Category Archives: children of the stones

Children of the Stones 1.7 – Full Circle

Regular readers may recall that last spring, I raved about a terrific book called Scarred for Life, which looks at the frightening and odd pop culture of the 1970s. The book hasn’t found a permanent home on any of our shelves because I’m still dipping in and out of the wonderful thing, and reading chapters I had set aside for rainy days. Since Acorn’s DVD of Children of the Stones has been sitting here waiting for my son to get old enough to watch it since we started this blog, I skipped that essay, coming back to it tonight after episode seven blew my mind.

The funny thing about hyperbole – and I say this as somebody prone to going way overboard myself, and often – is that if you read something that gets a breathless recommendation with any kind of skepticism in your eye, you’re bound to question it. I’d have questioned the love that the writers give to Stones if I hadn’t seen it, because they really shovel on the praise. But it’s earned! This is great television. It never talks down to the audience and it never gives simple answers to this very, very complicated problem.

Also, I love how the heroes apply real-world science in a sensible way, even when confronted with a problem whose background is one of ley line mumbo-jumbo. I like to see heroes who can disassemble a situation and look for the right way out of Hendrick’s trap. Adam and Matthew have been great characters to watch and cheer for.

And I love how they can’t win. The painting gives the clue of two people escaping from the circle, but first there’s the downright horrifying fate of the villagers, also foretold in the painting. Then there’s a twist which they learn the following morning. What happens at night is jawdropping. What happens in the morning is tragic.

I enjoyed the devil out of this. I shouldn’t have waited twenty-eight years to see the blasted thing since reading about it. We’ve got another of these spooky seventies British kids’ serials on the agenda to watch late next month – not, sadly, another Third Eye presentation – and if it’s a tenth as good as Children of the Stones, I’ll be pleased.

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Children of the Stones 1.6 – Squaring the Circle

Our son says that he’s enjoying this story, and I’ve no reason to doubt him. He’s not shy about telling us when he doesn’t! During our recent three days off due to what was allegedly snow somewhere up a nearby mountain, I put on The Shape of Things to Come for a second spin, and he was pretty emphatic he never wants to see it again. Me neither, in fact.

But he is oddly incurious. During parts five and six, we finally see Iain Cuthbertson acting more like a traditional villain, some actual person that our heroes oppose instead of a chain of supernatural events. We still don’t know the specifics, but he’s the baddie, and so we can pose more direct questions: do you think Matthew and Adam will stop him? Can they rescue Sandra? He’s not all that concerned. This is a story in which to get swept up and carried away, and we’ll see how it ends next time.

One thing he did note was “Hey, I saw a funny green and black flash there.” As some of these screencaps suggest, the presentation on Acorn Media’s Region 1 DVD hasn’t really been reconstructed or restored. I’m not sure that HTV had the greatest technical facilities when this was first made in the fall of 1976. The master tapes definitely show their age. They don’t look as bad as many of the 1970s Sid and Marty Krofft videotape programs look, but it’s kind of a humbling thought just how close we’re getting to losing a lot of the television from this period entirely. Most American drama from the 1970s was made on 35mm film, and the more successful and demanded shows have been restored already. But the lousy quality of this, and the Krofft series, makes me wonder about the videotape comedy shows that didn’t succeed and were quickly canceled. Has anybody in any archive anywhere checked on The Waverly Wonders or On the Rocks or Hot l Baltimore lately to see whether the tapes even play?

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Children of the Stones 1.5 – Charmed Circle

Hey, John Woodnutt shows up in this one! He plays Iain Cuthbertson’s character’s butler.

There’s a television trope that I have always hated, where the hero goes to fetch authorities after the discovery of a body, and when they get back, the body has vanished. It aggravated me particularly this time, because Adam goes to get help… and the other characters who could have stayed behind, where Dai’s body was, went back to the museum. About which, I was incorrect last time. Dai wasn’t crushed; Adam believes that he had a heart attack.

But there’s still something going on with time. That clay amulet that Dai had been using, and which had shattered, has only three shards remaining. The other three shards were unearthed years before, along with the skeleton of the man who had been crushed and killed centuries ago.

