
  • May–December Romance: The default situation when witches fall in love with humans, as witches live for hundreds of years. Serafina Pekkala looks to be in her early 30s, but is over 300 years old. Her former lover, Farder Coram, reunites with her after decades of estrangement, and is upset that he now is in his mid 60s while she hasn't aged a day.
  • Men in Black: Boreal and his mercenary masquerade as this during their investigation into the Parrys. Boreal's presence is unsettling enough that he can Bavarian Fire Drill his way through most scenarios.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Giacomo Paradisi dies after training Will how to use the knife.
  • Mentor's New Hope: Giacomo Paradisi observes that Will is a better bearer of the Knife than he was, complimenting Will's intelligence and courage.
  • Missing Reflection: Downplayed, but present. For the people who have undergone intercision, their eyes no longer reflect light properly. It's subtle but unnerving.
  • Mister Exposition: Kaisa, Serafina's gyrfalcon dæmon, and Thomas, Lord Boreal's hacker, take turns with this. Kaisa even does so in parts of the narration.
  • Mouth of Sauron: The Witch Consul Dr. Lanselius acts as this for the entire witch nation, including all the separate tribes. He oversees the diplomatic meetings to ensure their autonomy from the outside world, and especially from the Magisterium, as well as being their public face. He's also Creepy Good, but is a firmly on the side of good.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Mrs. Coulter has a few moments when she reflects on her poor treatment of Lyra.
    • Dr. Rendal and a scientist are discussing the improved intercision machine, and Dr Rendal seems to be having moral qualms about his work that he admits keep him up at night. The show firmly denies that he deserves any kind of mercy for this, with Ma Costa unhesitatingly killing him.
  • Mysterious Protector: The Gyptians, in addition to their other responsibilities, have been protecting Lyra for her entire life.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Tony Costa's dæmon, Lyuba.
  • The Needs of the Many: Mrs Coulter uses this as a reason as to why she experiments on the Gyptian and other abducted children, and also why she freed Lyra from the intercision machine, as she doesn't want to hurt her daughter, even for her and the Magisterium's own twisted ends.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Lord Boreal hounds Elaine Parry to get the answers he needs about her husband's discoveries, and sends his henchmen to ransack the house while she and Will are out. By the time he finds out from Fra Pavel that John Parry's son will lead him to what Parry was looking for, both Elaine and Will have gone into hiding, it'll be much harder for Boreal to track Will down, and Will obviously isn't going to cooperate with him should he be found.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Lee gets one offscreen from the prison guards, which leaves him bruised and bloodied, in between Mrs. Coulter's visits in 2x03 (he's far more battered and noticeably in more pain the second time she visits, and he flinches away from her despite his bravado earlier). He also has visible difficulty walking afterward, perhaps an intentional callback to his Dark and Troubled Past—as a child, he was beaten so badly that he couldn't even walk away from his abuser, but this time he can, albeit painfully.
  • No OSHA Compliance:
    • Mrs. Coulter's Penthouse can only be entered by a key-activated elevator, having no emergency staircase or fire escape. She effectively imprisons Lyra there.
    • Inverted with Bolvangar. The staff have enough safety standards to have frequent fire drills. This bites them in the ass when Lyra weaponizes it against them.
  • No Woman's Land: Downplayed, as the general populous of women in Lyra's world are subservient to the Magisterium, not all men in general; but Lyra's world is still several decades behind our own when it comes to sociopolitics, and it appears women have far fewer job opportunities than men do. The male-dominated Magisterium seems to only have one female member, Mrs. Coulter. Meanwhile female scholars are apparently rare in Lyra's world; Lyra is quite surprised to find that the physicist she needs to talk to in our world is Mary Malone. Later on, when Boreal tries to offer funding for Mary's research (and by extension, overwatch the project) he unwittingly gets off on the wrong foot entirely by "complimenting" Mary on her work ethic, while from her (and our) point of view, he's being incredibly patronizing. This is what leads Mary to suspect that something is off with his offer. Then, when Mrs. Coulter also crosses into our world and meets Mary, she's stunned that the other woman has so much that was denied her; the Magisterium refused Coulter the right to earn a doctorate and she later rants about only being able to publish papers if a man took the credit for it.
