Tony Jordan, the creator of hit police drama Life on Mars, has finally signed a deal to broadcast the most personal work of his career – a story of life and death based on a script he began 14 years ago, which will be UKTV’s first original drama commission.
Jordan, who is also the most successful writer in the history of BBC soap opera EastEnders, describes Legion as his “ultimate passion project”. The 10-part series takes on epic themes including the future of the planet and the price a father will pay to save the life of a daughter diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.
Each episode of Legion will be 60 minutes long and the broadcaster is hoping that the scale of the production will deliver it the kind of audience loyalty associated with the American shows Breaking Bad and Dexter or the BBC’s Hustle – another of Jordan’s hits.
“The concept of Legion is that in order to save his daughter’s life a man sells his soul to the devil,” Jordan told The Independent. “It’s a love story about a father’s love for his child. I’ve got six kids and I understand fatherhood.
“When we are trying to explain the power of parenthood and how it feels – probably to a childless couple – you say that a child is someone you would give your life for and it’s true.”
The idea was hatched during the same late Nineties weekend in a Blackpool hotel basement where Jordan and co-writers Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah came up with the idea for Life on Mars, which was set in 1973.
“We ate fish and chips and ran up and down Blackpool seafront. But during the day we were locked in a room in the basement of this hotel talking about the TV we’d always wanted to write,” he said.
Life on Mars was a “selfish” idea by three writers who wished they’d had a chance to work on the hit Seventies drama The Sweeney. But Legion is a more “introspective” piece, containing universal themes about life and love.
Jordan admits that he feared that Legion, with its heavy themes, might never be made.
“It was darker and although it was my favourite project from the start, it was something I didn’t think I would ever see on a UK broadcaster,” he said.
“I’ve got relationships with all the broadcasters so everybody has been aware of it, but UKTV are the first people who’ve said ‘Let’s make it!’”
Darren Childs, the UKTV chief executive, said the drama could give the channel a reputation for making original programming.
“I would rather keep its editorial content intact than try to water it down for a mainstream audience,” he said. “There’s an important message in this that needs to come through.”