His Dark Materials was a thrilling drama that can pull the kids away from YouTube and bring the family together

In common with many children in these televisually fragmented modern times, mine rarely watch anything on an actual television set, broadcast on an actual television channel.

Tuesday, 3rd December 2019, 12:12 pm
Dafne Keen is the star of a new adaptation of the His Dark Materials trilogy. Picture: BBC/Bad Wolf/HBO

But on Sunday, something magical happened. The 11-year-old and the nine-year-old sat with me, under a blanket on the sofa, transfixed by His Dark Materials (BBC1, Sundays, 8pm).

Instead of them being in their separate rooms, faces illuminated by the bright white glare of whichever ‘device’ they were watching, they were with me sharing one of those family moments you only usually see in a Werther’s commercial.

Instead of a random YouTuber parping on about football, or ‘pranking’ someone, or shouting “hey guys, hit that like button”, like a toddler with self-esteem issues, they sat watching a young orphan girl romping around an Oxford college with a shapeshifting ferret.

I haven’t read the Philip Pullman books this series is based on – I haven’t even read Harry Potter – but this first episode made me want to go straight to the library and get the first instalment, Northern Lights.

The BBC has been derided recently for being out of touch, for failing younger audiences, as Netflix, Amazon Prime and many more streaming services splash their cash at the screen.

Well, His Dark Materials looks a million dollars, and has a cast to dream of. Dafne Keen, in particular, is spellbinding as the young hero, Lyra, a mix of toughness, a desire for adventure and vulnerability.

It was a complex tale, about child abduction, parallel universes and – weirdly – dust, but this was ideal family viewing, enough to transport all of us, young and old, to magical worlds.

And, for one lovely hour, it allows the family to come together on the sofa and share the journey.

From magical new worlds to the end of this one, Arena: A British Guide to the End of the World (BBC4, Monday, 9pm) was an absorbing, terrifying oral history of the UK’s history with the nuclear bomb.

Taskmaster (Dave, Wednesdays, 9pm) has ended and I don’t know what I’m going to do without Katy Wix’s weirdness or Ed Gamble’s terrifying rages. It is simply the funniest hour on TV.