At last, a long-overdue DVD release for DARK SEASON, first full-length TV drama for Russell T Davies, BAFTA winning executive producer of the hugely-successful DOCTOR WHO revival on BBC1.
Written in 1991 under the original unwieldy title THE ADVENTURESOME THREE, DARK SEASON consists of two three-part science-fiction adventure stories for children and, in all honesty, this is DOCTOR WHO without the TARDIS. The Doctor is there in the form of Marcie, a peculiar dumpy little schoolgirl carrying a rucksack and armed with a handy paddle. Marcie is a strange one; she speaks in riddles, is deeply portentous and, it has to be said, is the sort of geeky anorak kid other kids would happily cross the road to avoid. Marcie’s companions are the gormless Thomas (Chandler) and the chunky Reet (Kate “I was in TITANIC, you know” Winslet) who trail behind in her mysterious wake.
DARK SEASON takes its cues from DOCTOR WHO in so many ways. Visually it resembles late 80s WHO, with superficially impressive special effects and an air of desperate cheapness about the proceedings. What raises DARK SEASON above any number of long-forgotten kids serials though, is Davies’ slick, pacey scripts. Characters are well-drawn and believable and Davies avoids that most hideous of kid’s TV traps in that he doesn’t write down for his audience. The two stories are literate and witty in the first a mysterious benefactor donates free computers to all the kids in the threesome school for a deeply sinister purpose and in the second a bunch of neo-Nazis excavate a long-dormant war machine buried below the school playing fields. Colin Cant’s inventive direction disguises any budget deficiencies and there’s an exuberance about the whole series, Davies getting to write for his beloved DOCTOR WHO in the only way available to him two years after the classic TV series shuffled off the screen.
But DARK SEASON is a product of its age and it has dated a bit. The kids are generally a bit too mannered, they’re shot through with the ‘this is super, everything really wizard!’ sensibilities of even the best kid’s TV and as the star of the show Marcie gets more and more annoying and patronising as each episode rolls by. But ultimately this is exciting, intelligent stuff and the cast treat it all with utter respect. The reliable Brigit Forsyth is a hoot as the sceptical teacher Miss Maitland and Grant Parsons and Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan from Blake’s 7) are respectively menacing and camp as a row of tens as the baddies Eldritch and Miss Pendragon. Lots of fun and, with the BBC directing its children’s TV at a pre-school audience and ITV angling to give up its commitment to children’s programming altogether, DARK SEASON and the subsequent CENTURY FALLS stand as wonderful testaments to a tradition of exciting kid’s drama which was already dying back in the early 1990s.
THE DISC: Despite a cover warning about the potential variable quality of the archive material DARK SEASON looks crisp and colourful, albeit a bit washed-out in the way that videotaped outside broadcast drama from the 1990s always does. Russell T Davies always gives good commentary and it’s a crying shame he’s not able to provide one here but at the moment he’s busy rescuing British TV from Reality Hell so we can excuse him for having his hands full. There’s some compensation in the form of a well-researched production booklet by TV archivist Andrew Pixley.
Review Originally Published 26 Jul 2006
Review by Paul Mount