Disturbing children’s television

Talking to a friend some time ago, I was reminded of some really disturbing kid’s TV shows I watched as a child which have stayed with me all these years. The show we were talking about was based on a novel called Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr. My friend remembered the 1988 movie Paperhouse but I remembered the earlier ATV show Escape Into Night (from – dare I say – 1972). This from wikipedia:

Escape Into Night deals with a young girl, Marianne, whose drawings become the basis for dreams, and how the dividing line between dreams and reality blurs.

I remember particularly the girl, in a fit of pique, drawing some monsters which – chillingly – become real. That got me thinking about other shows I enjoyed from that era which had a disturbing element to them that – and I’m happy to be proved wrong here – I believe is missing from more modern children’s television fare.

Timeslip was a British children’s science fiction television series made by ATV for the ITV network and broadcast between 1970 and 1971. The series centres around two children who discover the existence of a strange anomaly, known as the “Time Barrier”, that enables them to travel in time to different historical periods in alternate pasts and futures.

I remember in particular the kids meeting their grown up selves in a future world wracked by climate change. Quite a mindfrak for a youngster.

Ace of Wands was a fantasy-based British children’s television show broadcast on ITV between 1970 and 1972. The title, taken from the name of a Tarot card describes the principal character, called “Tarot” who combined stage magic with supernatural powers.

This had a pretty funky theme tune and some really weird magical goings on.

The Changes posits a Britain where a sudden enveloping noise emanating from all machinery and technology causes the population to destroy them. The resulting upheaval displaces many people and reverts society back to a pre-industrial age where there is a deep suspicion of anyone who may be harbouring machinery. Even the words for technology are taboo. The remnants of modern technology that escape destruction (such as electricity pylons) produce a physical and sometimes violent repulsion among those left in Britain.

I remember that weird noise and the fact no-one could use machinery. It turned out it was all the doing of a reawakened Merlin…

Children of the Stones followed the adventures of astrophysicist Adam Brake and his young son Matthew after they arrive in the small village of Milbury, which is built in the midst of a megalithic stone circle.

All was not well in the village and I’ve never looked at standing stones the same since. The shrieky theme tune was also seriously scary.

The Tomorrow People concerned the emergence of the next stage of human evolution (Homo superior) known colloquially as Tomorrow People. Born to human parents, an apparently normal child might at some point between childhood and late adolescence experience a process called “breaking out”, when they develop their special abilities. These abilities include psionic powers such as telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation. However, their psychological makeup prevents them from intentionally killing others.

This made a big impression on me. Not only the fact that a normal school boy could develop telepathic and teleportation powers, and that this was part of normal evolution, but one of the first stories I remember dealt with the factionalisation of his school into supporters of Green or Blue – a series of events controlled by an alien race that had used a similar trick to cause upheaval in ancient Rome and feed on the resulting violence.

The Owl Service was an eight-part television series based on the fantasy novel of the same name by Alan Garner. It used editing techniques such as jump cuts to create a sense of disorientation and also to suggest that two time periods overlapped. The direction was quite radical and seemed to be influenced by the avant-garde, a noted contrast to what might be expected of a children’s serial.

The Owl Service was seriously frakked up. I’ve since watched the DVDs as an adult and it’s even more frakked up than my young self remembered.

And of course the adult series Out of the Unknown fired the feverish imaginings of a young SF tragic…

Out of the Unknown was a British television science fiction anthology drama series, produced by the BBC and broadcast on BBC2 in four series between 1965 and 1971. Each episode was a dramatisation of a science fiction short story. Some were written directly for the series, but most were adaptations of already published stories.

Especially the episode ‘Get Off My Cloud’ about a psychiatrist that travels into the mind of a madman in order to lead him back to sanity (featuring Daleks in the prologue!).

There are other shows I can recall but whose names escape me. Happy to have my memory jogged though!

Picture credit: Screencapture from region 2 DVD, Timeslip: The Day of the Clone, “Episode 6”, Fair use

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