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His Dark Materials episode 1 recap: who is Mrs Coulter, and what is she up to?

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Lauren Geall
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His Dark Materials Episode 1 Recap: Lyra on the rooftops of Oxford, looking for Roger.

Warning: this article contains spoilers for episode one of the BBC’s His Dark Materials, so do not read on unless you are fully up to date…

The long-awaited adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy has finally arrived on our screens, and there is so much to talk about.

The eight-part fantasy drama, which stars the likes of Ruth Wilson and James McAvoy, follows the story of Lyra (Dafne Keen), a 12-year-old girl who lives within the relative safety of Jordan College, Oxford. Set in a pre-industrial parallel universe in which people are accompanied by dæmons (a physical manifestation of a person’s soul that takes the form of an animal), the first series of the drama will cover the first novel in Pullman’s trilogy: Northern Lights.

For fans of the book series, this adaptation is a great chance to immerse themselves in Pullman’s world once again. But for people who have never come across the books before – or perhaps have read them as children but since forgotten the majority of the story – the BBC’s adaptation is the perfect excuse to get to know this magical story. 

After the first episode hit our screens last night – and with it, the world of His Dark Materials – we’ve been left with a lot of questions. Let’s take a closer look. 

Why did Dr Carne try to kill Lord Asriel?

His Dark Materials: James McAvoy as Lord Asriel
His Dark Materials episode one: James McAvoy as Lord Asriel, shortly after he discovers Dr Carne's attempt to poison him.

We first meet Lord Asriel when he drops off a baby Lyra at Jordan College during the “great flood,” before he rushes off into the night. And while it’s clear that Lyra and Lord Asriel have spent time with each other throughout her life (she knows that he’s her uncle), Asriel seems to spend more time exploring the North than he does at the college with his niece.

Later on in the episode, when Lord Asriel returns to Jordan College after a particularly successful trip to the North, the scholars are uneasy at his presence – so much so that the college’s master, Dr Carne, poisons a decanter of drink he then serves to Lord Asriel. Thanks to Lyra’s spying eye, Lord Asriel was alerted of the poison and escaped death – but why was Dr Carne so set on killing him in the first place?

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When Lord Asriel later presents his findings – proof that “Dust” exists and that there may be a secret city among the northern lights – the professors are furious at the suggestion: could the existence of Dust really be so valuable that he’d end the life of Lyra’s relative just to keep it quiet? And what does that mean for Lord Asriel’s safety now he’s discovered it? 

Why are children being abducted, and do the Gobblers really exist?

His Dark Materials episode one recap: Roger before he is abducted.
His Dark Materials episode one: Roger before he is abducted.

Throughout the first episode, two children disappear: a Gyptian boy called Billy, and Lyra’s friend and fellow Jordan College dweller Roger. Rumours quickly spread among adults and children alike that the Gobblers are to blame, but who are these mysterious creatures?

While at the beginning of the episode Lyra doesn’t believe that the Gobblers even exist, by the end, she’s forced to change her mind after they abduct her best friend – but we’re still no closer to knowing what or who these Gobblers are.

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We don’t get to see much of the person abducting both Billy and Roger, but the fox-like dæmon we see skulking around before their disappearances looks very similar, suggesting that their abductor is the same person or group. 

We’re sure to learn more about what’s going on in the next episode, as the Gyptians and Lyra both head to London to look for the Gobblers and the children they’ve taken.

Who is Mrs Coulter, and what is she up to?

His Dark Materials episode one recap: Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter alongside her dæmon.
His Dark Materials episode one: Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter alongside her dæmon.

Mrs Coulter seems to promise Lyra everything she wants – adventure, freedom and admiration – but there’s something suspicious about her sudden willingness to set off on a long trip with a girl she’s just introduced herself to.

When she first meets Lyra, she tells her she’s been asked to “find a place” for her by the master of Jordan College. He’s looked after Lyra until then, so surely we have no reason to suspect anything wrong?

Nevertheless, there’s something we can’t quite put our finger on about Coulter – and we’ll be watching her closely as her and Lyra arrive in London in episode two.

What is the alethiometer, and how does it work?

His Dark Materials episode one recap: Dafne Keen as Lyra holding the alethiometer alongside her dæmon, Pan.
His Dark Materials episode one: Dafne Keen as Lyra holding the alethiometer alongside her dæmon, Pan.

As Lyra sets off on her adventure with Mrs Coulter, Dr Carne presents her with an alethiometer – otherwise known as the Golden Compass. He informs her that it tells the truth, but that’s about it, really.

Later on in the episode, when Lyra tries to put the strange object into practise by trying to find out where Roger has gone, she has little luck.

Maybe next week we’ll find out a little bit more about what this device actually does?

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The next episode of His Dark Materials will air on BBC One at 8pm on Sunday.

Images: BBC

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