I look at Children of the Stones, the 1977 British miniseries just out on Region 1 DVD (it’s been available in Region 2 for years), and I think: Simon Pegg saw this as a kid. Russell T. Davies saw this as a kid. David Tennant saw this as a kid. This intensely creepy show is what made an entire generation of British kids the grown-up geeks they are today.
Okay, sure: It’s kinda goofy, too, but if I’d seen this as a kid — apparently it aired in the States on Nickelodeon in the early 80s, but only the cool kids had cable then — it would have scared the crap out of me. And when I wasn’t laughing at it now, I was having the crap scared out of me still, I’m not ashamed to admit. These are seven half-hour episodes of deeply ooky stuff, the precisely perfect blend of real, hard science with mystical folklore and wacked-out science fantasy: it’s all ley lines and standing stones (think Stonehenge, but without the tourists) and time bubbles and supernovas and eerie moaning music on the soundtrack, with some Village of the Damned scary-type conformity thrown in for good measure.
Scientist Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas, who would go on to play Roj Blake in the cult sci-fi series Blake’s Seven right after this) and his teenage son, Matthew (Peter Demin), come to the village of Milbury so Adam can investigate the mysterious neolithic stones circling the village. They plan to stay for a few months, but pretty soon everyone from the sinister town elder (Iain Cuthbertson) and the even more sinister housekeeper (Ruth Dunning) who’s looking after the Brakes begins to imply that no one ever leaves Milbury. After all, who would want to leave? It’s so pleasant here! Everyone is endlessly cheery and goes around chirping “Happy day!” at one another all the time. Except for the keeper of the museum of local history, Margaret (Veronica Strong) and her daughter, Sandra (Katharine Levy), Matthew’s new schoolmate — they seem immune, so far, to whatever the hell is turning everyone else into a Stepford zombie. It all has something to do with the stones…
In the new interview with Gareth Thomas in the bonus material, he says he was drawn to this kiddie project by its “cracking good script.” And it is cracking, for all the 70s-riffic cheesiness we can’t help but see in it today. It reminds me, in some ways, of the similarly unsettling series Land of the Lost we American kiddies were exposed to at the same time: fantasy nonsense stirred up with serious science fiction with just enough mind-warping power to make it unforgettable. And its very much like the Doctor Who incarnation of that era. (I’d bet good money, in fact, that the 1978 Doctor Who story “The Stones of Blood,” also about a mysterious stone circle that is more than what it seems, was inspired by this.) It’s inescapably haunting, even if you see it now, for the first time, as an adult.
Want a hint of the creepiness? Check out the opening credits and the first few minutes of the first episode, and then try to sleep tonight: