Cobra, Sky One, Friday

Robert Carlyle may be an odd choice to play a Tory Prime Minister but then there was much about this rollicking six-part thriller which didn’t quite conform to expectations – part-political drama (think A Very British Coup), part-disaster movie, part-post-apocalyptic chiller, it set spinning an entire dinner service worth of plates though the only audible crashing sound by the end of the first episode was the one made by the plane which dropped out of the sky and onto a motorway in Northumberland in the breathless opening sequence. The show’s title, in case you don’t know, refers to the British government’s disaster management committee, which meets in a briefing room somewhere in the bowels of Whitehall.

It was there that Carlyle’s PM, one Robert Sutherland, was told about the solar storm which was heading his way and likely to cause either (a) a slight spot of bother for the National Grid or (b) a total power blackout, country-wide mayhem and the complete breakdown of societal norms. It all depended on whether the flare was orientated north or “hot south” and the COBRA weather wonks wouldn’t know which it was to be until the flare passed some satellite somewhere out Alpha Centauri way, at which point the country would have about 30 minutes to prepare. Oh, and Sutherland’s daughter had just administered a near-fatal drug overdose to her pal and was wigging out in a hospital in Liverpool, his uber-cool Chief of Staff Anna Marshall (Victoria Hamilton) had mounting personal problems of her own and scheming Home Secretary Archie Glover-Morgan (David Haig) was, well, scheming. All in a day’s work? Maybe, but it knocked the problems of Brexit into a cocked hat.

Carlyle, his accent smoothed and his delivery clipped, galloped through his scenes like a man who always knows his own mind, a handy attribute for the guy in charge of heading off the apocalypse and keeping the lights on in Piccadilly Circus. Hamilton, meanwhile, delivered expletive-laden put-downs like she was a delivery driver on a tight schedule, and there was some serious ear-candy in the form of Richard Dormer’s Fraser Walker, head of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (i.e. the man who bangs heads together to get stuff done). Blessed with a voice like molten gravel, he could make even the 600-page UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement sound like Shakespearean verse.

Written by Ben Richards, whose script for the second series of The Tunnel also involved a downed passenger plane, Cobra couldn’t be described as moving at a stately pace. But that’s probably just as well – its frantic forward momentum just increases its binge appeal and it’s no surprise that after Friday’s first episode Sky made the entire series available as a boxset.