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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Children of the Stones (review)

Geek Maker

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:

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

  • Oh, yes. I saw this one summer visiting my dad (who’d gotten cable as a way of making up for the whole divorce trauma). It was creepy and compelling and … gah. I still remember when my husband casually mentioned he’d picked up the DVD (because he’s a Blake’s 7 fan who wanted to see how Gareth Thomas had done in this non-Roj role). He was surprised to learn that I’d not only seen it, but had very vivid memories of it. It’s the kind of story that sticks with you.

  • Barb

    I picked up the R2 DVDs about a year ago because I was curious to see Gareth in another role other than Blake as well (I’ve seen him in more recent productions such as Torchwood, Randall & Hopkirk, and Midsomer Murders). I thought it was interesting.

  • Paula Longhurst

    I didn’t know you could get this on DVD. It was on ITV pre-video so you had to sit and watch it after school. I was glued and you are right MaryAnn it did scare the crap out of me – I wonder if Steven Moffat watched it too – scary stone figures anyone. Iain Cuthbertson saying ‘it is time’ used to send shivers down my spine.

    Both the beeb and ITV did some great children’s drama. The other one I can vaguely remember was called ‘The Changes’ – I think! and it was about a device that accidentally activated which destroyed all modern technology but it wasn’t as creepy as COOS.

  • Barb

    There are a lot of shows out there on R2 that all you need do is search for them. Another one I tried out recently was The Owl Service which I thought had a gothic feel to as well.

  • Patrick

    “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.”

    I’m glad you noticed that about Land Of The Lost. Most people just remember it being silly (which it certainly was- and I won’t even get into its declining quality each season it was on), but some of the ideas in it were so strange and heady for a kids show. For example, the land of the lost is a tiny, closed universe and if one climbs a high enough peak and looks out using binoculars they can see their own back. Plus, the place has a related but somehow separate history from that of Earth’s, with reptiles having evolved into a sentient species. Cheesy as it was, it really made me think as a kid. Those are just two examples of many. I will have to check out Children Of The Stones. Thinks for reviewing it!

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