Supernatural & Scary Dramas: Part Two

Remember when ITV tried to take on Doctor Who with Ace Of Wands? But what about Sky or Star Maidens? Or even Children Of The Stones? Let Alex tell more...

Examples of television's devotion to scaring children...

Read part one of this series here

During the early 70s, ITV had several attempts at emulating Doctor Who. The first was Ace Of Wands, the adventures of a magician called Tarot. Then there was Timeslip. Two children travelled across dimensions with the aid of a special belt. Both series had the right kind of quirky credentials, but The Tomorrow People, a series about children with special powers, probably came nearest to the Timelord’s adventures.

Sapphire and Steel was originally pitched as a children’s drama and the resultant series certainly was supernatural and scary but not aimed specifically at kids despite its relatively early pre-watershed timeslot. All these series are fondly remembered and not without a scary moment or two, however, there are several notable serials that have more scary scenes than all the above put together.SKY(1975)

A strange blond haired boy seemingly from another world arrives on Earth. Very much an anti-hero, Sky realises he’s missed “the chaos” and proceeds to put this right.

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Played with icy indifference by Mark Harrison, Sky is very much a stranger in a strange land. His detachment fails to endear him to two farm children and he eventually meets his match in a “green man”-like spirit called Goodchild.

The scenes between Sky and Goodchild are well realised for the time despite an overuse of chromakey to create the visual effects. Sky stands up well to contemporary scrutiny. Mark Harrison must have had the patience of a saint to wear the uncomfortable contact lenses required by the character.

Ultimately a weird tale for kids which updates some of the countryside’s myths and legends. It concluded appropriately at Stonehenge. Arguably the small screen was already doing for kids what the near-contemporary David Bowie movie The Man Who Fell to Earth was about to do for the big screen.

STAR MAIDENS (1976)

Future Blake’s 7 star Gareth Thomas featured in this fantasy series about the planet Mendusa, which is ruled by women. Men were the subservient race confined to hard work and a life of drudgery whilst the women lived in luxury.

Two men Shem (Thomas) and Adam (Pierre Brice) steal a spaceship and head for Earth. On Earth Professor Evans (Derek Farr) monitors the two men’s strange arrival. Supreme Councillor Fulvia (Judy Geeson), a forerunner of Supreme Commander Servalan in Blake’s 7 – at least in name – kidnaps the professor’s young colleagues Rudi and Liz.

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Failing to use her hostages as a bargaining chip for the return of the escapees,  Fulvia instead takes them back to Mendusa. A battle then ensues between Earth and Mendusan “Star Maidens”

More fantasy than supernatural, the series ran to thirteen episodes . It wasn’t fully networked by ITV and thus acquired a bit of a cult status. It’s worth noting the President of Mendusa was played by Dawn Addams. Genre fans would recognise Addams from a very similar role she played in the cult film Zeta One.CHILDREN OF THE STONES (1977)

The busy Gareth Thomas and Ian Cuthbertson headed the cast of this drama, perhaps ITV’s best remembered serial of the era. Unusually for a children’s drama there is as much prominence given to the adults as the kids. Ian Cuthbertson, noted for his likeable ebullience, here gives perhaps his most sober and subdued performance. Gareth Thomas is excellent in this tale of strange goings on in an otherwise sleepy English village. There are shades of Children of The Damned and The Wicker Man and the unsettling atmosphere is worthy of any low budget horror of the era.

Essentially the story is of science verses magic and superstition with Gareth Thomas’ scientist Professor Adam Brake and his son Matthew coming up against Cuthbertson as Raphael Hendrick, who believes the paranormal activities and in particular the stone circle surrounding the village, can be explained by divining ley lines and such like.

Hendrick has the ability to control people, in particular the unfortunate village idiot Dai (Freddie Jones), with the use of an amulet. Hendrick manages to turn the villagers over to his will one by one until Brake and his son Matthew are the only ones able to maintain their own freewill.

Brake manages to defeat Hendrick and the village appears to return to normal. In fact the cycle has just begun again. In a chilling coda, upon leaving the village for the last time Matthew passes a strange figure bearing the face of a younger version of Hendrick who is returning in the opposite direction.

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KING OF THE CASTLE (1977)

Harlech Television the local ITV service based in Wales was the home of weird and wonderful dramas. King Of The Castle was amongst the weirdest. A very effective allegorical serial, King of The Castle explored the psychological effects of living in a tower block. The hero was shy teenager Roland Wright (Philip Da Costa) and his experience of bullying by those around him at home, school and in the tower block fuelled his fantastic dreams and nightmares.

A top notch cast was headed by Fulton McKay, Angela Richards and Talfryn Thomas. McKay played Mr Spurgeon the headmaster but who in the dream sequences was a mad scientist called Hawkspur. Richards was Roland’s stepmother June who in the fantasy world appears as a witch called Lady, whilst Thomas played the creepy in real life (and positively ghoulish in the fantasy) concierge of the flats and the labyrinth respectively. The story set a trend for children’s gothic horror drama.Next Friday, why 1978 was arguably the BBC’s best year for the genre. An Edwardian girl  meets the Tudors in A Traveller in Time, psychological conspiracy thriller Touch and Go and Arthurian countryside melodrama The Moon Stallion…