Lost gems: Chocky

The sadness of difference

Given that Steven Spielberg decided yesterday to pick up the film rights to John Wyndham’s novel, Chocky, I’ve decided to postpone the original next entry in our ‘Lost Gems’ series, Chance in a Million, in favour of the 1980s Thames adaptation of Chocky. Okay, you can get it on DVD and watch it on YouTube, but what the hell, let’s go with it: here’s the title sequence.

Plot (nicked off the Amazon web site)

First transmitted in 1984, Chocky is a six-part TV adaptation of John Wyndham’s clever novel. Matthew, an apparently normal 12-year-old boy, starts talking to an invisible presence called Chocky, who quizzes him on a wide variety of subjects as if unfamiliar with life on Earth. Over the course of the serial it is suggested that Chocky is an alternate personality or, after Matthew has been helped by Chocky to rescue his sister from drowning, a guardian angel. But we realise early on that this non-imaginary friend is in fact an alien who has made exploratory contact with the boy. Though Chocky manifests as a swirl of blue light, this is a rare piece of TV science fiction that sticks to the domestic arena, exploring ideas rather than playing with special effects.

Wyndham’s very 1950s-styled novel is updated by making the kids less well-spoken, and throwing in Rubik’s cubes and space invaders video games, but adaptor Anthony Read’s script preserves the virtues of the novel. Young Andrew Ellams is fine in a demanding role, and there’s good-quality puzzled concern from dad James Hazeldine and 80s TV’s resident sexy mum Carol Drinkwater. Apart from a few eye-abusing 1984 fashions–Jeremy Bulloch’s huge glasses and blinding white jeans in a cameo as a psychiatrist–and the general leisurely pace, which is no bad thing in such a careful piece of drama, this has dated little. Those who remember its first broadcast will find it lives up to the memory, and those who weren’t born then should still find it an entertaining watch.

Why I reckon it’s still great

Okay, that was Kim Newman explaining why it was good. He’s always a good and reliable arbitrator of taste in such matters, so to a certain extent, that should be enough for you. But in case it isn’t, let me have a word in your shell-like.

Possibly the main reason for getting Chocky out on DVD, as old Kimmy suggests, is that this is a story about ideas, although I think it’s mainly a story of emotion. It’s about being different or an outsider, about fearing that there’s something wrong with your child, about loneliness and about friendship.

As the somewhat sad and haunting title music suggests, Chocky is in many ways a melancholic piece, as young Matthew Gore, initially an unremarkable child until the arrival of Chocky, slowly changes under her/his/its tutelage. He starts to look at the world differently and do things he couldn’t do before, which results in his becoming distant from his family and scrutinised as never before by the adult world.

The bulk of the story is from the perspective of Matthew’s father, played by James Hazeldine, who becomes increasingly worried that his son is schizophrenic. Yet, the schizophrenia also inexplicably gives Matthew odd ideas and abilities, such as a tendency to do his maths homework in binary or to draw and swim.

Eventually, it becomes apparent that Matthew has been ‘possessed’ by an alien, Chocky, who explores the universe only as a mind. She/he/it (they have no genders on Chocky’s world) wants to teach Matthew about the universe. For various reasons, Chocky decides to leave Matthew at the end of the story, but in keeping with the story’s sadness, no one regards the departure as an especially great thing, because Chocky has been Matthew’s friend – and he’s a sad as any child who’s had to say goodbye to a friend.

The story, as might be expected, is affecting in particular for parents and for anyone who “thought differently” or suffered loss when a child. Dramatically, the production still holds up and reminds you just how good ITV used to be at producing intelligent kids TV.

Chocky was popular enough that two original sequels, Chocky’s Children and Chocky’s Challenge, were written by the book’s adaptor, Anthony Read. Although of lesser quality than the original, they still proved decent bits of television, although Chocky’s Challenge did have some bad moments indeed.

As I said, you can watch pretty much the entire show and its sequels on YouTube in the usual 10 minute chunks. But here’s a collection of the episode recaps that should give you an idea of what happened in each episode, if you don’t have the time.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.