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Shadows - The Complete First Series [Series One]  [DVD]
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Jenny Agutter (The Railway Children), Sophie Ward (A Dark Adapted Eye), Russell Hunter (Callan), John Nettleton (Yes, Minister) and Pauline Quirke (Birds of a Feather) feature among the casts of this spine-tingling anthology series for younger viewers. Atmospheric, superbly scripted and filled with the unexpected, between 1975 and 1978 Shadows offered psychological and supernatural tales in which characters typically found themselves plunged into strange alternative realities, or encountering ghostly figures from the past - the young protagonists' otherworldly experiences often playing upon common teenage fears and preoccupations. Among the contributors for this first series were novelist and playwright J.B. Priestley, who co-wrote 'The Other Window' with his third wife, archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes, Roger Marshall (Public Eye) and Ace of Wands creator Trevor Preston, who revived the character of magician Mr. Stabs for 'Dutch Schlitz's Shoes'.  A girl is visited by the spirit of a long-dead witch in a storm-lashed cottage...  In Victorian London, a mysterious voice calls to a young woman, beckoning her to another time and place...  For a group of teenagers, a visit to a Tudor mansion turns into a nightmare as the sinister inhabitants of the house begin to take over... But what other terrors hide among the shadows?
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Of course the series was made with a minuscule budget compared to today's American programs but it beats a lot of today's programs hands down. The directing and script writing is first class. the stories are intelligently written and appeals to adults as well as the younger audience they were aimed for.
Delve into the story lines and one can see high level ideas about family, loneliness, morality.
Not many programs that I can say that I have no problem watching again.
This Thames TV production is reminiscent of some of HTV West's childrens TV productions of the same era. Some of the stories are provided by such esteemed writers as J.B. Priestley, Trevor Preston and Roger Marshall.
This Network release features all seven, series one episodes. Picture and sound quality are very good, no subtitles. The only extra is a short picture gallery.
Here is a list of the episodes, with synopsis (which features on the inside of the DVD case).
*THE FUTURE GHOST - The year is 1875, and Julia Pittman arrives in London hoping to find work as a nurse. Staying in a friend's hotel, she believes she is safe: but as thick fog descends, a voice in the night awakens her, calling her out of her room... and into another world.
Featuring Jane Wymark, Bernadette McKenna, Daphne Slater and John Nettleton.
*AFTER SCHOOL - Bryn Haffes is an ordinary comprehensive school in a Welsh mining village. But when Poodle and Seth are kept behind after school, they find themselves in the grip of a power that they cannot explain.
Featuring Gareth Thomas, Rhys Powys and Lyn Jones.
*THE WITCH'S BOTTLE - Jill might never have discovered the strange powers in her possession had she not gone to stay at her uncle's country cottage. What was the secret of the dead oak tree? And why is the mysterious Catherine so concerned about Jill?
Featuring Georgina Kean, Wendy Gifford, Neville Barber and Jasper Jacob.
*THE WAITING ROOM - Sue and Gerry miss the last train from Burberry Halt and must take shelter for the night in an eerie old waiting room.
Featuring Jenny Agutter, Paul Henley, George Innes and Beth Harris.
*AN OPTICAL ILLUSION - Karen, Dawn and Phil are exploring a Tudor mansion, but the visit turns into a nightmare as the house and its strange inhabitants take over....
Featuring Pauline Quirke, Richard Willis, James Cossins and Susan Parriss.
*DUTCH SCHLITZ'S SHOES - The devilish Mr Stabs sets out with his cringing servant, Luko, to find the black glove of Mendoza. Unfortunately, they also acquire the shoes of the infamous Chicago gangster, Dutch Schlitz... with calamitous results.
Featuring Russell Hunter, Barry Stanton, Gordon Gostelow, Ron Pember and Kenneth Caswell.
*THE OTHER WINDOW - An ingenious lens seems to offer a vivid glimpse of another age. But is it possible to defy the laws of space and time?.
Featuring Sophie Ward, John Woodvine, Roy Jacobs, Gwyneth Strong and Aimee Delamain.
Ironically, there is almost no point talking about the episodes individually. They are so simple and small-scale that there isn't much to say. But I mean this as praise. They are delightful little things; 25-minute chunks of drama. Each one sets up a situation very effectively with attention paid to time, place and people, and then plays with it a little. It's delightful to watch. And of course if you don't like an episode, it's over very soon!
The standard line is that 70s drama was "slow and talky", but I found "Shadows" very engaging. It's a kids' show, and the makers get down to business quickly. And they do it well. In every case, I was more drawn into the story than I generally am with "Tales of the Unexpected". TOTU always feels a little disposable, as if each episode is a puzzle to be cracked and, once cracked, there's little point watching it again. The story is rather a cold mechanism. "Shadows" on the other hand feels very warm. There's a real sense of wonder, curiosity, possibility.
Another thing commonly said of modern drama is that it has more character depth. Again I think this is mistaken. In modern dramas, the characters seem to talk constantly about themselves (and their damned emotions). In "Shadows", characters speak about the story and, in doing so, reveal themselves naturally. And because they're talking about the story, you're thinking about it. This is how drama should be done!
Other people have commented on the lack of effects and CGI, and how old TV dramas managed to do without these things. It's true. "Shadows" is technically primitive, and all the more enjoyable for it! The episodes make a virtue of setting. (The sets for "After School" and "The Waiting Room" are especially atmospheric.)
Another reviewer said that the stories are too simplistic and benign to be of interest to modern kids. I tend to think this speaks in the stories' favour.
Sometimes the mysteries are not completely solved, which can be unsatisfying. For example "The Waiting Room" doesn't make total sense, feeling rather like the first half of a story. I'm not sure if these episodes were intended as possible pilots - it seems unlikely but it would explain why we never learn why events are repeating themselves at the station, or what is actually happening in the episode "Optical Illusion".
So the 25-minute length is both a strength and a weakness. But either way, the stories all succeed in their modest aims.
Special mention should go to Gareth Thomas's hilarious cameo in the episode "After School". He plays the most pedantic, patronising and unnecessarily rude schoolteacher you've ever seen in a red tracksuit with white stripes.
The one exception to everything I've written above is the episode "Dutch Schlitz's Shoes". It feels like a different programme altogether. The tone is comical, surreal and whimsical, and I didn't like it. Perhaps kids like nonsensical stuff (an aristocrat who wears a skeleton costume!) but I just find it irritating. This is the episode to avoid!
But for the rest, this is a charming series. Sadly series 2 isn't nearly as good. I'm hoping series 3 will be a return to form.
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