We plough the fields and shiver

It is a time of change. Uncertainty is gripping the nation, throttling new thought and leaving the working man and woman in a state of limbo.

Monday, 4th July 2016, 4:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 8:03 pm
Charlotte Appleby (CHARLOTTE SPENCER) and Nathan Appleby (COLIN MORGAN) battle spooks and spirits in The Living and the Dead

New technologies are replacing the old ways of working, whole swathes of people face the prospect of being cast on the scrapheap, along with their traditional way of life.

In the meantime, new theories of medicine and science are sparking fears that we are playing God with the laws of nature.

Yes, we're in Somerset in 1894, and the traction engine has arrived in the village of Shepzoy, sparking dark mutterings among the local yokels. Nathan Appleby has arrived along with the new steam engine, bringing new-fangled ideas back to his family home from the big city. Nathan's a psychologist, inspired by the theories of that fin-de-siecle titan of headshrinking, Sigmund Freud. And there's plenty for the good doctor to do in The Living and the Dead (BBC1, Tuesdays, 9pm, and in box set format on iPlayer).

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Nathan (Colin Morgan) has returned to the family seat with new wife Charlotte, a photographer. His mother has died, and an air of melancholy hangs over the manor house he has inherited, along with a farm and a host of ruddy-cheeked farm labourers.

As the first episode progresses, that sense of melancholy darkens, with hints of possession, unexplained deaths, and ghostly knockings in the attic. Before long, the ploughman has flung himself beneath the plough, and Nathan is plagued by visions of a woman carrying a glowing book.

I've watched five episodes of this six-part series, and it is continuing to intrigue. There are subtle hints all along of what is to come, and Nathan, sporting an imbeccably trimmed beard and glossily floppy hair, is growing increasingly deranged as the spooky happenings in Shepzoy get more and more bloody.

It doesn't have gore or true shocks, it relies instead on establishing an atmosphere of menace, and as the story moves on through the year, the sky darkens, the leaves fall and rot on the ground, and you can smell the growing cold in the air.

It conjures up the late Victorian fascination with the occult, making use of the Ouija board, but also has things to say about people's fear of the new, the other and progress.

Not having seen the last episode of this series, I honestly fathom how they're going to bring it all together, but I'm already hoping for a second series.