Christopher Eccleston, David Threlfall, Billy Jenkins and Saira Choudhry are to star in new BBC “Oliver Twist prequel” drama Dodger.

The show is created and written by Emmy award-winning Rhys Thomas.

Christopher Eccleston (The A Word, The Leftovers) takes the role of Fagin and David Threlfall (Shameless, Housewife, 49) plays Chief of Police, Sir Charles Rowan, in Dodger, a new ten-part family adventure set to air next year on CBBC and BBC iPlayer.

Playing Dodger is Billy Jenkins (The Crown) with Saira Choudhry (Life, No Offence) as Nancy, with filming already underway in Manchester and various locations around the north west.

A funny, optimistic, fast-paced comedy drama full of jeopardy, Dodger (10 x 45’) is set before the events of Charles Dickens’ iconic novel, Oliver Twist. There are some familiar characters and a whole gallery of colourful, new ones. Each episode is a standalone adventure brought together at the end of the series with some dramatic reveals and surprises.

Produced by NBCUniversal International Studios, Dodger follows the exploits of the infamous pickpocket, The Artful Dodger, and Fagin’s gang as they find ingenious ways to survive the grim and exploitative conditions of early Victorian London in the 1830s.

The group of young misfits is led by Dodger and his pickpocketing partner-in-crime, Charley Bates, a girl from the countryside with a mysterious past. Charley is played by newcomer Aabay Ali. They are joined by Polly (Ellie-May Sheridan), Tang (Mila Lieu) and Dodger’s adversary in the gang, Tom (Connor Curren).

Together the orphans duck and dive their way through the criminal underworld, trying to make a better life for themselves, whilst satisfying Fagin’s pickpocketing demands and avoiding the hangman’s noose. The police are always just one step away with Sir Charles Rowan (Threlfall) becoming increasingly obsessed about how to deal with the gang and catch Dodger.

The cast also includes Sam C Wilson (Hanna) as Bill Sikes, Tanya Reynolds (Sex Education) as Queen Victoria, Lucy Montgomery (Disenchantment) as Fagin’s landlady, Minnie Bilge, and Frances Barber (Medici) as theatrical dame, Eliza Vestris. Javone Prince (Horrible Histories) plays inept copper PC Blathers and Rhys Thomas (The Fast Show, Brian Pern) takes an on-screen role as his partner PC Duff.

The series is written by Rhys Thomas and Lucy Montgomery with Charlie Higson guest writing an episode. Rhys Thomas also directs alongside Hildegard Ryan.

Rhys Thomas says “I have always loved ‘Oliver Twist’ but wasn’t so keen on Oliver himself. I preferred the company of Dodger, Fagin and the gang. I thought it would be fun to create a family show with Dodger at its heart and see how he came to be a master criminal in Victorian London. Working with the very best material as a springboard, it’s a total delight to expand Dickens’ rich world of characters and create a few of my own. To top it all, we have an incredible cast who are starring in the show.  I can’t wait for families all over the world to see it!”

Christopher Eccleston adds  “Fagin is an iconic role, I’m a very fortunate actor. Rhys Thomas and Lucy Montgomery have taken Charles Dickens’s extraordinary characters and imagined a whole new world and lives for them. I’m very, very excited.”

Dodger is produced by NBCUniversal International Studios, a division of Universal Studio Group. Francis Gilson is Producer. Mark Freeland is Executive Producer for NBCUniversal International Studios. Rhys Thomas and Lucy Montgomery also serve as Executive Producers. NBCUniversal Global Distribution is handling international sales. The Commissioning Editor for the BBC is Amy Buscombe.

Other new dramas coming up on CBBC include Silverpoint (w/t), a 13 x 22’ sci-fi drama series about kids at summer camp. Four kids bond over something unexplainable out in the woods, something they make an oath not tell anyone about because it’s beyond cool and because no one would believe them anyway. Produced by Zodiak Kids, with co-producers ZDF Enterprises, the series is created by Lee Walters, Lead Writer, and the Executive Producer is Steven Andrew. Filming starts later this month in Northern Ireland for transmission in 2022. Commissioning Editor for the BBC is Amy Buscombe.