  • Not So Different: When Lee is confronted by Mrs Coulter, he observes that they have both endured abusive childhoods from their parents, citing this as proof that she can't break him by torture because they've both already endured the worst the world could do to them, the difference being that Mrs Coulter passes on her pain where Lee won't.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Lyra and Will are shocked when Pantalamion moves to offer Will comfort and lets Will touch him in turn after Will loses his fingers.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Lyra's reaction when she sees the suit in Bolvangar, the same one Billy was wearing when they found them in the fishing village.
    • Also her reaction to the way the intercision machine starts to destroy itself after she's turned it on with its doors open, especially when the glass of the control room window suddenly cracks all over and the room appears to be imploding.
    • Also her reaction to being tricked into admitting that she knows where Will is and that the Pale-Faced Man knows who she is.
  • Our Souls Are Different: Dæmons initially appear as shapeshifting Talking Animals. When a person is "of maturity," the animal choice of a person's dæmon is locked to whatever best reflects that person. Dæmons can speak to their person and others, too, though some like the golden monkey aren't very talkative. Dæmons also cannot be far away from their person, otherwise they will be in incredible pain, or they get knocked out.
  • Out of Focus: Although the repercussions of his actions affect all the other characters, Asriel doesn't appear in the second season. That is, until the very end of the season finale. note 
  • Parental Substitute: The show makes it even more clear than the books that Ma Costa loves Lyra as if she were her own daughter. Lee starts to view himself as her surrogate father by the end of Season 1.
  • Playing Both Sides: Mrs. Coulter will play whatever side she needs to against the other to get ahead and maintain her position. When she oversteps her boundaries with the Magisterium, she uses Asriel's capture by the bears to maintain her power. Then she asks the bears to keep holding Asriel hostage so that she'll keep this trump card.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: To blast open a doorway between the worlds, Asriel murders Roger and his dæmon Salcilia by forcibly slicing them apart.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Several:
    • In general, certain characters are given scenes that expand on their point of view, or entirely new subplots, as child-labor laws prevent Dafne Keene from carrying every scene. Lord Boreal especially is given a much larger role, as the twist of him also being Sir Charles in Will's world does not work in a visual medium.
      • We also get the reveal that Stanislaus Grumman is actually John Parry, who travelled between worlds several years ago very early on in the series, since it shows us right away why Boreal is so interested in Elaine and Will Parry, and it allows for a set up of Will's own destined role.
    • The first episode establishes dæmons tend to be shy around new people, saving the crew from having to give one to every single background extra; initially they did try to shoot with multiple dæmons in the background of shots, but they quickly realised it was far too busy and distracted the viewer from the story. Many characters' dæmons are also changed from larger animals to ones with smaller profiles that are presumably more cost-effective. Pan can still shapeshift, and will often change, but his go-to form is a Pine Martin, which allows the animators to not need a separate character model for all of his scenes.
    • The second episode, "The Idea of North", establishes that locations in both Lyra's world and Will's world at least roughly line up between universes. In the novels, the poles of the two worlds don't line up, so Will's Oxford is located roughly in Lyra's Svalbard. The series changes this so that Boreal can more easily travel between the two without Offscreen Teleportation.
    • In the books Mrs. Coulter was generally very cold and unreadable, while her dæmon's behaviour gave away her emotions. Since this wouldn't be very interesting for an actor to play, Ruth Wilson instead portrays her as far more emotional and erratic.
    • Kaisa was originally a snow goose in the books, but becomes a gyrfalcon in the show; the effects team initially tried to go with his book form, but they couldn't make a digital goose speak without it looking silly.
    • Episode 6. "The Dæmon Cages", turns Bolvangar into an Oddly Small Organization to simplify the workplace dynamics between the scientists.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The higher ups at the Magisterium, including Father Macphail, are furious at Mrs. Coulter defying Scholastic Sanctuary and the Watercourse Bill in her search for Lyra. Not because they care so much about the scholars and particularly the Gyptians who've been affected, but rather because it makes the Magisterium look bad.


