Saturday, 28 February 2015

Serial offender - Dark Season (1991 CBBC)

Another delve into the murky world of childrens "serial" type programs has me arrive at one of the more highly regarded examples to come out of early 90's kids TV.....

Lets set the scene shall we..its the late 1980s, and a young man named Russell T Davies is working as a producer on the CBBCs summertime filler program called "Why Don't You?" (oddly enough, this show also featured a young Ant McPartlin in a segment showing how to make sandwiches..I digress). After he made numerous changes to the format of the show, he decided it would be a groovy idea to try his hand at screenwriting. He came up with the concept for a show named "The Adventuresome Three" and, abusing the BBCs internal mail system, he made sure that the script was put into the hands of the head of Childrens Programming, where it was promptly put in a drawer and forgotten about for 18 months.
Davies was not to be contacted about his scribblings until late spring of 1991, when Tony Robinson decided he wanted a break from writing and producing "Maid Marian and her Merry Men" , thus a gap in CBBCs schedules occurred.

Changing the name of the show to "Dark Season", because "The Adventuresome Three" sucked, filming began on the first three parter story, which began airing on the 14th of November 1991, and continued for the next six weeks, with two 3 part stories forming the first, and only series.

The series is sort of semi famous for featuring a very young Kate Winslet in one of her many roles before she got her tits out in Titanic, and also featured many people associated with British TV shows from the 70s and early 80s, chief among them being Jaqueline Pearce, who starred as Servalan in Blakes 7, and who had feature din another successful CBBC serial "Moondial" a few years before.

As is the norm for a CBBC serial, the heroes of the piece are teenaged children, with the leader of the three being the 13 year old "Marcie", who is basically an extremely skeptical paranoid conspiracy theorist detective type, and her two older mates, Reet and Tom, whose job it is story wise is to get into trouble in some fashion and/or provide much needed clues to Marcie so she can figure out whats going on.

Things get weird when one day a fleet of vans arrives at their school and the mysterious and sinister "Mr. Eldrich" announces that he is giving one of his new "Abyss" computers (a mixture of rebadged Acorn Archemedes computers and some early 90s laptops) to every child, free of charge.
Marcie gets suspicious as the idea of someone giving away thousands of pounds worth of computer equipment to school children means they must have some sort of ulterior motive....cue some sci-fi techno thriller elements which have links to the cold war..and the story moves on to its second part, in which a team of archeologists find some interesting ruins in the grounds of the school, however the ancient ruins turn out to be a cover story for something far more sinister involving cold war politics, and bizarrely, neo-nazi ideology...

Although the series was intended to just be a bit of "filler" until regular programming resumed, "Dark Season" ended up being something so completely different form the norm that it made a distinct impression on those who watched it. For a start, it more resembled adult drama than a childrens program, with a dark and intelligent storyline, albeit one simplified for consumption by a younger audience.
As Russell T Davies was a fan of Doctor Who, he incorporated many elements and references familiar to Who fans into the characters and storyline, most of which would be lost on anyone not familiar with the show, or anyone not familiar with BBC sci-fi in general (oddly, references to Dark Season have turned up in more modern Doctor Who, both on TV and in the books).
The shows only bad points is that due to its limited running time, the storys end up having that extreme "rushed" feel to them, which works fine for less sophisticated shows, but with something as high concept as what Dark Season was, it gives it the distinct feel that the BBC werent really concerned with the shows content, only that it had something to fill the empty programming block with, which to be fair, is what the BBC tends to do regardless of the programming genre.

Still, despite its flaws, Dark Season is still quite rightly a highly regarded bit of a kids TV curio, and we have never since seen anything like it in the kids schedules, and are extremely unlikely to either being as kids shows in this day and age don't like to provide any content which challenges the viewers mental capacities.

Dark Season is one of the few CBBC childrens serials to be released on DVD, although now out of print, it can still be found for purchase online, although it is somewhat rare. It can also be found to view by other means for those who know where to look.

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