A quick heads up for The Well, currently transmitting Saturdays in the BBC Switch slot on BBC2. It is Carnegie Medal and Guardian Children's Fiction Prize winner Melvin Burgess's first toe in the water of the digital media and television pond. For those Whovians out there it is also a very good excuse to see a pre-Doctor Who Karen Gillan in a lead role.
The Well is set in a derelict house, containing a long-forgotten well, the resting place of a dormant malevolent force. During renovations to the house four teenagers uncover the well and release an old and restless spirit.
According to Lee Hardman, Head of Conker Media and Director of Digital Media, Lime Pictures who make The Well for BBC 2, the series is an
"...eight-week drama event that plays across multiple platforms including online, social networks and TV. The story is launched first online (social networks), and simultaneously on BBC 2 (TV) and www.bbc.co.uk/thewell (online), where the audience can explore a scale replica of the main location for The Well - the derelict house where the well is discovered.
Between TV episodes the audience can enter the house to explore the environment, and by completing a series of tasks and challenges (13 x flash games), they can unlock hidden drama content: revealing the terrifying backstory to the drama and getting one step ahead of our characters.
As the story develops, the drama flows between the TV episodes (4 x 10 minutes) and the 3D immersive game (3 x 20 minute levels); when a character hides an item within the house on TV, the audience can immediately go online, solve a puzzle, and uncover the item from its hiding place.
The story has been woven across these multiple platforms, and the more the audience engages with the story (on TV, online and on social networks) the more they can deepen their experience of the drama and our characters."
Episode One 'She is Coming' established the leading characters immediately and set the scene for the creepy goings on. The leads are very natural and the production is atmospherically shot. Karen Gillan plays the brainy, witty Coll, Jo Woodcock plays Beth (looking like a younger Billie Piper) a sensitive type despite the bluster and who keeps hearing strange voices at the house. They are mates with Luis, who has a thing for Coll, and Ivan, played by Isaac Ssebandeke. Ivan is extremely brave or very foolish to go exploring in the waters of the well. He doesn't seem in the slightest bit fazed when a rotting skeleton rears up out of the murky water of the well. He returns to the surface with a set of stones, all numbered, and the audience is already way ahead of the group when Ivan decides to phone the number. A deadly phone number akin to a deadly video recording a la The Ring? You'll have to find out in Episode Two: 'The Hag' if Ivan survives his walk home late at night.
Meanwhile, I popped onto the website and have since crept through the on-line game, rather nicely designed and scored, managing to play some of the games in Level 1(pretty good for someone who doesn't go a bundle on games). As you complete each game you get one of the stones and a snippet of video featuring a ghost who imparts some background information about the derelict house's former occupants. You need to collect all the stones from all the games on each level to complete the game. Good fun.
I'm looking forward to further episodes either on BBC2 or on-line and this mini-series is well worth having a look at if you have a spare ten minutes. Best viewed alone, late at night! The Well is certainly a template for bolder, multi-platform stories for older children and teens and seems to be a move in the right direction. It'd be great to see if some of this can't translate to 30 minutes a week on BBC1.