Lost Gems: Children of the Dog Star (1984)

Spooky goings on in New Zealand

Did you know there’s this tribe in Africa called the Dogon? There really is – this is true. What’s particularly interesting about the Dogon is that they have this weird relationship with the star, Sirius – aka the Dog Star – which is the brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere. Exciting astronomy fact of the day: Sirius is actually a binary star – there’s a great big star and around it orbits a tiny white dwarf star that’s impossible for the naked eye (and even most telescopes) to detect: its presence was only inferred mathematically in 1844.

And the Dogon knew that there was a second star there. In fact, they reckon there’s a third star there, too. And in 1995, some evidence emerged that there might well be a brown dwarf in orbit around the two main stars.

Freaky, huh?

Now there are various explanations for this that I won’t go into, but back in in 1984, enterprising New Zealand TV station TVNZ created a six-part children’s TV series, Children of the Dog Star, in which it was suggested the Dogon know all this because they were visited by an alien probe from Sirius thousands of years ago that told them all this. That wasn’t the only probe, however, and out in a New Zealand swamp, the remains of another probe might still exist, waiting to be reactivated.

Here’s the title sequence:

On holiday at her uncle’s farm in New Zealand, Gretchen befriends Ronny, a Māori boy with a troubled city past, and Bevis the birdwatching son of a loathed developer. Tension is already high as the developer wants to buy and drain a local swamp for a housing estate, but Ronny’s uncle is the guardian of a traditional Māori tapu (taboo/curse) upon the swamp. The swamp must not be touched—something sleeps there that must not be awakened. Something unnatural.

Gradually, the children discover the pieces of an ancient alien space probe named Kolob. During the series they assemble the missing parts and strange things start to happen. The probe was one of three sent to earth to educate the human race in science. In the end a communication link is set up with the star Sirius B, from where the probe came, and the aliens tell them they should not have interfered.

Is it any good?
It’s actually quite a creepy little series, building up tension slowly over the six episodes. The action revolves largely around Gretchen noticing that the brass weathervane on her uncle’s house – a weathervane discovered in the swamp – moves of its own volition rather than because of the wind. In modern CCTV style, we can see what the weathervane is looking at, ensuring a certain creepiness in which the children heroes of the story are always being watched, and we can hear the weathervane talking to itself.

Gradually, it becomes clear the weathervane is sentient and can communicate in a fashion. Kolob as it’s called convinces the children to collect the rest of itself up from the swamp. As they add more and more bits to Kolob, its powers become stronger and stronger, becoming able to stop electrical equipment and even time itself, until eventually it’s able to communicate with home base: Sirius.

What’s interesting about this is that this isn’t the start of an alien invasion. Its creators designed it to educate but now they don’t want it back. It’s done its job already and it should have been left in pieces, so that it doesn’t impart any more information to the human race. So the children then have to dismantle Kolob for the sake of humanity’s stable development.

It’s all rather well done, with the final revelation of the aliens actually quite well executed – starts about four minutes in on the first video then skip to the next scene in the second video.

Although New Zealand TV had done some good, spooky stuff before with things like Children of Fire Mountain, this was one of its first forays into science-fiction and the modern day and it proved a refreshing change from the usual UK and US fare that British children’s TV showed at the time (as well as some of the more staid and even weird European series such as Oscar, Kina And The Laser). With elements of Māori mythology as well as astronomy, it was an intelligent show, winning the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival as well as the 1984 New Zealand Feltex Best Drama Award, and thankfully, it’s been made available on DVD (in New Zealand, anyway). Oh well. Until then, there’s YouTube for people in the UK


  • 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.