Season 1 of Temple is now streaming at SBS On Demand
When it comes to making money from a side hustle, Dr Daniel Milton (Mark Strong) is taking things to a whole new level. Literally. His second job has him working in secret under one of London's busiest subway stations. But he's not using his medical skills to make some spare change busking. He's set up his own private medical clinic to help out—for a hefty fee—those who can't go to a regular doctor.
If this sounds a little familiar, it should. Temple is a reworking of the popular Norwegian series Valkyrien, which so impressed Strong he became an executive producer to help set up this UK version. It's a little more polished and pacey than the original; somehow, just shifting the location from an Oslo bomb shelter to a London tube station makes it seem more gritty and gripping.
Traditionally, crime doctors are disbarred MDs forced to work undercover, but our hero has fallen from his lofty height for a noble purpose (as his surname, referencing the poet who wrote Paradise Lost, suggests). His wife Beth (Catherine McCormack) was a medical researcher working on a cure for a fatal illness that she's contracted. When we first meet Milton, he's attending her funeral. But he's still driven to find a cure, even if it means going outside the medical establishment – and turning to crime to raise the money.
That means a steady stream of shady characters crossing his operating table. The first episode starts off with a bank robber (Tobi King Bakare) shot by police finding his way to Milton's underground lair. It's tough enough trying to operate on a wounded man in what is basically a cave, but when the criminal won't stay still—and Milton needs him to stay alive so he can collect his payment—things start to get a little complicated.
Fortunately Milton isn't working alone. Playing Igor to his Dr Frankenstein (and this is the kind of show that isn't shy about drawing that kind of connection) is Lee Simmons (Daniel Mays), a Tube employee who's convinced the end of the world is just around the corner. Who better to help set up and run a secret underground base?
He's not much use when it comes to the medical side of things though, which is where Anna Willems (Carice Van Houten, AKA Melisandre from Game of Thrones) reluctantly comes in. Very reluctantly; Milton initially calls on her to be a blood donor for his bank robber client, and it's safe to say she's not exactly on board with Milton's subterranean surgery set-up (as she puts it, "This is crazy"). But as a former colleague of Beth's, who also had an affair with Milton, she's carrying around enough guilt to keep her coming back.
Yes, it's over-the-top gothic. Deliciously so: the idea of a doctor turning to crime to fund research that could save a loved one is basically the same origin story as Batman villain Mr Freeze, which should give you some idea of the level we're working at here. But the gloomy gothic side of things is mostly backdrop. The focus here is on characters forced to live a lie, keeping secrets that could get them killed while walking ever closer to a line that, once crossed, will leave them different people forever.
There's a reason why Strong has become the go-to guy on both the big and small screen when you want to give your idea some real-world gravity. In the sometimes silly Kingsman movies, he's been the sensible, likeable adult in the room; in the first series of spy drama Deep State (available at SBS On Demand) he managed to be completely plausible as both a retired yet lethal international spy and a pissed-off dad angry that his son was making the same mistakes he'd made.
As Dr Milton, he's convincing as a mild-mannered man wracked with grief and loss, and as someone increasingly capable of dealing with the worst of London's underworld. For as he rapidly learns, while his clients might be willing to pay top dollar for secret surgery, their need for anonymity means they're not above coming up with other methods to make sure he keeps his mouth shut.
And when both the police and the bad guys want to find out who's been taking care of criminals on the run, it's not long before it looks like Milton's medical skills might be needed a lot closer to home.
Watch Season 1 of Temple at SBS On Demand