When an empty and burnt-out fishing trawler is towed into harbour after being found drifting in the English Channel the police are left puzzled. Where, and more importantly, what is its cargo? British detectives Karl Roebuck and Boleslaw Borowskiare soon on the scene and, after finding charred toys on-board, they suspect that the answer may well be trafficked child refugees.
With the trawler reported stolen in France, the team dig a little deeper and find a bound and gagged survivor hidden in the hold. But when the gag is removed they discover that his tongue has been cut out. It turns out that he is the trafficker, and the missing children were indeed refugees. Heading over the France to investigate the fishing trawler, Karl is once again joined by his French counterpart Elise Wassermann.
However, those children aren't missing for too long as next morning, when a local mother goes to wake her children, she finds them gone and replaced with the missing refugees from the fishing boat.
If that's not confusing enough for the police, a French maintenance worker working in the Channel Tunnel has an unfortunate encounter with a horde of large rats running through the tunnel. Literally scared to death, the poor worker even has the indignity of being feasted on by the marauding rodents as they dashed past. With pest control on the scene, Elise and Karl discover that the rats are not wild but are bred for the reptile market. Who on earth would deliberately release rats into the tunnel?
With missing children, marauding rodents, frosty relationships, an increasing body count and a shocking miscarriage of justice from Elise's past, the English and French teams come together in one last shocking, tense and gripping investigation to stop the "The Pied Piper of Calais".
Although the discs sent for review are screeners I've assume that the quality of the video transfer and audio on the final consumer versions will be the same. Given this, I was rather surprised to discover that the audio is provided in 192Kbps Dolby Digital 2.0.
Even though I was expecting something in 5.1, the audio is still rather good - even more so if you opt to pump it through an amplifier with a few "bells and whistles" on to convert the Dolby output into something a little more dynamic. Still, even if you simply opt to use your television or sound bar, the dialogue is crisp and clear and whenever there is music present, either as part of the score or ambient, it is never overpowering to the extent of drowning out the dialogue.
Given the series was created for Sky Atlantic HD and CANAL+ it would be a bit of a travesty if the picture wasn't presented in high definition. Although there is no Blu-ray release for this season (perhaps the result of poor Blu-ray sales from the previous seasons), the DVD transfer is still a good one; clean, and with an average bit-rate throughout. There are no signs of artifacting or outlining and, whilst the colour pallet appears to be quite subdued, images are sharp with some good colour definition and flesh tones throughout.
There doesn't appear to be a subtitle track (although, as previously mentioned, the discs being reviewed here are screeners), and given the series is set in both England and France you'd probably be expecting a fair bit of French dialogue. And you'd be correct too, so if you're not a French speaker, the English translations are burnt in. I guess this can be a little annoying to some, so it will be good to see whether the consumer version does indeed come equipped with optional subtitles.
The series is contained over two discs - three episodes on each, with the extras contained on the second disc. I'd be surprised whether the final consumer edition will be much different in layout and quality, so it's a shame to report that the menu system is a boring static and silent affair.
I guess for most people the menu system is not really that important, but I do like to see some effort with the design of the menus, and given the series has the wonderfully eerie musical score "The End of Time" - and this series can provide some great background images - I'll have to mark it down as a missed opportunity to make it really shine.
Extras wise, the fifteen minute "Making of" feature gives a brief overview of the three seasons. The main cast members are on hand to give out the usual bunches of praise whilst series three writer Emilia di Girolamo and other production crew members are on hand to give some more insight into the storyline. In addition, as the series is a major user of the Channel Tunnel, there's a bit of background information on the tunnel facilities and how some of the scenes were shot. Needless to say, given that the featurette contains spoilers aplenty, ensure you only view once you've watched the entire season.
In the era of big budget productions from the likes of Netflix and Amazon, and with the decline of quality BBC and ITV productions, Sky is becoming an important part of our independent television programming. It has resulted in The Tunnel becoming one of the best crime dramas on television - and more importantly, a home grown series (albeit developed alongside the French Canal+) that doesn't rely on the dross that comes out of America.
Whilst the first series of The Tunnel was a clever adaptation of the 2011 Danish/Swedish crime series The Bridge, the later series have diverged and taken on their own themes - with series two moving on to deal with a plane crash in the English channel (a handy scenario to keep the English/French cross-border "Entente Cordiale" of the series going).
However, it is the love/hate chemistry between Karl and Elise which really makes the show shine and truly stand out from the rest. One minute it's loving, and the next, frosty to the extreme. You can also rely on Elise's direct questions and answers and, when it comes to discussing relationships, Elise is just as sharp, and honest, as ever.
So, if you thought the series couldn't take on a darker theme than plane crashes and the murky world of espionage, just wait until you delve into the even darker depths of the third series. It's so dark and addictive you'd be forgiven if you thought you were watching a series of Luther!
Even with BREXIT looming on the horizon I'm sure the series had a few more seasons in it yet. Perhaps Sky/Canal+ felt they'd bank rolled it enough or, thanks to a revenge seeking EU, cross border productions might become a little more frosty. It's a great shame really as The Tunnel will go down as one of my all time favourite programmes - and given that I'm not the biggest fan of the French, that really says something.
It's a disappointment that The Tunnel: Vengeance is the final series. Like anything else bad that happens these days, perhaps we can indeed blame it on BREXIT? Either way, it's still highly recommended and a worthy viewing - especially if you're not a Sky subscriber and don't have access to their channels. Finally, if you've never seen the other seasons, with its excellent story lines and gripping action, you can definitely consider The Tunnel for some weekend binge viewing.
- Behind the Scenes