A maverick doctor and a disturbed civil servant walk into an underground station. It sounds like the start of a bad joke, or a terrible TV show, but it’s the unlikely basis of TV show Valkyrie. And, sure enough, Walter Presents’ latest foreign-language drama, acquired fresh from Norway, is like nothing you’ve ever seen.
That’s not to say that it merely shuns the Nordic Noir expectations that many now have from the region’s TV: convention-bucking Scandi shows snapped up by Walter Presents, such as Hellfjord or Young and Promising, have their influences and roots traceable back to Norway’s dark sense of humour or the welcome rise of young women creators, such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Lena Dunham. Valkyrien, on the other hand, doesn’t really seem to have come from anywhere: it’s a programme that feels thrillingly new with every twist and turn.
The maverick doctor? That’s Dr. Ravn (Sven Nordin), who spent his final professional years struggling to invent a cure for wife Vilma’s fatal illness. When their medical colleagues ban him from trying it, for ethical reasons, he goes rogue – and then some. Faking his wife’s death and keeping her secretly in a coma, he relocates underground to continue his work. Underground isn’t just a figure of speech: he makes a base in a disused bomb shelter beneath an old train station. Sanitised hand gel dispensers are nowhere to be seen, but there is the comforting rumble of metro carriages thundering past every 10 minutes.
His underground lair comes courtesy of his strange mate and former patient, Leif (Pål Sverre Hagen), who has a history with the Norwegian Civil Defence and an unhealthy obsession with the end of the world. Convinced that doomsday could happen at any moment, due to any number of triggers (viruses, population growth, the list goes on), he’s the kind of guy who blogs conspiracy theories and knows exactly where to find a disused bomb shelter in the middle of Oslo.
With Ravn in debt to Leif, they strike an ingeniously ill-planned deal: set up a secret hospital inside those concrete corridors to treat the underworld of the Norwegian capital, providing triage and treatment to criminals and worse. Flush with vermin, stolen cash and violent offenders, Holby City this ain’t.
It’s a fantastic premise for a series, one that opens up all kinds of potential. Their first patient, Teo (Mikkel Bratt Silset), already complicates matters significantly, while the threat of one of Ravn’s colleagues, Unn (an excellent Ellen Birgitte Winther), finding out what’s going on is destined to add another layer of secrecy to the whole affair. But while the narrative is buzzing with promise, it’s the central dynamic that really works, thanks to the two main performers. Sven Nordin is sympathetic yet disturbingly single-minded as the desperate almost-widower, while Pål Sverre Hagen, who was such a charismatic lead in adventurous biopic Kon-Tiki, sinks his teeth into the role of someone much creepier, investing Leif with warmth while still being able to cross the line into violence when necessary.
The environment that surrounds them echoes their unusual bond, managing to feel claustrophobic but cavernous, all the while tapping into a paranoia and darkness that feels oddly familiar given the current state of the continent. There’s a vague element of Breaking Bad in its male protagonist’s fall from civilisation, but that’s the closest you can get to pinning down writer and director Erik Richter Strand, who has crafted a series that feels thrillingly original – a place where off-the-grid danger hides in each tunnel, and the only doomsday clock counting down is to the implosion of its unstable characters.
Valkyrien is available to watch online and download on All 4’s Walter Presents.
For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV guide.