Category Archives: into the labyrinth

Into the Labyrinth 1.7 – Minotaur

I’ve got to hand it to this show. Whatever its limitations, it really succeeded in capturing our son’s imagination. Before we got started with the final part of the first serial, he had lots of questions about the time bomb that was used in part six. He remembered it much more clearly than I did; my focus had been on how the production team had redressed their cave set, and on the guest star John Abineri, growling with that sad-eyed expression of his. But our son had spent the last several days fascinated by how a character had used a small candle on the minute hand of a clock to start a fuse. I was trying to hurriedly finish my breakfast to start the story and could hardly eat for all the questions about clocks and gunpowder and when I thought the first time bomb was made.

The final part of the story was written by Anthony Read, and as the title suggests, it’s set in the original labyrinth of Knossos. A few years earlier, Read had written a pair of Doctor Who serials, “Underworld” and “The Horns of Nimon,” that also got to reflect his interest in classical myths. This minotaur was an amusing surprise. Instead of the usual half-man, half-bull, it’s an altar of a huge, blue, bull’s head that houses the Nidus between its eyes and is protected by a force field. I don’t think that the Greek myths will capture his imagination in the same way as that clock bomb – he’s more of a STEM kid than a humanities kid – but overall this story kept him thinking and guessing and ready for the next serial, later this summer.

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Into the Labyrinth 1.5 – Conflict / 1.6 – Revolution

Into the Labyrinth was shown in North America along with four other programs on Nickelodeon as part of an anthology series called The Third Eye. We’ve watched one of the others already – the remarkable Children of the Stones – but sadly, it looks like we won’t get a chance to watch the other three serials. Under the Mountain was an eight-part serial made by TVNZ. It was released on DVD, but it’s out of print and I haven’t found a copy yet. If I do run into one in the next couple of years, we’ll certainly blog about it.

Unfortunately, the master tapes of The Haunting of Cassie Palmer and The Witches and the Grinnygog were destroyed after the network that produced them, TVS, was sold in the late eighties. You can watch a very ropey bootleg of Palmer on YouTube, and that’s possibly as good as we’re going to get it. One alternative is that maybe in some warehouse somewhere, Nickelodeon kept their own masters of The Third Eye. If so, I hope that someone at Nick would drop a line to the good people at Kaleidoscope. They would probably love to help repatriate and restore these two shows.

As for Labyrinth, with each new time zone, and each new reason to run around in a cave, our son starts each episode a little confused and honestly bored, but he comes around with enthusiasm and laughter as the action starts, and he does love the magic and the explosions.

Episode five is set in England in the 1640s and episode six in rural France during the reign of terror. I had wondered whether we’d start bumping into any recognizable character actors in this show, and suddenly we found two: Ewen Solon as a roundhead colonel and John Abineri as one of Robespierre’s thugs. Ron Moody and Pamela Salem get to dress up in new costumes in each new time period; the poor kids are stuck in their monk robes every week.

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Into the Labyrinth 1.3 – Robin / 1.4 – Masrur

I’ve often said that lots of children’s entertainment really requires the eyes of a child to appreciate. Show a grownup Far Out Space Nuts for the first time without a kid adding to the laugh track and they may question your sanity. I’m incredibly glad I waited for Into the Labyrinth and didn’t swap for this years ago. This needs a child’s eye or nostalgia to understand. Mind you, it’s pretty tedious and repetitive even with the kid, but he is having a blast, and he doesn’t mind the really woeful visual effects, in much the same way I dismiss the woeful visuals of Space Nuts and the like.