And we finally have a better understanding of what’s turning all of the villagers into the “happy day” zombies. Everyone who dines with Hendrick, as Margaret and Sandra do this time, get to experience a white light from space coming into his house at a precise second… this is so creepy and so entertaining, and whatever Hendrick is up to, I love the way that Iain Cuthbertson plays him so formally and makes him seem so ordinary. He’s a great villain.

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Children of the Stones 1.4 – Narrowing Circle

Well, I am just incredibly pleased with this story. It’s magnificently creepy and cerebral, and, sadly, a little above our son’s head. Because we don’t know what is destroying the identities of the villagers, because we can’t say “It’s Azal, last of the Dæmons, turning everybody into ‘Happy Day’ zombies,” I think that he’s not sure that there’s a threat, just a series of weird occurrences. He says that this is weird, and then realization that this really is menacing comes after we go over the episode with him.

The midpoint of the story, for the original commercial break, is downright chilling, with Freddie Jones’ tramp character, Dai, huddled before a fire, clutching his clay amulet, terrified of something. And this leads into the revelation that there’s apparently a time travel component to the story as well. Centuries ago, one of the stones fell over and crushed a man, who was buried underneath it for the many, many years it took to unearth his skeleton. It’s now part of the village museum. Dai realizes, before any of the others do, that Kevin Lyle and his father – the 50th and 51st residents of the village – have been taken over. His amulet cracks and he flees.

The kids catch sight of Dai on a hill, but when they get to the top, they see only another giant stone on the plain below them. Sandra’s mother assures them there can’t be a stone there, and when they all go to look again, there’s only Dai’s crushed and dead body. Did a stone travel through time to repeat the events of centuries before?

I’ll tell you what’s got me worried: Sandra and her mother make 53 inhabitants, and there are 53 stones. Adam and Matthew make 55… and that strange painting shows only two people making it out of whatever’s happening. This doesn’t look like it’s going to end well.

We will leave it there for a couple of days and give our son a little break to watch something that may be more exciting, possibly with a helicopter chase or something. You might be surprised what’s coming up tomorrow night.

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Children of the Stones 1.3 – Serpent in the Circle

This is really entertaining, although just a little bit above our son’s six year-old head. We’re having to recap a little of the action to make sure it’s all sinking in. This time, the four newest kids to the village of Milbury, the four who haven’t become all smiley math wizards saying “Happy day,” become three. One of them suddenly understands the incredibly complex math class and the episode ends with the little malcontent joining the village Morris dancers with a vacant grin on his face.

In between, Adam gets confirmation from America that the stone circle is aligned with a black hole. It’s more “folk science fiction” than “folk horror,” and while it’s not completely appealing to our son, it’s the sort of thing that kids in the fifth or sixth grade certainly would have gobbled up once upon a time.

Children of the Stones was shown in the US as one-fifth of a daily anthology program called The Third Eye which ran on Nickelodeon for about 16 months or so in 1983-84, around the same time that The Tomorrow People began its lengthy American run. There were 68 People installments and exactly half as many Third Eye episodes; maybe that’s why they axed it first. You could see them all in just over a month. It would seem that Children of the Stones was shown here at least a dozen times.

The series within The Third Eye all dealt with paranormal experiences or psychic phenomena or witchcraft and folklore, and they all had young protagonists, making them perfect purchases for Nickelodeon. The other components of the anthology were an eight-part serial from New Zealand called Under the Mountain and three other British shows: The Haunting of Cassie Palmer, The Witches and the Grinnygog, and just the first series of Into the Labyrinth. There were another 14 episodes of Labyrinth that they could have bought, but didn’t, for some reason.

Stones, Mountain, and Labyrinth (all of it) have been released on DVD, and there’s even a feature film version of Mountain starring Sam Neill. Unfortunately, and this will blow your mind, The Haunting of Cassie Palmer is not believed to exist any longer, and Grinnygog is only known to exist on home-taped copies. These two shows were made by one of Britain’s commercial networks, TVS, which closed down in 1992. In between all the various media companies that have since licensed or purchased their archive, many of TVS’s master tapes were destroyed.

This was in the 1990s, people. A TV show that was made in 1982 was completely wiped about a decade later. That’s insane.

