Saturday, December 30, 2006

XXXVII. INTO THE LABYRINTH (1981-1982)



In the 1970’s, HTV who served the West Country Broadcast in England, churned out some exceptional tales for the young audiences.

It gave us ‘The Clifton House Mystery’, ‘King of the Castle’ and the surreal fantasy chiller ‘Sky’. These supernaturally steeped serials were more mature than there intended audience and proved to be classic examples of British telefantasy not just singularly lame children’s drama.

Into the Labyrinth was an absolute gem and a fine example of the last of it’s’ kind. It still seems to have a mature undercurrent despite the serial lapsing into immature farce by its last season with only the female lead holding the events together with any credibility.

The series drew on the remarkable acting capabilities of the two lead protagonists played by Ron Moody and Pamela Salem. Both were cast in the roles of the adversary sorcerers Rothgo and Belor.

The first series began in 1981 and was shown in the 4.45 – 5.15 p.m slot. It was another gift to the young television audiences from producer Patrick Dromgoole and this time the story editing was achieved by Bob Baker, a familiar name in science fiction due to his story input with Dave Martin on a number of Doctor Who stories.

What is noticeable it’s the catchphrase ‘I deny you the Nidus!’ , shrieked at the end of every episode as Belor scatters the object through time setting the trio of adventurers onto their next encounter.

In most of his scripts for Doctor Who the trademark ‘mantra’ is also evident, ‘The Quest is the Quest’ (Underworld) and ‘Contact has been made….’ (The Invisible Enemy) immediately springs into the mind.

The three young leads are that of Helen, Terry and Phil. In the first season it seems they are a very fresh to their acting ability. They ‘look’ as though they are acting, they don’t seem to be the part, if this makes sense?

One noticeable flaw is Helens leap from true Cornish 'oooo-arrrrrr' stereotype to Chelsea grammar- within minutes; this is as much of interest to note as anything else. Something like this in modern television simply would not happen.

I suppose at least an attempt was made at local dialect. More promising was the outdoor filming using the mythical areas of Avebury and the Tor in Glastonbury. Both locations were wisely used before in Children of the Stones and Sky and that adds to the mystique of the drama.

Such rare places of mystery that still survive still manage to somehow conjure up another 'mystical' dimension without the assistance of the CGI or flash sfx because the atmosphere and locality, the depth of vistas and areas of enchantment can already be found. Children of the Stones has to be the nadir of this as much time was spent appreciating Avebury in the direction on location.

Such magical places seem to permeate the lens , the story, the actors and actresses, the feel and you might as well say the whole series as a whole. Into the Labyrinth does not feature any languid spectacles of outside broadcast but when it did it couldn't of chosen a better locality. Glastonbury, I consider , one of my personal 7 wonders I have experienced, I will always love Glastonbury.

Not the festival, but the town, go there one day but avoid the time of the aforementioned display of crude, mass marketing, it is glorious otherwise. I haven't been there in 2 years or more and I hope it hasn't gone to seed like most villages abandoned for the urban favouritist costs.

The thought of a fast food diner or a big supermarket or something just as gut sickeningly awful , bleeding the surrounding area dry of character, makes me want to weep.

Back to Into the Labyrinth and by the second series the juvenile actors and actresses seem well settled into their roles and eager to reprise and sacrifice all for Rothgo again.

The blueprint of this serial provides plenty of historical scope for the writers involved. Certain episodes take part at key moments in history and despite the meagre budgetary restrictions create quite vivid, atmospheric set pieces.

Another winner is the main leads different acting skills on display. Using the same actors but providing them with different characterisations also adds to the magic of the programme as well as demanding calibre from the star performers.

Despite the disguises of Rothgo and Belor being glaringly obvious who they are, it still doesn’t steer away any of the interest, as the acting skills are just as intriguing as anything offered to the eye.

Another triumph was Sidney Sagers haunting theme for Into the Labyrinth. A haunting vocal echoes, seemingly, around the cheddar gorge interior as Sager creates a gentile but very eerie melody.

I did note that this theme changes during season 2 and sounds awful, the haunting voice becomes really amateurish; it is as though the final version had got muddled with the demo and the latter made its way to the final cut.

Sagers' music doesn’t alter throughout the series fortunately and supplies ‘meat on the bone’ where necessary.

Surprisingly, irrespective of the vintage, 'Into the Labyrinth' features some decent ‘fast-paced’ direction, a usual hold back for it’s’ age. The battles between Rothgo and Belor are also very entertaining. Salem sports a tight black Lycra number and seems in her element as the cackling but enchantress.

The special effects are basic but most of the fight sequences are expertly choreographed din comparison to the bargain basement C.S.O and ‘spark’ overlay energy bolts. One however cannot admire the way Belor glides across the craggy interior, which has a natural unearthliness all of its’ own.

