BBC Unveils New Dramas From Writers of 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' And 'Ripper Street' (Exclusive)

Peter Straughan - H - Getty
Credit: Getty

'The Three,' adapted by Peter Straughan, is an international thriller with a supernatural twist, while 'The Serpent,' from Richard Warlow, is the true story of French serial killer Charles Sobhraj.

The BBC has announced two major eight-part dramas for its flagship BBC One channel. 

The Three, based on the trilogy of books by Sarah Lotz, is set to be adapted by BAFTA and Golden Globe winning writer Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Wolf Hall, The Snowman) and is billed as a multi-stranded, international thriller with a supernatural twist.

When four planes crash on the same day in four different countries, three children survive, with rumors of a fourth. A no-nonsense investigator is sent from Washington to find out the causes, but her dogged determination to get at the truth is obstructed by conflicting evidence, media scrutiny and conspiracy theories, while her journey takes her to the townships of South Africa, the Florida swamps, the depths of the Atlantic and the notorious Aokigahara 'suicide' forest in Japan. 

The Three will be exec produced by Kate Sinclair and George Faber for The Forge and Elizabeth Kilgarriff for the BBC.

"The Three looks at how fear and paranoia can affect society on a global level, while interrogating the effects of trauma on ordinary lives," said Straughan. "Working on the project so far has been a fascinating journey, and I can’t wait to continue with our exciting team."

Added Sinclair: "When I first read Sarah Lotz’s stunning proposal for The Three four years ago, I knew in my gut she was brilliant, that it was so unique that I had to have it, and that I needed to get someone as truly extraordinary as the exceptional Peter Straughan to adapt it."

The Serpent, from Ripper Street creator Richard Warlow, will tell the true story of Charles Sobhraj, the French serial killer who preyed on young backpackers in Thailand in the 1970s, traveling on the so-called "Hippie Trail," and the great lengths that Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg went to bring him to justice. Sobhraj, considered one of the most elusive criminals of the 20th century, was Interpol's most wanted man before eventually being apprehended in India in 1976. 

The eight-part series will be directed by Tom Shankland (The Missing) and produced by Mammoth Screen (Poldark, Victoria). Warlow and Shankland will serve as exec producers, alongside Preethi Mavahalli and Damien Timmer for Mammoth Screen, and Kilgarriff for the BBC.

“I’ve been hoping for this news since Tom Shankland first told me the tale of Herman Knippenberg’s pursuit of Charles Sobhraj across the nexus points of the Hippie Trail," said Warlow. "That the story happens to be entirely true is a gift. I don’t think I could ever invent the corrupt magnetism of Sobhraj’s evil charisma, nor the everyman’s decency with which Knippenberg — now our friend and collaborator — brought some measure of justice to those who went to seek new horizons but never returned."

Shankland added that bringing the "lost era of the hippie trail back to life" had been a dream of his since he first went traveling in Asia and heard the name Charles Sobhraj

"Before mobile phones, before the internet, a generation of idealistic kids set out on an iconic overland journey from Istanbul to Kathmandu in search of wild adventures," he said. "Some of them had their minds expanded forever and some found a monster waiting in paradise. I want to give a voice to those brave kids who set out with big dreams but never made it home."

Both The Three and The Serpent were commissioned by Piers Wenger, controller of BBC Drama, and Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content.

"It’s my ambition to deliver original, bold and unexpected drama to BBC One, drama that is set apart from what is on offer elsewhere and which allows us to explore new worlds," said Wenger. "These two new series do just that, each offering a big emotional story in an international setting with iconic characters at their heart."

The new commissions add to a bustling slate for the BBC's drama department, which Wenger joined in 2016. Earlier this year, he unveiled a major lineup of productions, including new adaptations of Little Women and The War of the Worlds, plus a project from Stephen Frears