A story about a secret bunker underneath an underground station where a top surgeon performs illegal operations might seem far-fetched.
But Temple star Mark Strong says the show, which is returning for a second series, is actually a great example of television that isn’t trying to be “outrageous”.
The actor told Sky News’ Backstage podcast that the drama, which he also serves as an executive producer on, feels very classic, especially when compared to shows such as the latest Netflix mega-hit Squid Game.
“I got suckered into watching Squid Game with my sons who were desperate to watch it, and I had no idea how violent it was going to be,” he says. “I thought it was a kind of interesting yarn, but it’s fascinating how TV – because we’ve been watching so much of it over the last couple of years – now feels the need to be that outrageous somehow.
“What I love about Temple is… I think it’s old-fashioned storytelling in the sense that it’s a slow burn, and if you stick with it you’ll really enjoy the characters and where they’re going. And I think we’ve done that without the need for fireworks.
“Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with Squid Game, but my taste, I think, is for this, which is traditionally made: some beautiful shots, incredible lighting and wonderful performances, and a story that just keeps you wanting more.”
The new series of Temple sees Strong’s character Daniel Milton having to reckon with some of the ethically dubious decisions he made in season one.
It also moves the action along with a new character, Gubby, played by Rhys Ifans, an underworld fixer who brings “threat and menace”, according to Strong.
“TV eats plot, you know, its story, story, story – that’s what TV is good at. Film is slightly different,” he says. “In film, you can wander off and photograph some trees and play some nice music and then come back to the action and everyone buys it because also they’re sitting in a cinema and they haven’t got a remote control. With television, what people love I think is story, story, story, so that’s what Rhys serves.
“He kind of comes in and you need him to be the guy that is pulling the strings, and the storyline with him is a really cool one.”
Strong’s co-star Daniel Mays, who plays Doomsday prepper Lee Simmons, agreed that both Ifans and his character – who inhabits the same criminal underworld as the characters in series one – are welcome additions to the show.
“We’ve literally just plucked this new character out of the air, haven’t we? You know, it makes complete sense that we’ve had dealings with this character in the past, but we have never really seen it in season one,” he says.
“Gubby is this very dark, mysterious, very dangerous individual, and Rhys is such a phenomenal actor I think it’s an amazing new element to the show, and it’s just great to have him on board.”
Like so many shows, production on Temple was shut down in 2020 because of the pandemic. As one of the first to get back up and running, Mays says it was a huge relief to be back on set, and back at work.
“There was lots of PCR tests and social distancing and all of that stuff, so it felt like a different ballgame in that respect,” he says. “But it was just thrilling to be given the opportunity to come back and reinvestigate these characters and to take them on a whole new journey, we were really thankful for it.”
And COVID is still playing a big part in the actors’ lives as, despite starring in a show largely set under a Tube station, neither of them have actually been underground since the first lockdown in March 2020.
Strong says it is ironically a neat parallel with Mays’s character, who does not feel he can go above ground. “It’s so prescient, I think a lot of people are dealing with what they feel comfortable getting back to at the moment,” he says.
“One of those things is a very packed Tube train for me. I will get back on the Tube and use it because that’s how I get around London, but for now, it still feels a bit weird because we’ve been trained for so long to avoid spaces where you can end up catching COVID.”
Mays says that work requirements mean he is advised against getting on trains.
He adds: “A lot of productions don’t want you to travel on the Tube because of the COVID risk, so it seems to be taxis all the time, everywhere – but such is life at the moment.”
Temple returns to Sky Max and streaming service NOW on 28 October – hear from the stars and our review of the second series in the latest episode of Backstage, the film and TV podcast from Sky News