Channel 4 has produced some of my all-time favourite boxsets. The student-based comedy Fresh Meat, the classic hilarities of the IT Crowd (“Have you tried turning it on and off again?”), the award-winning drama Misfits¸ the wonderfully clever Dates, the heart-warming Rae in My Mad Fat Diary, the mighty Phoneshop and of course Skins.

But for me, out all of the programmes produced by Channel 4 nothing has touched the high bar that was set by the British thriller series Utopia. Not only did this gripping drama blow me away on the complexity of its storyline, the breath-taking imagery and its artistic merit, but it ultimately transformed the way I perceive our current world, and more importantly our potentially devastating and destructive future.

This action series debuted back in 2013, and to my disappointment ended in the summer a year later. The story follows a small and diverse set of people who find themselves in possession of a wanted manuscript of a cult graphic novel The Utopia Experiments, which is rumoured to depict within its colourful artwork the worst disasters of the last century, and the ones yet to come. They become targeted by an undercover organisation called The Network who, with the power of the manuscript, could unlock a devastating attack upon humanity. Using the drawings of the manuscript, the small group of people must uncover its hidden secrets before the destructive pictures soon become a reality.

Each episode commences with a fantastic landscape proceeded by breath-taking moments of artistry throughout- a feature which counteracts the frequent moments of violence. There is certainly not a shortage of blood on screen, and there are moments which will make you squirm with repulsion. However, some may consider these moments unnecessary, I think they depict realism.


Utopia references a wealth of real life events which they incorporate into the story of conspiracy. The second season shows footage from 1970s including the assassination of Aldo Moro (Italian Prime Minister) and Richard Sykes (British Ambassador to the Netherlands) and most famously Airey Neave (British politician and war hero), whilst the collapse of the Labour Government in 1979 is used as a jumping off point for the start of the second series which temporarily transports audiences from the present day to back in time.


The drama has been well received by many, but the majority still struggle to overlook the frequent violence. Thomas Sutcliffe from The Independent said that the dystopian fantasy was “delivered with great visual style”, yet the violence he considered unnecessary. Similarly Aiden Smith from The Scotsman noted upon the programmes “astonishing visuals”, along with its “astonishing violence”. The Guardian labelled it a “21st-century nightmare” and a “brilliant work of imagination”, but wondered about the graciousness of its gun usage. It seems that Utopia has been responsible for a wealth of controversy. But before you wholly disregard this incredible programme down to its violence, consider it’s intricate and well-thought through storyline combined with its beautiful imagery. Both of these elements together, in my opinion, justify the aggressiveness.

Maybe this programme isn’t for everyone- it’s certainly not as easy watching as My Mad Fat Diary, nor is at as hilarious as the IT Crowd. However, what Utopia does do is open your eyes. It’s a controversial, realistic, beautiful piece of fiction which has stretched boundaries that I believe no other programme has yet dared to tread. It isn’t for the faint-hearted, or the highly-emotional. Yet the entirety of the drama depicts a very real message, a very real issue which humans will almost certainly have to face within our life-times.

If you want to watch something revolutionary on television, watch this. There’s a reason why despite all of the controversy it still won The International Emmy Award for best drama series.

Victoria Cox


Header image: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/utopia