2. Where Shall The ‘Nighted Showman Go?
There was, I thought, a lovely comment on our look back at part one of The Box Of Delights, which managed to say in a few words what I’d failed to say in the best part of 1000.
It was from Simon Curtis, after discussing the plot puzzles of the episode, where he simply said “However, the whole thing just feels right, and extremely spooky”.
He’s right. And I think the same applies to this quite padded second episode. It’s padded mainly because, in retrospect, very little actually happens in it. Certainly there are some sideways shuffles around the main narrative, but there’s little progress made. It’s more a case of Kay Harker understanding the box itself a little more, and exploring a world where strangers seem to know his name, and he knows the name of strangers.
There’s lots of screaming, a surprising number of extras (there’s really a lot of investment in physical production here), and more of those wolves that keep being mentioned. We learn, when everyone suddenly disappears, that this is a scene from the past of Cole Hawlings (Patrick Troughton makes all of this utterly believable, of course), and it’s a precursor to, basically, the box’s instruction manual being explained to Kay.
The episode also explains the parameters of the world a little more, too. The box, in effect, messes with time, and, through a sequence in the company of Herne The Hunter (a great name), we also see demonstrated in a bit more detail how characters turn into other creatures, as required. This latter part is also an excuse to show off the continually impressive animation work, not least when, for reasons that again aren’t entirely clear, Herne and Kay are attacked by a bloody big fish. Why it happens, I couldn’t quite tell you, but I did and do think it’s a terrific sequence.
The mystery of Cole Hawlings deepens a little, too, as he’s kidnapped by Abner Brown and his cronies, flown off in a plane that might once have been a car, and then suddenly appears back at the end of a telephone.
We know, as we’ve been told twice, that his old magic is no match for the new magic that’s going around. We don’t know whose new magic he’s on about, though, although he issues another sage warning about wolves. His marvellous line of the episode? “The police don’t heed the kind of wolf that’s after me”.
I bet he never said that in Doctor Who.
Where things ground to a halt a little is in the sequence where Kay goes and reports the disappearance of Cole Hawlings to the police inspector.
Memory tells me that we spend quite a lot of time in the company of James Grout’s inspector over the coming episodes, but here, it takes a good five minutes to get across that said friendly inspector doesn’t really believe what Kay has to say.
He’s mighty friendly, though. In what other TV programme has a police officer uttered the line “You haven’t been around lately to see my rabbits, Master Harker” with no sinister undertones to it whatsoever?Nonetheless, it does feel as though James Grout has been told to entertain the crowd for five minutes while a scene change takes place. And while he’s perfectly engaging, it does slow things down at a point when I really wanted to find out a bit more.
Have some bonus trivia at this point, by the way: one of the pirate rats, that shrunken Kay encounters, is played by Nick Berry. The same Nick Berry who would, of course, play Wicksy in EastEnders, and go on to greater fame in Heartbeat. He topped the UK charts, too, with the mighty Every Loser Wins. But that’s enough about that.
The ending this time is a bit pantomime, as Robert Stephens models a fetching smoking jacket, plays with matches, and rants about how he’s going to get Kay, all within convenient earshot. And then in kick the credits, the glorious theme tune plays, and any flaws are instantly forgiven.
Taken by most criteria, then, this episode isn’t anything special. Not much happens, and it treads water for large portions.
But it comes back to the feel that the adaptation has to it. We’ll talk about director Renny Rye and screenwriter Alan Seymour in the weeks ahead, but for now, it’s hard not to feel that that they’ve made the look and feel of The Box Of Delights, between them, feel so magical. Just spending time with it is worth the effort.
Next time? In Darkest Cellars Underneath, no less. After which, we’ve hit the half-way point…
Read our review of episode one, here.