Shuffling its way, inevitably, past the falling-down-the-waterfall cliffhanger of the last episode as quickly as it can (with an obvious, bit rubbish resolution), the fourth episode of The Box Of Delights comfortably recovers, to delve deeper into the mysteries of its subject matter.The Spider In The Web is a bit of a playful episode at times, bringing in more than a fair share of miniature work, and allowing director Renny Rye to be yet more creative in the framing and composition of his shots.
I’ve talked quite a lot when discussing The Box Of Delights about how it’s often the sheer warmth and feel of the show that continually impresses, and a lot of credit for that leads to Rye’s door. So let’s talk about him.
It’s interesting how The Box Of Delights fits into his CV. He already had strong experience in children’s television with intelligent shows such as Dramarama and Rentaghost (neither of which you could ever accuse of pandering to those watching) But The Box Of Delights is where he superbly married up both an older and younger audience. Post-The Box Of Delights, he took on decidedly more grown-up fare, with underrated Leslie Grantham drama The Paradise Club, and most significantly, Dennis Potter dramas Karaoke and Cold Lazarus.
However, what he achieved with The Box Of Delights – backed by a strong production crew, clearly – was both striking, and really stretching of a BBC budget. Comparably, appreciating we were in less austere times, there was perhaps a bit more to spend, but I’d wager that few pounds were wasted. I find it makes it more charming, too, that there’s so much, inevitably, physical effects work tackled so impressively.
Anyway, back to the episode.
The first half is standard caper stuff, really. Kay and his chums escape, find the house has been burgled, and more people disappear. Interestingly, we also get here one of the very few moments where Kay, for a split second, comes across as a little shit, when he demands to know why Ellen wasn’t in the house. But that passes quickly enough, and then Maria comes back, declaring she had been scrobbled.
A great word, that. I fully intend to use it in everyday conversation.
I echo, incidentally, the thoughts of A1nostaliga, commenting on our look at the last episode, where they praised the performance of Joanna Dukes as Maria. “Full of great appetite and mischief” is a terrific description of her work.
It’s Maria who is the one who finally confirms to us that the aeroplane we keep seeing is actually a car, too, with a bit of a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang complex to it. It’s been broadly hinted before, of course, but there’s a sense that this latest episode of The Box Of Delights that threads are being pulled together.
That’s particularly true come the end of the episode, when Abner Brown starts digging up the gold. Because it’s here where we get some of the background of the box itself, and particularly Patrick Troughton’s character, and his links to it.
This was important storytelling, and appreciating it sounds simple, I love that this was done with an actor simply talking, only aided by a drawing towards the end (think of the book as 80s PowerPoint). I was hooked as Abner explained the time travel conundrum of the box, before revealing that Troughton (absent from this episode again) is playing a man over 500 years old.
It’s hardly breaking new ground for Troughton, of course, and it’s been hinted at before, but it’s compelling, and adds depth to the story. I’d also argue it ends up as a far better cliffhanger than the waterfall.
There are odd things elsewhere in the episode. The continual lack of concern over the number of people disappearing is probably chief among them. Maria’s return is marked by Cole Hawlings, the Bishop Of Tatchester and Caroline-Louisa all disappearing. And for the third episode running, the Inspector makes one phone call, and that’s your lot. It’s a bit of a leap of faith, made still harder to swallow by then cutting to a newspaper headline about missing clergy. Abner’s dungeon is clearly not small, we can pretty much determine that.
Other things of note, aside from the absence of all that snow? Well, Abner Brown’s dressing gown collection extended, and we also got to see something of his swimwear range. While he’s doing that, Kay tries to break into his college, making a lot of noise as he does so. Predictably, it’s the silent Peter who gets captured, though, and he too is taken off to reside at Abner’s residence for a bit.
We also get to see that Abner can spy on his henchmen via a fantasy James Bond-esque crystal ball gadget, and we continue to get lovely dialogue and language, that translates to the screen really very well.
It’s an important episode, this one, given that it starts to escalate matters by the end. But it has the same patience and diligence that’s made the show so magical to catch up with so far.
There’s a lot of The Box Of Delights that doesn’t bear too close scrutiny, I’m discovering more and more, but there’s not been an episode yet I’ve not enjoyed watching again. Plus it’s very, very festive.
Next time? It’s the penultimate instalment. See you then…
Read our look back at the last episode, here.