The Rig: burly Scotsmen take on the terror from the deep

Watching beardy men fronting up to each other on a gantry high above the sea is more compelling than any lurking sci-fi threat

Who would want to be stuck on an oil rig in the North Sea with no chance of escape from your shouty colleagues? The Rig is ostensibly a supernatural thriller in which a team of oil workers battle unknown forces, but it could work just as effectively as a gritty drama set in the hard-knock world of oil drilling. There’s lots of loud banter between the largely Scottish cast (plus one Canadian and a few English people thrown in), with liberal use of the C-word and plenty of personality clashes. After a while watching two burly, beardy Scotsmen fronting up on top of a gantry suspended hundreds of feet over the sea, the whole sci-fi/monster/doomsday stuff begins to look like a minor plot point.

Emily Hampshire (she’s the Canadian – best known from Schitt’s Creek) and Martin Compston from Line of Duty head a very competent cast that includes Iain Glen, Owen Teale, Rochenda Sandall and Mark Bonnar. Put these actors in any closed space – an oil rig, a submarine, a spaceship, the Love Island villa – and they’ll deliver the requisite levels of emotional interplay and tension.

After a seismic opening sequence featuring a big crack opening deep undersea, we get straight to the real action – a bunch of angry oil workers on the Kinloch Bravo rig who have just been informed by offshore installation manager Magnus (Glen) that there’s a power outage and they’ll have to wait for the helicopter that’s due to bring them back to “the beach”, aka the mainland. When the rig suddenly starts to tremor, and a huge, eerie fog rolls in, it becomes clear that no one is going to be leaving the rig anytime soon, so they’re going to have to sit tight and just get along. Good luck with that.

Compston is communications officer Fulmer, who has the unenviable task of pressing various buttons that don’t work and sending futile mayday messages into the ether. Hampshire is science officer and company woman Rose, who doesn’t see why a lil’ ol’ all-enveloping fog should slow down the business of pumping millions of dollars worth of oil for her employers, Pictor Energy. Fulmer is romantically involved with Rose, which leads to much backbiting from some of his colleagues (Scottish oilmen can be pretty cruel with the teasing), but when this crisis is over, will Rose go with Fulmer or the company?


The Rig’s message about our wanton destruction of the world’s resources is certainly timely

Magnus is doing his best to keep everyone calm and maintain discipline, but it’s hard when he’s constantly being baited by the rig’s resident agitator Hutton (a superb performance by Teale). Meanwhile, deck foreman Alwyn (Bonnar), another seasoned oilman, is the picture of cool restraint, quietly reading a novel while everyone else is getting worked up. But wait, what’s that novel he’s reading? It’s The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham – that should have the rig’s alarm systems blaring right away. But the crew carry on as though everything has a logical explanation, including the sudden disappearance of one crew members’ tattoos and the miraculous recovery of another crew member from catastrophic injuries.

The world is going through a lot of anxiety about oil these days, what with prices going through the roof and Putin holding us all to ransom over fuel supplies. We’re also having a collective wobble about climate change, which of course is inextricably linked to fossil fuels, so The Rig’s message about our wanton destruction of the world’s resources is certainly timely. “Are you going all green on us?” asks one character, sarcastically.

Won’t be long, you suspect, before everyone on the rig is turning green – and not in a good way. Turns out that the mysterious fog may be the beginning of a huge retaliation against humanity by nature, and soon the body count starts rising as the thespians are picked off like luvvies in an Alien movie. But when one victim’s body is stored in a hastily cleared-away kitchen cooler for later burial, you suspect that won’t be the last we’ll see of it. Pretty soon everyone is at each other’s throats as a mysterious contagion spreads and more disasters threaten the stability of this shaky structure on the high seas.

I’m looking forward to watching the final three episodes – if only to see if Magnus and Hutton finally have it out with a good old-fashioned fistfight

The Rig provides the perfect backdrop for rainswept drama, with lots of metal stairways and gantries, storage areas and control rooms to add to the Alien-ness of it all. There are conversations about the ongoing viability of Big Oil and the plummeting price of a barrel of crude (this was clearly written before supply issues pushed up prices), and ominous warnings about the consequences of climate change. There’s also a quip about how Scottish people have been tricked into thinking bad coffee is good – that goes down like a lead balloon.

To add to all these anxieties, not only are the crew facing imminent death from an unknown supernatural force, they’re also facing redundancy, as it emerges the company is planning to decommission the rig and condemn them all to unemployment. Faced with going back to their families broke and jobless, who could blame them for opting to take their chances with the terror from the deep?

By the end of episode three it’s apparent to all that there is something uncanny out there. And even though the ante is upped in terms of impending apocalypse, I’m looking forward to watching the final three episodes – if only to see if Magnus and Hutton finally have it out with a good old-fashioned fistfight.

The Rig is on Prime Video, from Friday, January 6th