In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising that they waited this long to do a King Arthur story. When you’ve got a witch and wizard who are timejumping around into other people’s bodies, what better hosts are there than Morgaine Le Fay and Merlin? Regular guest star Ewen Solon is back in this one as Arthur, with Barry Jackson as Bedivere.
This is going to sound really, really nebulous and reaching, but something must’ve been in the water in the early eighties. King Arthur stuff has always been popular, but it feels like there was more Avalon than usual in all sorts of media – comics, records, movies – between 1981-83. This episode fits right in somehow, and while Into the Labyrinth‘s low-budget low-tech world has often seemed like an out-of-time throwback to the mid-seventies, this last half-hour just felt sort of perfectly in time with the rest of the early eighties media landscape.
At any rate, my son and I were glad that he got the crash course in Excalibur stuff before we watched the Doctor Who story “Battlefield” a couple of months ago, because this wouldn’t have made very much sense to him otherwise. He particularly enjoyed Merlin getting entombed in a stone and having itching powder dumped in his beard, and of course seeing Belor finally vanquished for good.
They didn’t make any more Into the Labyrinth beyond this. I think it had really run its course and they were doing the same thing every installment anyway. But while it had only limited charm for this grownup, our son enjoyed it a heck of a lot, so I’m very glad that I picked it up.
Mostly, Into the Labyrinth charms our son a whole lot more than it does me, but “Shadrach” is completely wonderful. Robert Holmes wrote it – that’s right, so sit up straight – and it introduces Belor’s best idea yet. She magically alters the features of the first fellow she comes across so he will look like Rothgo and the kids, once they turn up, will waste valuable time trying to convince a complete stranger that he’s an immortal time-jumping wizard.
Then she plans to drug the unfortunate bystander so they’ll waste even more time waking him up. The bystander in question is a detective called T.J. Shadrach, and he’s been hot on the trail of two villains from India who have plans to steal the Koh-i-Noor Diamond from the Tower of London. So Ron Moody and Pamela Salem get to have a pair of hilarious exchanges while she dons a pair of disguises herself to get him to drink her knockout micky.
Shadrach used to be a miner, and his lack of formal education causes him to make a few slips of grammar and word choice, plus, like Parker in Thunderbirds, he alternately adds and drops haitches. Once he’s finally roused, the kids comment on how he dresses like Sherlock Holmes and poor Shadrach becomes infuriated because that blasted Holmes stole his dress sense and style and, in the end, all his thunder and glory. Even when he does get to meet Her Majesty after wrapping up the case, it’s not really her, it’s Belor again. Poor guy. He never gets to learn what actually happened. I’m not sure what the third series of this show will be like, but I bet it won’t be a tenth as entertaining as a seven-part T.J. Shadrach series would have been.
Episode six is more of the same. This one’s a Crusades story written by John Lucarotti and featuring Ewen Solon, back again in a new guest star part. I don’t know much about the Crusades myself, but I could give my son a really brief explanation of what was going on with all these French knights in Malta holding out against the massive forces outside their fort’s walls. Episode five won our son’s affections with a played-for-laughs fight scene, while episode six has a… erm… not so great swordfight. Pamela Salem’s male stunt double showed his face to the camera two or three times more than he should have. The kid didn’t notice, but I had a chuckle or two.
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.