Comedy-adventure series Nova Jones (10 x 24’) orbits around an 18-year-old pop star and her 12-year-old sister and manager as they go on a concert tour throughout the galaxy. Featuring original music throughout, this live action sitcom also combines high-end CGI and visual effects. Produced by JAM Media, the series was filmed in Belfast for transmission later this year. The Executive Producers for JAM Media are Alan Shannon and John Rice and the Executive Producer for CBBC is Sarah Muller.

Still So Awkward (13 x 28’) is the exciting new spin-off from laugh-out-loud comedy drama series So Awkward. It follows Lily’s misadventures at university with a new gang of friends: flatmates Frankie, Samson and Seb, famous actress Claire, and bossy, good-looking cafe manager Josh. Still fun. Still crazy. Still so awkward. Produced by Channel X North, the executive producers are Alan Marke and Jim Reid. Still So Awkward will air this summer on CBBC and BBC iPlayer

Sarah Muller, BBC Children’s Head of Commissioning and Acquisitions 7+ said: “What a great year of drama we have coming up on CBBC. From Dodger taking kids back to the Victorian era to thrilling action adventure in Silverpoint and Nova Jones taking audiences across the galaxy, there really is something for everyone.”

Returning series include football drama Jamie Johnson (26 x 28’) commissioned for series 6 and 7, made by Short Form Film and filmed in South Wales for transmission later this year. Following last year’s breakout storyline around LGBT footballers, this year the series looks at CTE / dementia, racism and allyship in football. The Executive Producers are Anita Burgess, Joe Talbot and Sam Talbot.

Family action adventure Mystic (16 x 28’) returns for series 2 and 3. Set in New Zealand, the drama follows Londoner, Issie Brown, and her new-found friends as they are led on an environmental adventure by the enigmatic mythical stallion, Mystic. Produced by Slim Film + Television and Libertine Pictures, with TVNZ, the series will air later this year. The Executive Producers are Richard Fletcher and Simon Crawford Collins.

Malory Towers (26 x 25’), the drama based on the iconic Enid Blyton books, also returns for series 2 and 3. It follows Darrell Rivers and her chums sharing friendship and high jinks in their traditional 1940s British boarding school. Produced by King Bert and WildBrain, it is a co-commission with The Family Channel and films in Devon, Cornwall and Canada for transmission later this year. The Executive Producer is Jo Sargent. Amy Buscombe is Commissioning Editor for the BBC for Malory Towers, Still So Awkward, Jamie Johnson and Mystic.

Hit comedy drama Almost Never (11 x 28’) returns for series 3, following the exploits of wannabe boy band The Wonderland.  With Nate being offered a solo deal at the end of last series, will he choose fame and fortune over his loyalty to his friends?  Series 3 stars Aston Merrygold, Kimberley Wyatt and, joining the cast in her first TV role, Amber Davies. The series is filmed in Belfast and Executive Produced by Saltbeef TV’s Jeremy Salsby, with Melissa Hardinge the Senior Commissioning Editor for CBBC. It is due to air this summer.

These titles were all commissioned by Cheryl Taylor, then Head of Content for BBC Children’s.

They join the previously announced titles from BBC Children’s In House Productions due to transmit over the next year. These include live-action comedy series Lagging (10 x 25’), created by Bafta award-winning writer, Dan Berlinka, about gaming, friendship and growing up, as well as series 9 and 10 of popular drama The Dumping Ground (24 x 28’), which follows the lives of the diverse group of young people who live in a children’s home.

Also from BBC Children’s In House Productions is live-action drama Princess Mirror-Belle (13 x 22’). The 13-part series for CBBC follows Ellen and her mischievous mirror double. Based on the best-selling books by Julia Donaldson, the series will feature both new adventures and classic stories from the books. The Executive Producer is Sara Harkins and Tali Walters is Genre Lead for BBC Children’s In House Drama Production.

 

Jon Creamer