Having been very pleased with the first blu-ray box featuring Michael Praed in the first and second series of Robin of Sherwood, I was eager to get the third (final) series starring Jason Connery. Having watched both boxed sets projected onto a large screen, the show still stands up very well indeed. In terms of picture quality, the season three blu-rays exceed even the high standards of the first set. While maintaining the 'mystical' visual quality of the first series, the images are brighter, displaying a finer film grain, presented in the original 4:3 ratio. The colours and resolution are excellent, and is a great improvement on the DVDs. The audio is equally good given it's vintage, and is clear with subtle use of the surround channels during scenes set in Sherwood. The Blu-Ray packaging is a multi-disc case with a semi-transparent slip-cover that matches the first set. [An excellent booklet written by Simon Wells is included in the first RoS set, covering all three series of Robin of Sherwood].
Having established Robin as a rebel mentored and guided by Herne the Hunter, the second series ended with Robin's demise at the hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Writer Richard Carpenter was faced with the problem of introducing a new Robin without falling back on the 'Doctor Who' trick of 'regenerating' one actor into another. Nor could Praed be replaced with a look-alike in the hope that no-one would notice (though a very young Neil Morrissey with a Praed-style mullet was auditioned at one point).
Carpenter came up with the only honest solution: there have always two Robin Hood legends - one, Robin of Loxley; the other was Robert of Huntingdon, a son of a nobleman. With Loxley dead, Carpenter had solid justification to introduce Robert (played by Jason Connery) as the new Robin-in-waiting. Carpenter gave Praed a wonderful send-off in the final episode of series two, and he wrote an equally exciting introductory double-episode for Connery to kick off the third season. Starting with a flash-back to the second series, Connery is revealed to be the hooded man who had released Robin's men (hereafter referred to as the 'Merries') from capture and certain execution. But in doubting his own abilities to replace their fallen leader, he returned to his life as Robert of Huntingdon - leaving the leaderless Merries to scatter. A year later, Robert meets the heart-broken Marion in his father's castle. When she is kidnapped, Robert has no choice but to meet with Herne once again, and attempt to reunite the Merries to save her.
In doing so, he is tested by each of them before they accept him as their leader. Inevitably, this usually involves fighting - and the fist-fight with Ray Winstone's beer-swilling Will Scarlet is a ten-minute barnstormer that's epic, funny and exciting. It's strange that Christian groups objected to the fantasy 'paganism' in the show - but not the ten-minute fist fight between two grown men. Nevertheless, series three marked a slight distancing from the mythical qualities which originally gave RoS its' edge - Herne is kept at arm's length, and were are signs that the paganism was becoming diluted. At least Carpenter kicked back by portraying many of the featured priests and bishops as cynical political opportunists or barking mad evangelists.
If the rest of the third series doesn't quite match up to the (very) high standards of the first two episodes, new writers (including Anthony Horowitz) brought energising ideas into the mix, writing some good backstories for the supporting cast to get their teeth into. Actors Nick Grace and the late Robert Addie were perfect as the Sheriff and Gisburne respectively, lending both characters a dangerous edge and dark humour to their roles. By now, famous TV actors were queuing up to be the guest star of the week, knowing that they would be playing to huge audiences. Although they deliver good performances, the show felt like it was slipping into mainstream action-adventure. Thankfully, the regular cast (all very comfortable in their roles, often given valuable 'moments' to significantly develop their characters) kept the ship steady.
Unfortunately, the financial crisis of the mid-1980's was beginning to bite and Robin of Sherwood's backers began to bail out. Judi Trott (Marion) didn't want to do a full fourth series, preferring to make 'guest' appearances in single episodes. Even Richard Carpenter was beginning to go 'a bit mad' by the close of the third series - having consigned the traumatised Marion to a nunnery, the dramatic possibilities were becoming too thin to sustain another 13 episodes. But all of these considerations were for naught. Fatally, the collapse of the partnering production company Goldcrest left both cast and crew with nothing but poignant stories of might-have-beens and missed chances.
These Blu-Rays remind you of the unique style of storytelling that Robin of Sherwood pioneered - where the viewer feels a real affinity for well-drawn characters, beautifully located in a mythical England, accompanied by Clannad's hauntingly resonant celtic score - with rousing stories that were pure high-quality escapism. Remember that this show was produced as Saturday afternoon family entertainment, but it broke new ground in showing subject matter previously thought to be in the realms of horror movies. That the series frightened kids without ever traumatising them (while simultaneously keeping the adults entertained) is a rare feat these days. I do not over-praise the programme when I suggest that 'Lord of the Rings' picked up Robin of Sherwood's baton 15 years later, director Peter Jackson pitching his equally attractive cast against the powers of evil, set in a similarly gritty fantasy world.
This excellent release is - with it's accompanying volume - a lovely testament to the work of its' writer, Richard Carpenter, who died early in 2012. Thank you, Richard.