Sky One and NOW TV

HE has played Hitler, a stripper (the clothes kind, not the wallpaper, grandma), and a Highland copper, so why shouldn’t Robert Carlyle play a Tory?

Yet Begbie as a politician is not the most terrifying notion in the new Sky One drama COBRA.

Written by Ben Richards (Strike), COBRA imagines what would happen if a space storm hit Earth. That is the prospect facing Blighty as Conservative PM Robert Sutherland (Carlyle), his chief of staff Anna Marshall (Victoria Hamilton, The Crown), and officials gather in Cabinet Office Briefing Room A (COBRA) to hear from bearded men in cheap suits, otherwise known as scientists.

Beard Number One says that in the first stage of a solar storm satellites will be knocked out, throwing navigation systems into flux. Planes could fall out of the sky. In the second stage, all electrical power will go off. No light, no heating, no internet, no Antiques Roadshow.

Older readers will recognise this as the 1970s. Back then, in the days of three-day weeks and power cuts, the populace lit candles, threw coats on the bed and got on with it. I suspect modern society, made of flimsier stuff, is not going to manage so well.

Fortunately, Caryle is around to fulfil the Lance Corporal Jones role as chief calmer of the national panic. That is, if he can spare the time, what with sneaky aides leaking his immigration plans to the press, his daughter landing in bother at university after a graduation party goes wrong, and keeping up that strange, Scots/northern English accent he has adopted for the role.

He also has to say COBRA a lot. The makers of COBRA are awfully fond of the word COBRA.

“Convene a full COBRA for the morning,” barks Sutherland.

“The CME’s trajectory is faster than anticipated,” he tells his wife.

“I don’t have a ******* clue what that means,” she replies with some justification.

“It means I have to reconvene COBRA!”

What is the betting “convening COBRA” soon takes over from “being in Pizza Express, Woking” as catchphrase of the year?

Everyone likes saying COBRA because it sounds dangerous, sexy, scary. It is the perfect title for a drama that is part political thriller, part disaster fest: House of Cards meets Jack Bauer’s 24, Bodyguard without the bare bahookies (in episode one, anyway).

Little expense has been spared in making everything look swish, from the high-tech briefing room, all very Mission: Impossible, to Anna’s handsome London home and her buttery leather cross-body bag (beat that Carrie “Homeland” Mathison). In certain instances you might wish it was not so realistic (plot spoiler: I would be fine with never seeing a plane crash again).

Some parts lack the same slick touch. There is the usual newspaper headline that would never make it into a real paper, the political types are cliches (the treacherous up and comer, the maverick coming in to transform the “nasty party”), and the dialogue is sometimes laughable for the wrong reasons, as when Anna tells her boss never to make jokes about gender because people “literally lose their s***” over it. Literally, really? That must be messy. And of course, everyone walks and talks really quickly, because that is the law for political dramas since The West Wing.

No-one watches disaster thrillers for the dialogue. They are supposed to be cheesy and overblown. What we are here for is the “what if” and the spectacle, and COBRA looks like it will deliver on both fronts.

Carlyle is such a first class actor you can really believe the boy from Maryhill could be a Tory. He and Hamilton make a convincing partnership, keeping the verbal sparks and witticisms flying, though it might have been more intriguing if she had been the PM and Carlyle her aide. Disaster dramas traditionally come along when society is in a state of flux and in need of reassurance - think of their heyday in the 1970s. That COBRA should arrive now, just as Brexit is about to happen, is just coincidence, no?

As episode one ended, panic was spreading to France and Spain, Sutherland was activating the (real) 2004 Civil Contingencies Act, and pressure was about to pile up on the government on several other fronts.

“This is now an emergency,” declared Sutherland, “and COBRA will remain active to its conclusion.”

Who else you gonna call in the event of mass disaster but Begbie?

Available now on Sky One and NOW TV