  • Race Lift:
    • Carlo Boreal is played here by the African-British Ariyon Bakare. In the books, while his race is not specifically mentioned, he's implied to be an old-blooded white European (probably Italian due to his given name), as Pullman usually only goes to the racial specifics with canonically non-white characters like King Ogunwe or Ama.
    • Billy, a member of a white Netherlander family in the books, is mixed race here. Most of his relatives remain white. This tells us something about Billy's father.
    • Will Parry himself was also implied to be white in the books (per the cover art), but he is played by the mixed race Amir Wilson here.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Gyptians fit this quite well.
  • Rank Up: An adaptational inversion. Father Macphail is President of the Consistorial Court of Discipline in the book series, meaning his authority is matched by his counterpart in the Society for the Work of the Holy Spirit, but not exceeded by. In fact it's fairly clear that no one in the Magisterium exceeds his authority. Here he is lower ranked, with a Cardinal overseeing his work.
    • To be fair, Macphail is introduced in the series earlier than in the books, and in Season 2 Episode 1 Mrs. Coulter wants to kill the already wounded Cardinal Sturrock to further promote Macphail in the Magisterium.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • Since child labour laws meant that Dafne Keen couldn't be used in every scene, this adaptation focuses on the plots of several adult characters as much as Lyra's story.
    • Will loses two fingers from his left hand in the books, but since Amir Wilson himself is left-handed, the damage was switched to his right, non-dominant hand.
  • Related in the Adaptation: The series implies that Billy's father is actually John Faa.
  • Rogue Agent: Lord Boreal is an agent of the Magisterium, but it becomes clear early on that his investigations are well outside his jurisdiction. Mrs. Coulter later transitions into one when it becomes clear she's hit the glass ceiling of what the Magisterium will tolerate. Ironically they both maintain the facade of being loyal agents, and work closely together, but are seemingly unaware of the other's activities.
  • Say My Name: "Billy Costa" is said multiple times throughout the first season, to the point one could almost make a drinking game out of it.
  • Scenery Porn: That (estimated) £50 million budget really shows when every shot looks like it came out of a cinematic movie. There are many establishing shots in the series, particularly when the Gyptians reach the north, and the many shots of London scenery.
  • Seldom-Seen Species: Mrs Coulter's dæmon, only ever described as a "golden monkey" in the books, is depicted as specifically a golden snub-nosed monkey, a rare species native to central China. Amusingly, the first episode of the show broadcast on BBC One followed shortly after a documentary series featuring these animals.note 
  • Self-Punishment Over Failure: Father MacPhail is shown burning himself on a candle after basically declaring war on the witches, acknowledging that the act is a sin even if he perceives it as a necessary one. He's also punishing himself for allowing Mrs. Coulter to kill the Cardinal and ensure that he gets voted in as his replacement.
    • Mrs. Coulter does the same after poisoning Lord Boreal.
  • Separated by the Wall: By a door actually. As part of her escape from Bolvangar, Lyra locks Mrs. Coulter in her suite by shutting the door and bashing the electronic lock with a fire extinguisher. They end up screaming with impotent rage through it at one another.
  • Setting Update: In episode six, we see Will watching a video of John Parry, clearly still in "our" world, and it is dated 2006, putting the setting of the series itself close to the present day, rather than the year the books were published. (This leads to minor tweaks to the story, such as Will being able to look up information on a smartphone rather than having to go to a library.) Lyra's world is consequently updated from a vague 19th century level of technology and society to roughly 1930s (with the addition of zeppelins and similar changes).
  • Shameful Strip: When Lyra is being processed at the station at Bolvangar they make her do one of these, ostensibly to check how "developed" she is, but clearly in order to intimidate and humiliate her as well. Downplayed in that she's not so much frightened as annoyed and wary. At least until she and Pan notice a rack full of the same jump suits they found Billy wearing, and realize where they actually are. Then she begins to panic.
  • Shout-Out: Will and Lyra watch Paddington while trying to work out their next move.
