Monday, 15 September 2014

Knights of God and The Crystal Cave

One of the panels we went to at WorldCon - in fact, the very first one we went to - was about children's TV. They talked about lots of programmes that we both remembered with fondness - and then someone mentioned the Knights of God.
"Huh?" said the Young Man.
"Oh, you'd love Knights of God!" I said.

It was only broadcast once, in 1987, and it's never been put out on video or DVD, though there is a paperback. I had quite a job to track down a copy, which I eventually got from
To be honest, all I really remembered was John Woodvine, as Prior Mordrin, the leader of the fascistic Knights of God, being evil - and the fact that they blew up a helicopter in the final episode! I'd never seen all the episodes, and I'd completely forgotten that Patrick Troughton was in it, as Arthur, leader of the resistance movement. In fact, his character behaved more like Merlin than King Arthur, but the whole thing had a vaguely Arthurian feel to it.
The series was set slightly in the future - 2020 - when a devastating civil war had been won by the Knights of God, who were ruling from Winchester, London having been mostly destroyed. However, there was still resistance in Wales, led by Gareth Thomas - who had experience of this sort of thing, having recently been Blake of Blake's Seven, and in the Wastelands, which was basically Yorkshire, led by Don Henderson, who spent a lot of time wandering round the moors with a machine gun.
As it was a children's series, though, the main hero was Gervase Edwards, son of Gareth Thomas's character, and his girlfriend Julia, who were imprisoned in a "training camp", pursued across the moors, shot at, and generally had a pretty rough time of it over the thirteen episodes. Co-incidentally, Julia was the daughter of the Brigadier of the Guards Regiment which came over to the side of the resistance near the end. They were played by George Winter and Clare Parker.
It was soon clear, as I watched, that the most interesting thing about the story was not the youngsters trying to survive and find out what Gervase's destiny was (it would have been a lot shorter story if Arthur had just told him, and by the time he discovered it, the only person to be surprised was him!) but the power struggle between Prior Mordrin and his deputy Brother Hugo, played with oily malevolence by Julian Fellowes (more recently seen in Downton Abbey).
I could see why it was never repeated - I spent some time when I'd finished watching it trying to make the plot work better in my head, but it was quite fun, and interesting to see how TVS had made the most of their limited budget - they made the most of the helicopters, but also kept making the point within the story that everyone had very limited resources, which was why they were using horses and carts, and sailing boats, and - once - a steam train as well as the military trucks and armoured cars.
There weren't that many female characters, either - a Yorkshire woman who helped Julia (so at least those episodes passed the Beschdel test!), Gervase's mam, and a nurse at Knights of God HQ were just about it. Also, everybody was white - one would hope, if it was being made now, that at least a couple of the Yorkshire resistance movement might be Asians from Bradford or something.

George Winter later turned up in another Arthurian series, The Crystal Cave, as young Merlin, but doesn't seem to have done much acting since then.
I was horribly disappointed by the Crystal Cave. I love the book, by Mary Stewart, that the series was based on, and Robert Powell played Ambrosius, which he did very well - but the script.... Some scenes were almost word for word from the book, which was great, but others - just weren't.
I remember looking forward with some excitement to the scene where Merlin solves the mystery of why the tower keeps falling down by leading everyone to a Roman lead mine which is causing subsidence - where he has a vision of two dragons fighting, one red and one white, just as in the traditional legend. In the books, Merlin has no control over his visions, and they affect him like having a fit. In the series, he makes the prophesy about the dragons, but by means of a trick, so he comes over as a con artist rather than the genuine prophet that he was in the book.

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