Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World DVD review

James digs into his past, to a show that put the scares up him as a kid: Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World

Or: what we watched before The X-Files was invented

Like many of us, I spent part of my childhood glued to The X-Files, convinced that the government was hiding the truth from us all. Hungry for knowledge of the unexplained, I trawled the local public libraries, checking out every book on UFOs or the Loch Ness Monster that I could get my hands on. The absolute granddaddy of these books was entitled Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World and it taught me about everything from alien abduction to crystal skulls to the Jersey Devil, ensuring that my highly suggestible pre-adolescent brain wouldn’t ever get a good night’s sleep again.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this book had a companion TV series, originally shown in 1980, and also entitled Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. When the chance arose to review it for DoG, I naturally jumped at the chance to freak myself out all over again.

By the time the series was released, Arthur C. Clarke had secluded himself into Sri Lankan retirement, but he wasn’t above lending his name and voice to this collection of intriguing and no-holds-barred looks at topics such as spontaneous human combustion, sea monsters and the famous Tunguska event.

It’s all presented in a wonderfully complete way. Each of the 13, 25-minute episode has an utter treasure chest of original photos, eyewitness reports and deep expert analysis to allow the viewer to deconstruct the topic in what feels like a considered, rational way. Of course, because it’s almost 30 years old, much of the information it presents can be easily discredited by reading Wikipedia. You might find that sort of thing interesting, but personally, if I’m going to spend time watching a programme about Bigfoot that doesn’t involve the Hendersons, I don’t want it using Raymond Wallaces’ Bigfoot tracks as evidence when it’s since been widely accepted that they were fake.

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While this is understandable, it’s a pity something wasn’t done to address it. A text-track commentary or production notes on each episode would’ve been fairly easy to create and brought the context of each episode right up to date, but instead it seems to hope that the viewer won’t be informed enough to notice. As a result, it’s ultimately more of a nostalgia trip than anything – the immediacy of modern news, the complexity of reporting and the simple fact that the X-Files ended means that these kind of paranormal mysteries are certainly not as popular or believable as they once were.

While the review copy didn’t come with anything extra, a quick check online suggests that the retail DVD set is also quite sparse – if it had been packaged with a copy of the companion book, that would certainly have made it worthwhile – stripped of the cheesy narration and music the information presented in the TV series becomes far more haunting on the page. I’d even have settled for an Arthur C. Clarke action figure in “inventing communication satellite” pose.

For now it’s largely a curio for those who want to see what kind of witchcraft people believed back in the early 80s. There’s a lot to like about the series, and much of it is invaluable to the real hardcore enthusiast, but Clarke’s limited involvement means that even his completist fans will struggle to be convinced.

3 out of 5


3 out of 5