Well, it’s not as though there isn’t a long history of the villains in children’s television having only the motivation that the present storyline demands of them, but this really was not satisfying at all. In what appears to be Wi Kuki Kaa’s final appearance as the evil Scarecrow Maker, he changes his mind completely about what he’s after, and I think everybody was ready for this to finish, even me, and I’ve been the main one championing it. He does have a remarkably gruesome final and climactic revelation about who he really is, which must have scared the absolute life out of any of the under-eights who were watching this back in 1987, but for me, it’s only that hideous high point, and nothing more.
Y’all know me; I’m all about scaring the daylights out of kids. But I wonder whether the Traveling Scarecrow Maker might have been a step too far. The tone is so dark, so downright off that it doesn’t feel like the same program any longer. I think it’s still pretty good television, but this doesn’t feel like Worzel Gummidge anymore. The only concession to the show we started watching is Jon Pertwee babbling in gibberish and getting his words wrong.
I’m incredibly glad we did not start watching this program at the beginning of the blog. At nine, our son’s at the right age to handle a villain who is not played for laughs. At five or six? He’d be in tears, asking why one of his favorite funny programs had betrayed him so badly. Interestingly, I noticed that the DVDs of the twelve episodes in the next and final series are labelled G by Ireland’s Film Censor’s Office and U by the BBFC, while series five are stamped PG for older kids.
To drive the point home, the plot of this story – again the first half of a two-parter – is incredibly like the H.R. Pufnstuf tale “The Mechanical Boy”. There, Witchiepoo captures Jimmy, hypnotizes him into thinking he’s a robot, and sends him off to bring back Freddy. Here, the Traveling Scarecrow Maker captures Worzel, hypnotizes him into thinking he’s a zombie, and send him off with an ax to bring back Aunt Sally in pieces. And it’s not just the grim fate in store for the helpless quarry: Jack Wild walked silly and talked funny and punctuated the action with a goofy song and dance number. He isn’t a threat. Zombified Worzel even somehow has nasty razor-sharp teeth, and there’s certainly no dancing.
I enjoyed it, and so did our son, but I’m about ready for this show to get silly again.
In the second half of this adventure, the usual slapstick is mostly set aside for an interesting battle of magic between the Crowman and the Traveling Scarecrow Maker. I say interesting and not satisfying because the villain ends up being dispatched far, far too easily for my taste, but I do enjoy the feel of the Crowman’s magic. It’s not the sort of anything-goes incantations that wizards normally use (and which we enjoyed tremendously when the previous Crowman, Geoffrey Bayldon, employed them in Catweazle, when they worked, anyway), but far smaller powers which can only be employed with what I’d call earth magic, using twigs and roots. This fits perfectly within the folksy and rural world of the Crowman.
My favorite scene, however, didn’t have anything to do with their duel. It’s a delightful little gag that starts on a signpost whose letters are all scrambled before the camera tracks to Worzel, who cannot read the sign. When the camera tracks back to it, the letters have been reordered so that the audience can read it. Our son was really happy when the action briefly moved to a traveling fair, but that’s mainly because he likes bumper cars, I think. Also, carnivals in New Zealand also give away coconuts for prizes in the test-your-skill games.
“Holy crap!” I said. “Basically scarecrow zombies!” the kid said.
I found myself not having much to say about episode four, though it was nice to see a new upper-class jerk get a taste of Worzel and Sally’s chaos, but episode five is next-level good. Worzel is having a typically goofy adventure with a little slapstick. He ends up completing a new scarecrow’s naming ceremony, and unwittingly gives the fellow the name “Dangnation Take It,” and Dangnation thinks that Worzel is his king. When the Crowman finds out, he’s not happy.
But the Crowman has other issues, which are remarkable. This episode introduces the actor Wi Kuki Kaa as the Traveling Scarecrow Maker, who uses dark magic to bring slave scarecrows to a form of half-life. They cannot talk or dance or sing, and they can only walk between dusk and dawn. They are hideous and if I had seen this program when I was six, I’d never have come near the TV again. The Crowman wants nothing to do with this guy, but he seems to only have the power to tell him to go away, nothing more. The Traveling Scarecrow Maker has designs on the Crowman’s magic, because he needs small talismans to bring his creations to half-life. This guy is fascinating and I love the massive expansion of the show’s world to bring us a very radical new challenge. That’s exactly the kick in the pants I was hoping for, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.