penny dreadfulYesterday evening not only marked the launch of Sky’s new high budget horror series Penny Dreadful, but also cemented an era for television that will be hard to beat. Between the looming stone walls of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Sky Atlantic dedicated the evening to its latest accomplishment, but it was a short preview of their next show Fortitude that confirmed their place as a front runner for groundbreaking television.

Fortitude stars Stanley Tucci, Christopher Eccleston and Michael Gambon as well as The Killing’s Sofie Gråbøl, as a Nordic noir-esque drama set in a solitary Arctic community looks incredibly promising from its fleeting preview, and indicates a triumphant rise in high quality TV that has the capability of bagging both established Hollywood and British names.

But the night was primarily about Penny Dreadful, and star Josh Hartnett had a few words to say following a preview of the first episode. “It wasn’t so much the genre but the people involved that attracted me to this project,” he explained. With a cast including Timothy Darlton and Eva Green alongside Hartnett, and with Sam Mendes and Bond screenplay writer John Logan as executive producers of the show, it’s easy to see the appeal.

The show itself is an effective collective of narratives prioritising character over genre, and focuses mainly on Hartnett’s Ethan. whose gun toting talents are called upon by the elusive Vanessa (Green). While assisting Vanessa and a distraught Malcolm (Dalston) in a quest to track down his missing daughter, Ethan will meet various characters from fictional history, to include Dorian Gray and Dr Frankenstein.

It’s a programme consisting of simple motives and unquestioned coincidences, with a level of gore and violence that has now come to be expected from HBO. Whereas it lacks the dense gratuity of Game of Thrones or the subtle characteristics of True Detective, there is promise in the concept of the story as well as its sensible casting.

“I don’t see it as a horror show but as a show about people,” says Dalton when questioned on Penny Dreadful’s gruesome themes. “ You come to discover why they do what they do and how they are who they are.”

Billie Piper, whose character Brona appears from the second episode has a similar appreciation of the show’s personalities. “It’s about mortality and people on the outskirts of society and how they got there.”

Indeed the most powerful moment in the season’s premiere comes at the end, when Dr Frankenstein, a Q type character with a fascination of corpses, comes face to face with his creation. It’s a scene that moves away from the somewhat hurried introductions of other characters, all eager to embark on the journeys that will lead them through the series, and presents a truly unique element to what will be a predictable but no doubt entertaining story.

With an extravagant evening of promotion and a huge marketing campaign to boot, Sky Atlantic has thrown its full weight behind the project. “This is the only home for the series,” explains Sam Mendes as he introduces the episode, and with murmurs of a second season already going around expect a host of new and equally intriguing characters to come.

Penny Dreadful begins on Sky Atlantic at 9pm, on May 20th.