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Customer Review

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 3 mediocre episodes, 3 good, 1 excellent, 23 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Dramarama: Spooky - The Complete Series [ITV] [Network] [DVD] (DVD)
This series has been compared to an earlier Thames production, Shadows, which had aired from 1975 to 1978. 5 years had passed since then so you might expect a very different world, but it's alarming how similar Spooky is to its predecessor. It's still shot on tube cameras and the actors are still RP. There are differences: bluescreening has improved, camera work is slightly slicker, editing is better, titles look much cleaner, and the electronic music is clearly digital. But crucially, it still feels like the 70s, as if you're watching the last of that era of television.

The storytelling is also slightly more grown-up than in Shadows. Shadows had its great episodes (The Waiting Room etc.) but its worst episodes were generally so because of an excess of childishness. In Spooky, there's a new layer of "knowingness"; you sense the writers are playing with the medium in a way that never occurred to the Shadows writers. Not that this makes the stories any better - indeed, given time this postmodern knowingness did serious damage to TV drama, especially children's, which eventually became totally sarcastic and trivial. At their best, Shadows and Spooky have a kind of seriousness, a willingness to trust children, that was soon to be lost and will likely never be recovered. We're all too clever nowadays!

Now a few notes on each episode...

War Games With Caroline
This is a competently written and directed episode that, sadly, just doesn't have much going for it. The story is thin and predictable. Would perhaps have been better as a 10-minute piece. Nice sets, adequate performances, special effects for their own sake.

The Exorcism of Amy
A badly written and bizarrely made episode which, in the end, doesn't even make sense. It is knowingly surreal without ever justifying it. Feels like a trick that went wrong.

The Danny Roberts Show
The first "good" episode, in that it clearly doesn't want to be considered "just a kid's show". It actually feels like an adult programme with the swearing cut out. You get three engaging characters (or 4 if you count the disembodied voice), a convincing situation, a satisfying denouement, and substance. The story sees a shallow and disingenuous man getting thoroughly cut down to size. What's interesting is the way that it's done, and who does it. A good little drama.

The Ghostly Earl
A trivial episode with garish sets, rescued by good characters and endearing performances all round.

In a Dark, Dark Box...
A well-written and well-directed episode let down by a story which isn't interesting or complex enough for the 25-minute runtime. The endless repeating of "dark, dark" gets a little, well, repetitive and one feels short-changed. Fantastic atmosphere throughout and a lovely performance from Sheila Burrell. Could and should have been a great episode.

The Restless Ghost
Atmospheric sets and a promising idea are wasted in the execution. The first problem is indecision about tone; the story starts off whimsical then tries to be scary but the segue doesn't work. The second problem is terrible exposition; deep dark secrets are revealed by characters apparently eager to get the story over and done with. A real misfire.

The Keeper
Better than the rest put together, this episode was written by Alan Garner and the arrival of a writer with purpose really shows. There are stylistic echoes of Garner's earlier TV work, The Owl Service, but the clumsiness of that series is completely absent and instead we have a well-crafted episode of depth and intense atmosphere. Garner squeezes a story almost as complex as The Owl Service into a 25 minute slot, which is an incredible feat. The story is told with two actors and one set: an essay in economy. Manages to be as scary as a good adult drama, and as interesting as a good children's drama. This episode is really a great achievement and TV writers and producers could learn a lot from it.

Sometimes the first series of a programme is a test-bed, and the second series is when it really finds its feet. I think this would have been the case with Spooky. In particular, subsequent episodes would surely have learned from the example of The Keeper. Who knows, we may have got some fantastic stories. As it is, what we have is a curious and enjoyable set of episodes. Most fall short of their potential but I dare say their intended audience, children, wouldn't be as fussy as me.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Jan 2013 19:34:46 GMT
Useful review but, for the record, I remember 'The Exorcism of Amy' when it was broadcast and it frightened the living bejeezus out of me, and I have never forgotten it! It might not stand up to a second viewing - I don't know as I haven't bought the set yet - but that particular episode was a stand-out moment in my childhood...!!!!

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Jan 2013 20:20:20 GMT
Well, sometimes these things disappoint and sometimes they live up to the memory. I'd be interested to hear how you feel about it after you watch it again.
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