Classic TV

Lost Gems: The One Game (1988)

Patrick Malahide and Stephen Dillane in The One Game

The story of Merlin and King Arthur has been around for centuries, so it’s not surprising that every so often, someone wants to retell it*. Most recently, we’ve had the BBC series Merlin, but there have been numerous other retellings including the Sam Neill mini-series Merlin, the movie Excalibur, the Clive Owen historical, King Arthur, and mild American 70s sitcom Mr Merlin.

Back in the 80s though, there was a more subtle adaptation of the myth set in modern times. Starring Patrick Malahide (Minder et al) as the Merlin-esque ‘Magnus’ and Stephen Dillane (Hamlet, Spy Game, Welcome to Sarajevo) as Nick, the King Arthur of the piece, The One Game posited the question: “What would have happened if Arthur had been made King with Merlin’s help – and then Arthur had kicked him out?”

This being the 80s, however, for the retelling Nick was the MD of a games company and Magnus was the creator of his best-selling game, thrown out and sent to a mental asylum after he couldn’t handle Nick’s rejection of his newest invention. Magnus escapes from the asylum and using his near-magical skills, steals all Nick’s company’s assets and plans his further revenge.

What made The One Game so interesting and worthy of being described as a Lost Gem was its then-unique concept: during the course of the four episodes, set over a Bank Holiday weekend, everyone Nick meets – including friends and loved-ones – and everything he does and comes across may be part of ‘The One Game’, a live-action and possibly deadly game invented by Magnus to teach Nick a lesson.

It was only ever shown once on ITV1, was released on DVD but is no longer available. It’s The One Game and it’s a Lost Gem. Here’s the the opening titles to the second episode, Saturday, complete with theme tune sung in Patagonian Welsh and annoying 80s narrator recapping just enough of the plot for you to know what’s going on.

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Classic TV

Lost Gems: Ultraviolet

Let’s face it, vampires are silly. Yes, they are. They so are. Unless you’re stuck in some perpetual Twilight of gothdom/Emodom, the whole “vampiredom is cool/mysterious/sexy/dark/a great way to live” should have been replaced in your psyche by vampiredom is “sad/ridiculous/obvious metaphor for oral sex and venereal diseases” years ago.

To be fair, in part, that’s because of the daftness of general TV depictions of vampires, which should have put you off them altogether. The vampires on Buffy very quickly became laughable and Angel very rapidly became self-parody. The Marc Warren Dracula adaptation was awful, and no matter how good the 1970s BBC adaptation with Louis Jourdan was, his flapping his way up a wall like an overladen man on a spacehopper was enough to cause hysterics – and not the frightened kind – in any viewer.

But it needn’t be so. As Being Human in the UK and to a lesser extent True Blood in the US recently showed, you can do vampires convincingly in this day and age if you do them right.

Ten years ago, Channel 4 did the first – and possibly the best – of the modern vampire stories. Starring Jack Davenport, Susannah Harker and Idris Elba of The Wire, Ultraviolet managed to bring science, intelligence, moral ambiguity, decent characters and all the hallmarks of modern storytelling to the vampire story – all without saying the word ‘vampire’ once.

Although it’s been repeated and issued on DVD, it’s hard to get now (although you can watch every episode on YouTube) as it’s been deleted, so it’s officially a Lost Gem. Here’s a shiny fan-produced trailer for you, albeit one with a very bad choice in soundtrack:

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Classic TV

Lost Gems: Look Around You – Series One

Look Around You

If you grew up during the 80s (or even the 70s) in the UK, like me, you were probably subjected to some pretty rubbish teaching programmes during science classes – they were usually narrated by Chris Tarrant, if that helps jog your memory. Joe has just reminded me of the marvellous first series of Look Around You, in which Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz mercilessly and very surreally sent up “television for schools and colleges”.

I won’t say too much about it, since it really does speak for itself. Here’s a scary clip of the ‘Helvetica Scenario’ from the pilot episode, Calcium, for those that just want a sample.

For those with more time and who liked that taster, here’s the entire pilot episode. Be warned, you will feel a palpable sensation of nostalgia within about five seconds if you are over 30 and British.

And here’s the Sulphur episode, which is one of my favourites:

If you’re in the US, you can watch all the episodes (with a few adverts) on Adult Swim‘s web site,  since it’s currently airing on Sunday nights. If you’re in the UK, if you loved it, you can buy the whole series, including pilot episode, on DVD.

There was also a second series that sent up Tomorrow’s World and Micro Live, but it wasn’t as good IMHO – although it was still pretty hilarious at times. Here’s a sample – you can get it on DVD, too.

PS: At no point should you rely on Look Around You for accurate scientific information.

Lost Gems: Sky (1975)

Sky

The 70s was a great time for TV. Whether it was drama, comedy, documentary or stupid escapist tatt, the 70s turned up some of the best television ever made – although sometimes ambition exceeded either the budget or the technology.

Even kids TV was great, particularly if it was science-fiction or fantasy. Not only was it well made, it was intelligent. Whether you watched the Beeb and caught Doctor Who, The Changes or The Moon Stallion, for example, or watched ITV and tuned in for Timeslip, Ace of Wands or Children of the Stones*, you could pretty much be guaranteed something interesting that made you think.

The reasons for the high quality of kids’ sci-fi TV are clear. Not only were there people with an ethos of creating decent programming for kids at both networks, a competitive duopoly that encouraged innovation and a captive audience with little else to do but watch tele, thus avoiding lowest common denominator worries, there was access to really good, high grade hallucinogenic drugs.

Whether it was magic mushrooms, LSD or even peyote, TV writers were knocking back quite extravagant amounts of not quite illegal substances, giving them a new view on reality, writing and the creative process.

Sky is perhaps the most obvious example of a kids’ show written by people on drugs**. Created by Bob Baker and Dave Martin in 1975, it was a curious seven-part serial about an alien that comes to Earth.

So far, so simple, no?

What differentiates it from other similar fare is that it’s clearly off its face. Sky is a time traveller with incredible powers from another dimension. Or maybe another universe. Except he might be a god. Just like Jesus and any other religious figure in fact, since they were all time-travellers too.

He’s arrived here before the correct time – we’re still “before the chaos” – and needs to get to the future where he can show the surviving people of the Earth the right way to live in harmony with the Earth. Trouble is, the Earth of today senses that’s he’s alien and tries to repel him, just like an immune system repelling a bacterium. While he searches for ‘the Juganet’ – the way to the future – Sky is attacked by trees and plantlife, before eventually the Earth creates something in human form – ‘Ambrose Goodchild’ – to destroy Sky.

It’s never been repeated, it’s never been released on VHS or DVD, but you can watch it some of it on YouTube. It’s a Lost Gem. Here’s the title sequence followed by a clip to get you in the mood. You might need to be taking something though.

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