What's lovely about Dark Season is its ambition. This is trying to be "proper" telly. Bear in mind this was made at the same time as dross like Watt On Earth.
This isn't patronising TV - it's got quality sets, camera work and lighting. The latter is especially good - both Blake's 7 and 80s Doctor Who would have killed for lighting so subtle that Behemoth's underground lair actually looks like an underground lair.
It's like a modern, smart take on those Children's Film Foundation shows of the 70s - where children know best, can handle big threats, and are able to bully the odd eccentric into taking part.
It's a shame that it's the grown ups that aren't taking it seriously - some of the smaller parts are appallingly done.
The kids however are great - especially Victoria Lamber's Marcie, a bullying monster of a heroine. I wonder what's she's doing now?
Rather tellingly Dark Seasons has long since been wiped from my particular archive, while Russell T Davies’ second children’s fantasy drama, Century Falls still remains buried in a box somewhere.
Dark Season contains a lot that is likeable, but is perhaps a bit too over ambitious. It’s a game two halves, Brian with the first dealing with the infiltration of a school by Mr Eldritch, the benefactor whose free computers prove deadly, and the second dealing with neo-Nazi plan by Miss Pendragon to awaken the Behemoth, an AI supercomputer. One story would have done, but with two the budget is stretched and corners are cut, resulting in blond wigs etc.
Luckily, some fine performances and direction save the day, with special mention going to Brigit Forsyth as the teacher who’s out of her depth and Jacqueline Pearce as Miss Pendragon, who I can watch open an envelope.
But then there’s Marcie... Yes, the character is interesting; totally different any that was on screen at the time, but that doesn’t make her likeable. Pushy, demanding and all-knowing - I cringed a lot of the time she was on the screen. Fortunately, in victory Victoria Lambert makes her so joyous that you almost warm to her.
All in all a bit of a mixed bag.
I was a little old to catch Dark Season first time around, so it's interesting to watch it from a non-nostalgic viewpoint. This is definitely a show with prime-time potential, rather than the Chuckle Brothers with (intentionally) scary overtones. I used to loathe kids' TV that actually starred kids - child actors almost always made me cringe, as their forced stage school mannerisms had yet to soften - but I found myself warming to the Dark Season team, particularly Victoria Lambert's quirky but oddly cool Marcie.
It was quite odd to actually be excited by it at times too, something that I rarely felt during even the best moments of Doctor Who's twilight years.
The cod Nazi angle left me cold though, definitly a product of the 'Allo 'Allo / Indiana Jones school of Germanic stereotyping. To be fair, the dodgy blonde wigs are no worse than Freddie Prinze Jnr's one in the recent Scooby Doo movie - hairpiece technology is obviously not a science that's moving forward quite as fast as CGI, it would seem.
Subtlety and Jacqueline Pearce are two concepts that rarely feature in the same sentence, but I do take guilty pleasure at her exuberant theatrics. Yes, she does burst the bubble of credibility at every opportunity, but there just isn't enough high camp in today's overly gritty TV drama world.
As Russell T Davies recently said about the secret of great TV, "Good writing good!" - and this is often very, very good.
I'd have loved this as a kid. There was never enough fantasy on TV for me, particularly fantasy suggesting that the fat unpopular kids at school had the real insight into what was really going on.
As you might have guessed, seeing this programme at 13 would have done wonders for my self esteem.
Even as an adult, there's good stuff here. The continuous menacing whomping of the behemoth is very effective, and it's refreshing to be told a story with some sort of mythic depth for once - a rarity across all TV nowadays. But there's more that misses the mark, maybe because I, alone in the Cult Team, cannot see the point of Jacqueline Pearce.
She plays everything as if she's in some sort of alternative S&M panto, with a stageyness that would do the average school play proud, and it's just terrible here. Winslett and the other child actors can't manage the understatement needed for total realism, and when you add Pearce virtually goose-stepping her way through every scene, any possible suspension of disbelief just collapses.
My verdict? Nice try, good story, but ruined by silly stunt casting.