The C.S.O opportunity was milked for nearly all it can offer, the instances where the children enter the vortex is now cosily kitsch and still exciting after all this time.

Despite the series bearing a ‘younger audience’ in mind unlike its other stable mates, Into the Labyrinth doesn’t fall short on the chills.

Whenever the children go time travelling there is some truly unnerving maniacal laughter, it sounds like a genuinely disturbing audio recording to one hell of a ghost train ride, accompanies their journey through the vortex.

Another memorable instance of scare is Belors' face superimposed over a skull like stalagmite whilst chanting ’Perish….’

An obvious connection to Doctor Who was the choice of writers, due to this wise selection the scripts never fail John Lucarotti used to supply some first class efforts for early Doctor Who ‘historicals’, another writer is Bob Holmes , the writer who churned out arguably some of the best Doctor Who stories for the show.

It is no wonder then that the series was relatively successful, and another two series followed.

The third series did change quite radically; a big gap is made by the exit of Rothgo and the introduction of Lazlo. Lazlo was totally unbelievable and was a character that seemed to have strayed in from a third rate pre-school kiddie show. I believe the actor used to be a kids t.v presenter and is totally miscast.

Pamela Salem reprises her role as the evil one and thankfully makes the offering from season 3 just about bearable.

Phil returns but the other two young dimensional travellers have been left out this time around making the show more ‘emptier’ than before. Another change in the writing style enabled ‘fictitious’ characters to be brought into the show for Phil and Lazlo to encounter. This provides shitty parodies of old literary Goth such as ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’.

As Lazlo has his sidekick Phil so Belor has one in this season, an annoying little old man called Bran. He provides the ‘humour’ element that is so unnecessarily needed in this current run.

As you can see, as well as the inspiration behind some of the stories for season 3 being a bit decrepit, it had been parodied practically to death too, even by early eighties standards.

The final series wrapped up conveniently and the possibility of more Into the Labyrinth never surfaced.

So let’s rewind, the first episode of Into the Labyrinth which was first broadcast 13 May 1981 in the United Kingdom was titled Rothgo.

We learn that Rothgo is a powerful sorcerer that once held the amulet of his power called the Nidus. At odd with the force of good is that of evil represented by black sorceress Belor.


In a confrontation with Belor , Rothgo lost the Nidus into the Labyrinth, a maze of time. The longer Rothgo is without the Nidas the more he begins to degenerate. As Rothgo is too weak he enlists the help of three children Phil, Helen and Terry to retrieve the Nidus. Belor too has designs on the powerful amulet and intervenes in any way possible to gain the power and defeat Rothgo.

The Nidus can also be any object and can only be recognised by its reflection, the children’s task is simply to enter the labyrinth and bring it back despite jeopardising their lives and being trapped in time forever.

In the second series we learn that Belor has created the Albido a foil for the Nidus but in a struggle with Rothgo her talisman of evil is destroyed and the Nidus is once more sent hurtling through the dimensions.

This time the Nidus is shattered into segments and the children are whisked off to different adventures to retrieve the pieces until good overcomes bad.

In the third series we saw Phil being contacted by the good spirited magician Lazlo. Lazlo needs Phil’s help in obtaining the Scarabeus bracelet to prevent his illness of rapid decay spreading any further.

Phil also finds that he and Lazlo exist in Delta Time where fiction exists as a reality. Their first adventure on the quest for the Scarabeus starts with pirates and long john silver etc, etc, yawn, etc and goes rapidly downhill until the last credit.

It is a shame the makers of Into the Labyrinth didn’t believe in ‘if it’s not broken why fix it?’ especially when it is done disastrously so.

Although these changes to season 3 did refresh a stale format it did dent the quality affecting all involved and shamefully reduced it into nothing more than just another silly kids' programme.

I don’t think I am being too harsh, I love the Tomorrow People and it is high up their in my personal TV heaven land but I would not contest that the last story/last series is really, really awful. I guess this applies to ‘Into the Labyrinth’.

Unfortunately Rothgo and chums had a limited repeat on The Children’s Channel way back in the pioneering days of satellite television since its first airing.

Also the series played on the Nickelodeon channel as part of their spooky anthology umbrella ‘The Third Eye’ but I believe only the first was shown. Series 1 did surface on an NTSC VHS video (Video Gems), but that really all there was to the merchandising of the programme.

In dire need of TLC and then a DVD release, ‘Into the Labyrinth’ stays in the dark on an unsuspecting, retro-friendly public. It’s such a shame you won’t be able to see Belors ‘big hair’ in season 3 that seems to 'erupt' more folicles each time a bad deed is done. Wonderfully retro, love it.

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