I don’t know that I’d ever heard of The Feathered Serpent before last year. I mean, I must have, but it didn’t sink in. But last year, as I was absorbing the completely wonderful first volume of Scarred For Life, which focuses on the 1970s, I hit the small chapter about this program, read a little bit of the rave review, and figured we needed to watch it. I figured correctly.
The Feathered Serpent is a pair of six-part serials written by John Kane and made by Thames Television. It was shown on Monday afternoons in London, and was aimed at older kids, though there’s a lot here for all ages. The first serial aired in the summer of 1976 and it introduced us to one of Patrick Troughton’s most deliciously fun characters: a manipulative, scheming, and deeply evil priest called Nasca. The story is set in Mexico, long before any Spanish warships showed up on the horizon, and pits the bloodthirsty Nasca against the powerful Emperor Kukulkhan, played by Tony Steedman.
The people of this great city love Kukulkhan, and seem to be willing to abandon Nasca’s blood-demanding god Teschcata in favor of an older, kinder god, the feathered serpent Quala. To this end, Kukulkhan plans for his daughter, played by Diane Keen, to marry a Toltec prince, in part because the Toltecs all worship the peaceful feathered serpent. Nasca’s not having any of that. He’s been planning for months as our story opens, and has ensured that the builder of the new palace has honeycombed it with secret passages so that he can spy on his enemies. Now all he needs to do is turn the emperor’s trusted general against the boss. Meanwhile, a Toltec messenger boy meets an old, blind, disgraced priest played by George Cormack. This priest has been having some freaky dreams of prophecy and doom, and hopes that the young messenger can save his prince from Nasca.
Well, I thought this was just grand fun. There are bits where the dialogue gets a little too formal-slash-Shakespearean for me to believe in it completely, but this is just a great scenario for some good character actors to really sink their teeth into. It’s palace intrigue with bare feet and huge headdresses, with some fabulous sets which sparked our son’s principal question: how do the secret passages in this palace work when this all takes place so long ago? We enjoyed pointing out that just because it’s set seven hundred or so years ago, that doesn’t mean that the Toltecs or the Aztecs were technologically inept. We’ve learned a lot about the pyramids and tombs and neat architectural tricks from many old civilizations around the world.
(I’ve just reminded myself that I obviously need to remind him of the tomb at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sure, that place may be ridiculous, but he didn’t stop to ask how anybody built it!)
We also talked about how Nasca is able to manipulate people by identifying their weaknesses. We’ve been discussing how people who get angry very easily can be talked into doing the wrong thing, and here comes Mahoutec, the emperor’s general, who is hot-tempered and easily offended and a total sucker for Nasca’s scheming, to prove our point. We’ll see what happens next in a couple of nights.