Apprehension and fear. Two states of minds that were uppermost in my mind when finally, after a couple of decades, I found myself reunited with my favourite television show from my childhood. Having had most programmes of that era damaged by viewings in the cold, hard light of adulthood, the fear that The Mysterious Cities Of Gold wouldn’t be the majestic adventure that I’d remembered and bored everyone to death about was, to say the least, prevalent.
If you don’t remember the show, then let’s set the scene. The 1980s kids’ TV schedules were awash with long-running international animated productions that the BBC could buy in for a low price. Thus, we had Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds (quite good), Willy Fog (good) and Ulysses 31 (good, and beardy), which each had in common the fact that they were bought in from overseas, and went on for months.
But then there was The Mysterious Cities Of Gold, a 39-part production that was scripted in France and then sent off to Japan to be realised, where the animation was cheaper to produce. This was a common practice in the era, and it threw up some memorable shows, including some of those mentioned in the last paragraph.
But Cities Of Gold was different. This was as layered and complex an adventure as you could ever expect to get near on children’s television, that on one hand was about the search – and the clue’s in the title – for the cities of gold, but on a small, significant level was about one boy’s search for his father.
That boy is Esteban, the so-called child of the sun, and after a meeting with an at-first ambiguous man called Mendoza, he sets sail on the adventure to find the cities, eventually joining forces with Zia and Tao in his quest to do so. Naturally, there are plenty of others who want the bountiful riches that the cities bring them for themselves, and chief among them are Gomez and Pizarro, the latter being the governor of the Spanish empire. No worries there, then.
This could all have been tamed down into a simple chase between various parties to unimaginable riches, but as anyone who’s enjoyed the show in the past will appreciate, Mysterious Cities Of Gold is far more layered and complex than that. Sure, there are a few conventional alleys that it goes down, but with a story rich in historical grounding, and one that treads some very dark and murky areas for a supposed children’s production, its sheer ambition is astounding.
I won’t tell more of the story here, as it’s a genuine joy to discover or rediscover it, but – with a few choppy episodes across its 39-part span – it’s a towering achievement, and it really holds up as an exceptional piece of storytelling.
Which leads us the long-awaited DVD release. Rumours had persisted for some time that the English language version was lost, which is why we hadn’t seen a version of the show on disc (it has been out in France for many, many years), and yet apparently not. Here’s pretty much what we saw broadcast all those years ago, with the bonus of each episode being followed by a brief documentary.
These were, in some territories, broadcast after each episode, digging into the real life history underpinning the story. I don’t recall them from watching the original BBC transmission, personally, but that could be faulty wiring in my head. Nonetheless, they’re, again, quite fascinating little diversions, and a testament to the diligence and care that went into the script. It’s quite a package.
The visual presentation, to be fair, shows the signs of the times. It’s decent enough, and does the job, but dirt and changing colours are evident, albeit not anywhere near to the point of distraction. The audio is a straightforward, functional 2.0 effort. It’s decent, which is about the most you could expect.
Extras-wise, though, it’s party time, with a fabulous collection of supplements. There’s a good scattering of storyboard work, stills to browse through, biographies, and some good, meaty features to enjoy. There’s also the infamous Phillip Schofield Children’s BBC sing-along, if you’re not already seen it on YouTube. After all, let’s not forget that The Mysterious Cities Of Gold possesses one of the finest television theme tunes ever to grace the planet.
Ultimately, this is a Rolls Royce of a DVD set, for a production that genuinely merits rewatching and investigating. Clearly compiled with a love for the source material, the six DVDs are a joy to explore, and while the asking price may look a little high, there’s a very strong case for dipping your hand in your pocket here.
The FeatureThe Extras