There was one part in episode four where the children, summoned to the astral plane for another one of Rothgo and Belor’s magic duels in front of a blue screen, where he got a genuine laugh, but he confused me for a second. In her present-day incarnation, Pamela Salem has got a real 1980 Kate Bush look going on. I’ll have to get a picture of her next time. Anyway, I talked about the video/film divide of the 1980s a few months ago, and how music videos were one place you could see the change, as the videotape that was expected of most British media in the 1970s started losing favor. And so suddenly you’ve got Pamela Salem dressed all in black and using all the hairspray, waving her hands and looking melodramatic on a blue screen set, with flat photos of caves keyed into the picture behind her, and suddenly the children in their monk robes dance around her, and it looks exactly like one of Kate Bush’s dire videos from Lionheart or The Dreaming, before EMI started spending money on her promotional clips and hiring Donald Sutherland.

So I snorted because it looked ridiculous, but the kid burst a lung laughing because it was genuinely hilarious to him. Now, fair’s fair, he did snort in part three when Belor conjures a magical beast for about two seconds and it’s a small wood carving of a Chinese dragon like you’d find in a tatty gift shop, but otherwise, he’s completely caught up in this and enjoying it enormously. It’s TV made for eight year-olds and it succeeds amazingly well.

Anyway, episode three was written by Anthony Read and it’s a Robin Hood story that actually uses two other sets. Episode four, sadly, was back to the cave sets because it’s an Ali Baba and the One Thief adventure. The budget required that the other thirty-nine lost hope and went home.

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Into the Labyrinth 1.1 – Rothgo / 1.2 – The Circle

Into the Labyrinth was a popular adventure series for children that ran for three series in 1981 and 1982. It was made for the HTV network and produced by Patrick Dromgoole, who had worked behind the scenes on a few other neat programs that we’ve watched for the blog: Children of the Stones, The Clifton House Mystery, and Sky. We’ve got another one of his HTV kid shows on the agenda for later in the summer, but sadly one that I really wanted to see, The Georgian House, is only partially available. Four of its seven episodes are missing.

So what’s this one about? Well, in the present day, three kids find a weakened old wizard trapped in a cave. His name is Rothgo and he explains that another wizard has separated him from his source of power, an object called the Nidus. Rothgo conjures up a labyrinth that will send the children to various points in history to try and find the Nidus, but the other wizard, who is a woman named Balor, is already at work in each time zone to, all together now, deny them the Nidus.

I first read about this series in Roger Fulton’s Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction and thought it sounded interesting, particularly as several notable writers, including Bob Baker, worked on it. He did the pilot, and Andrew Payne wrote the second part. Later I learned that these first seven episodes made their way to America and were shown in rotation with Children of the Stones and three other serials on Nickelodeon’s The Third Eye, about which more another time. Later still, I learned that even among low budget shows, Into the Labyrinth has a reputation for being made for no freaking money whatsoever. What budget there was must have gone to pay for the actors playing the wizards, Ron Moody and Pamela Salem. There’s cheap, and there’s Sid and Marty Krofft are making four shows for three networks cheap, and then there’s Into the Labyrinth, which uses precisely one large redressed set across two episodes, and doesn’t even find room for any other speaking parts in the first.

I tease, but so far, this hasn’t really thrilled me. It’s early hours, and I suspect there’s better to come, but Ron Moody is incredibly unsympathetic for the supposed good guy of the piece, those kids should have bolted for the hills and not looked back, and defeating the challenge of the druid episode was too easy. Our kid liked it a little more than I did, but he wasn’t thrilled either. The visuals had him sighing “That looks fake” early on, and he pronounced “Well, I guess this is the cliffhanger” with about the same enthusiasm as reaching the halfway point on a very long car trip. Happily, episode two fared better. He liked a magical duel between the wizards on an “astral plane,” and the surprising magical comeuppance of their druid foe had him guffawing.

I had compared this show’s format, and how we’ll watch it, to The Feathered Serpent, as it is three serials that we’ll watch with several weeks break between each one. An hour or so later, I asked what he thought and he said “I like it a lot better than The Feathered Serpent!” I don’t even begin to agree, but he’s the target audience and we’ll take his word for it. More from the past in a few days.

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