BBC3 Cancels Zombie Drama In The Flesh

In The Flesh

In a very sad announcement made yesterday, the anticipated cancellation of flagship BBC Three drama series In The Flesh was officially confirmed by the channel online.

Created by playwright and BAFTA-winning, first-time TV writer Dominic Mitchell, In The Flesh tells the story of the recently deceased Kieren Walker, who wakes from the dead and later recovers from a psychotic episode to discover that he is one of thousands of Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferers – a polite, medical term used to describe an inexplicable epidemic of what are, effectively, zombies.

With treatment, Kieren begins to recover his mind, but with this comes horrific memories of incidents from his untreated state, resulting in nightmares, panic attacks and uncontrollable flashbacks. The actions of PDS sufferers during the so-called “Rising” have, unsurprisingly, had profound effects on the communities where they rose from their graves. As Kieren attempts to rehabilitate himself, he must face up to the harsh reality of the death and devastation he caused, as well as dealing with the grief, hatred and scorn of the locals. To make matters worse, Kieren’s already overwhelming sense of guilt and self-loathing is amplified by the very particular circumstances of his original death: long before his corpse was re-animated, he was far from in a stable state of mind which, in itself, caused pain and misery to his loved ones.

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After an astonishing first series that met with great acclaim, the show was recommissioned for a successful second series that ultimately offered a glimmer of hope to its unfortunate, undead characters. But despite an ongoing campaign and enormous pressure from young viewers, the BBC announced its decision to cancel the show.

“BBC Three is very proud of the two award-winning series of In the Flesh. However, given there is only budget for one original drama series a year on the channel it won’t be returning.

“We loved the show but have to make hard choices to bring new shows through and create room for emerging talent. Huge thanks to the BAFTA award-winning writer Dominic Mitchell and the superb cast.”

What’s perhaps most shocking about this statement is not so much the confirmation that a critically lauded and much loved series is being cancelled, as the revelation that BBC Three – the UK channel most associated with youth audiences and nurturing new talent – apparently has room for only one original drama per year. Bearing in mind the length (or, perhaps more accurately, shorth) of most British dramas, that basically amounts to just 3-6 episodes (and potentially fewer hours) of exciting, risk-taking and groundbreaking new drama each year.

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BBC Three is in a difficult position right now (if you haven’t been following the crisis so far, you can read what we had to say on the matter here and here) and of course we must acknowledge that. Funds are limited. Political support for public services over private enterprises has been on the wane for several years. Concessions must be made. But thus far, BBC spokespeople have been squaring up to the sceptics, insisting that the decision to take the channel online-only would have little impact on programming itself: that the shows we know and love would still be available on alternative platforms, while new opportunities would be opened up for digital media innovators. The decision to cancel In The Flesh, however, has caused a resurfacing of initial fears that the move would be the first step towards an effective dismantling of the channel and all the wonderful and vital things it had to offer – wonderful things, it’s worth noting, that are not being provided anywhere else. At best, then, the announcement of the show’s cancellation feels poorly timed: if the reassuring continued presence of any major series was to guide us through the transition, it ought to have been this one.

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In the Flesh was a beautiful, poignant and most of all important piece of work, tackling themes and ideas that no other British drama was dealing with so sensitively, intelligently or interestingly. It was a crazily ambitious production that managed to be at once powerfully political and touchingly domestic and personal. The series addressed sexuality, racism, mental illness, family relationships, the horrors of war and conflict and the consequences of “otherising”, all within the context of an insane sort of sci-fi, zombie horror, and traditional realist mash-up, the likes of which had never been seen before. It was honest, candid, deeply tragic and unaffectedly funny. On some level, it seems amazing that it ever worked at all, but the finished product was an achievement to be proud of, deserving of every ounce of support it got, and more. Much more.

R.I.P. Kieren Walker. In our hearts, you will be forever undead.

Dominic Mitchell, we salute you.

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Sources: Digital Spy | Twitter

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