Even more weirdly, TVS was the original home of The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, which ran from 1987-2000. All the TVS episodes from series one through six at least exist, but are not available for syndication or sale. It’s only series seven through twelve that anyone can distribute today.

Anyway, we didn’t get Nickelodeon at my house. When we had cable installed in 1981 or so, the guy was short a converter box and asked my dad to swing by and pick one up, and Dad never did, because he only wanted “cable” for HBO, which we could get on channel 7 on the VHF dial. Five years later, when I used a giant second-hand top-loading Panasonic VCR that weighed seventy-seven pounds to tune in to Nick and MTV and other channels, Dad blew his top because the cable company was going to find out and start charging us. Nobody ever talked about The Third Eye at my school, so I didn’t know I was missing anything.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I heard of The Third Eye, and that blasted Roger Fulton book I mentioned a couple of chapters ago didn’t have listings for three of the five shows. I’ve always been a little fascinated by The Third Eye because it’s something that some of my friends got to absorb and love that I missed completely, even though it’s taken me another – hell! – twenty-eight years to get around to watching one of them.

We might do Into the Labyrinth for the blog; I haven’t decided. Kind of going back and forth between ordering that and The Ghosts of Motley Hall. It’s just a damn idiotic shame that Grinnygog is not available and that Cassie Palmer may be gone forever.

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Children of the Stones 1.2 – Circle of Fear

Well, this is just delightfully creepy. I’m enjoying this, and our son says it’s very weird. I am pretty sure that he’s having a little trouble with the accents, though, because I certainly am! This episode introduces a village poacher called Dai played by Freddie Jones who speaks with a very thick Welsh accent. I missed some of what he said, but I definitely caught the part where he warns Matthew “nobody ever leaves.” Brrrrr.

I really appreciate that Adam and Matthew are tackling their investigation of the circle with scientific curiosity. It’s really nice to see a teenage boy who’s interested in science and math as the hero. In this episode, Matthew builds a sextant because he has a hypothesis about the stones gradually sinking on one side that he wants to test! It turns out he’s mistaken, which opens up more questions.

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Children of the Stones 1.1 – Into the Circle

I’ve always been a little envious of people my age who got to see this strange seven-part serial when it was shown in America. I first read about Children of the Stones in Roger Fulton’s Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction, and started telling people how interesting so many of these unfamiliar British programs sounded. This was about 1990, there wasn’t any Wikipedia then. Surprisingly, some friends remembered this show from their childhood. If they’d forgotten it, they remembered it in a hurry. “Geez, that was a creepy show,” people would say in hushed tones. This stunned me. You mean this was shown in the US and I missed it?! More on this later in the week.

It has always enjoyed a cult following in the UK, where it was first shown in early 1977. It was made by HTV, the old company that serviced Wales and the west of England, and was filmed on location in the well-known village of Avebury. Its prehistoric stone circles became the setting for the fictional Milbury, where Adam Brake and his teenage son Matthew are staying for a few months. Dr. Brake is an astrophysicist doing research into the 53 stones of Milbury.

Matthew and Adam quickly learn that Milbury is a very strange place. Matthew has strange hallucinations almost upon arrival, many of the villagers greet each other with vacant smiles and “happy day,” some of the schoolkids are tackling unbelievably complex algebra, and when Adam touches one of the stones in the incredibly neat climax to episode one, he has a bizarre vision and is thrown about three feet backward.

Children of the Stones has a great cast, featuring Gareth Thomas as Adam and Peter Demin as Matthew. Iain Cuthberson plays the landlord, and Veronica Strong is another new arrival to the village, having recently become curator of the museum. Katharine Levy plays her daughter, Sandra, who has been here long enough to know that some of the other children are very, very strange. The show was written by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray. Burnham had written a few episodes in the final season of The Avengers – not, sadly, any of my favorites, but we won’t hold it against him! The duo collaborated on writing another children’s serial about myths and legends and the present day, Raven, later in 1977 for ATV.

This didn’t blow our son away or anything, but he does find it interesting and curious. The children in the show aren’t so old that he can’t identify with them, though I do think he was unhappy about the class bully. I think the slow, creepy, unpacking of the mystery is going to make this a very satisfying slow burner, and we’ll see what happens next tomorrow night.

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