Looking back at The Box Of Delights episode 5: Beware Of Yesterday

The penultimate episode of The Box Of Delights lacks Patrick Troughton, but compensates in other ways...

The Box Of Delights

There’s less on an explicit cliffhanger to pick up from at the beginning of the penultimate episode of The Box Of Delights, Beware Of Yesterday. That said, it’s a more interesting one, and comfortably beats tumbling over a waterfall.

Last time, Abner Brown had basically spilled the background of Patrick Troughton’s character, and revealed the story of the box, and of Arnold Of Todi. Crucially for this episode, he’d also laid down the rules of time travel using the box, in that it’ll get you there, but it won’t get you back.

Kay, therefore, does the only logical thing he can do in such a situation, and calls upon the help of Herne The Hunter.

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Now, this might just be me, but I seem to recall Herne being a more sizeable character in The Box Of Delights in my mind than he’s proving to be on rewatching the show. That’s not to say he doesn’t pop up at pivotal moments, but he’s more of a fleeting presence than my brain thought. He does get a lovely effect on his voice, though. Let’s not gloss over that.

Herne’s job this time is to relay to Kay a way he can get to the past, and still manage to return. Basically, the idea is that Kay goes to sleep, and a shadow of him is sent into the past. The downside? He will literally have no shadow when he heads back in time, and when that’s quickly noticed, some men in Roman costumes from the BBC costume cupboard send Kay away to an island on a boat.

There’s not a sequence in The Box Of Delights, for my money, that goes from unconvincing to brilliant in quite the short space of time as Kay’s journey over the water. Watching the boat being pushed onto fake water, it looked odd even back in the 1980s. But come the computerised effects that accompany the sailing itself, all is forgiven. It’s like Tron, albeit with a lot less cash spent on it.

Said journey gets Kay firmly away from the snow, and this time to a sandy island, where Gandolf Lite, Arnold Of Todi himself, gets to hurl lightning bolts at him after a quick chat. He’s quite an angry man is our Arnold, although he does solidify some of the Box’s background. Naturally, Kay is eventually retrieved from the past to get back to his normal time, but it’s all very well done.

This all takes place in quite a short space of time, but it left me feeling, for all its flaws, that Beware Of Yesterday is perhaps the most enchanted feeling episode of the show. It moves between time, location and period well, and there’s a magical sense underpinning it all.

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Mind you, by now, Robert Stephens’ Abner Brown has traded in some of his more sinister traits for full-on panto villain, with some chuckle-worthy lines to go with it.

He’s in a constant, incessant rage, and manages to fall into one of the key traps of villainy: never piss off your henchman. Locking up Chubby Joe was always an idea doomed to come back at him.

I love their exchange at the start of the episode, though, where Joe is trying to reason with Abner, by saying they should exchange the many prisoners in the dungeon for the reward money that’s now being offered. “It’s £25 even for a choirboy, and we scrobbled a lot of those” is the kind of line you don’t hear often enough.

Beware Of Yesterday is far more focused on the main narrative, as you might expect, and as a consequence, we get to spend less time with the surrounding characters. That’s a shame, as the world of The Box Of Delights is what makes it so special, and the many other faces are essential to that feel. Mind you, Peter is still missing, and in line with everyone’s policy on such matters, nobody seems overly bothered. Not least, as always, the Inspector, who chirps out some stuff about “hobsession”.

The two main narrative paths are Abner, who now has riches that he wants to nab, and Kay. The two have been kept at arm’s length thus far, and it’s only when Abner has the conversation with the waterfall boy that it brings home just how odd it is that the two have avoided each other. Why has Abner been so dismissive of the fact that Kay would have been given the Box? Couldn’t tell you, but the penny is clearly about to drop.

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As is Kay, as it happens, with the cliffhanger leaving him Box-less, lying motionless on the ground, and in miniature form. That’s something that’s going to take some escaping from, and we’ll be chatting about how he manages it when we check out the final episode, and get to discuss the divisive ending. Until then…

Read our look back at episode 4, here.