  • The Show of the Books: The series is an adaptation of the Philip Pullman trilogy His Dark Materials, with the intention of being Truer to the Text than its ill-fated film adaptation.
  • Sleek High Rise Apartment: Mrs. Coulter's Art Deco penthouse. It's austerely gorgeous, but evokes an Uncanny Valley response the longer Lyra stays.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: Subverted. They do exist, but Will has been deliberately avoiding seeking their help in dealing with his mentally ill mother because he fears they would separate them.
  • Soul Eating: The Spectres of Cittagazze devour the souls of anyone who's reached a certain age.
  • Spoiler Opening: The opening titles have quite a lot of easter eggs and Foreshadowing to events pertaining to specific plot points in the books that will later happen in the series. The visuals change each series, to foreshadow future series' events.
  • Sticky Fingers: Lee is a bit of a pickpocket.
  • Talking Animal: Let's see, we have intelligent armored Svalbard polar bears that have opposable thumbs and make their own armour, and Dæmons, which act as an extension of someone's soul.
  • The Multiverse: The show shows the concept of alternate universes in its title sequence, with Lord Boreal visiting "our" world multiple times.
  • The Stinger: The final episode of the second series; "&A Elig;sahættr" has Roger calling out to Lyra from within what appears to be a void between worlds.
  • The Talk: Mrs Coulter steers very close into this territory, and talks to Lyra with ambiguity about how puberty and Dust are connected to each other, and says that the Intercision machine doesn't work on adults, but does work on pre-pubescent children (such as Lyra), and gives The Needs of the Many as a reason for all the experimentation done to the Gyptian children to reach the goal of not needing Dæmons in adulthood.
  • Touching Through Glass: In episode 6, after liberating Lyra from the Intercision Machine, Mrs. Coulter reaches out to her through the glass barrier and attempts this.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Bolvangar has all the children whose dæmons they have cut away shaved bald.
  • True Companions: Lyra and Roger. Neither have any romantic feeling for each, simply being the best of friends. Roger trusts Lyra as much as she does the same to him.

  • Uncertain Doom: Lord Boreal crushes Adele Starminster's dæmon in his hand after interrogating her, which seems to kill her instantly. However, when he opens his hand the dæmon is still there, meaning she was still alive for at least a few seconds after he crushed it. The camera cuts away before it disappears, leaving it ambiguous if this actually killed her.
  • The Unsmile: Sister Clara has lost the ability to emote properly. Her attempts to smile look forced and alien.
  • Viewers Are Goldfish: Quite a few book fans took issue with the opening text crawl spelling out Lyra’s world and how it’s a parallel universe, as if the crew have no confidence that viewers would be able to pick up the rules on their own like in the books.
  • Viking Funeral: The non-sea variant happens to Billy, much to the behest of his mother. This motivates her to finally fight back, as she originally wanted nothing to do with the Gyptians' fighting plan.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Adele Starminster. Introduced towards the end of episode two, looking like she's going to be one of Lyra's few adult allies. However as her dæmon wasn't seen to evaporate into Dust — as is the case when a dæmon or the person it's bonded to are killed — her fate is left ambiguous.note 
  • We Need a Distraction: While imprisoned at Bolvangar, Lyra starts a Snowball Fight during the roll call of the fire drill in order to have a moment to explore the facility with Roger.
  • Wham Line:
    Mary Malone: So does that mean that angels have intervened in human evolution?
    Voice: Yes.
    Mary Malone: But why?
    Voice: Vengeance.
  • Wimp Fight: An interesting case as Mrs. Coulter fights just like her monkey dæmon with lots of slapping, which Ruth Wilson is actually able to make look painful and hard to defend against. It helps that the guy she is wailing on has a bullet through his shoulder, meaning she has a devastating weak spot she can pound on with ease.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Lyra's world has zeppelins for long-distance transport, in place of planes. This is owing to the world having the technology level of the 1930's, and a Diesel Punk aesthetic. Mrs. Coulter even has a fancy private one she uses to go from London to Svalbard.


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