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"Who for Sixpence"
on 1 February 2012
This is a broadly Who-ish concept. Ancient wizard Rothgo sends children into the past to retrieve his power source- the Nidus & prevent witch Belor from getting her mitts on it. Ron Moody who plays Rothgo was offered Dr Who but turned it down (leaving the role free for Jon Pertwee) & apparently regretted it, this maybe why he signed up for Labyrinth. He initially plays Rothgo as a curmudgeonly old soul, complaining that he has been sent children to help him, but he becomes a more avuncular figure to the kids quickly. As Rothgo he is reserved, almost underplaying it but as the kids reach each time period and he plays earlier incarnations of Rothgo, he is having a lot more fun, occasionally quite theatrical but that's only a problem in weak eps like the pantomimesque "Cave of Diamonds."
Belor is a good adversary, Pamela Salem (great surname for an actress playing a witch!)wisely decided to play the role full on which works well. She is sometimes at her best when Belor's in disguise e.g. as Faginlike Fanny Hyde in Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde.
The children Lisa Turner, Simon Henderson & Simon Beale are variable but they all have good moments. Beale is generally the strongest of the 3.
The writing is largely quite good producing jolly stories such as Shadrach, Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde but where there's a really interesting idea e.g. an ageing Robin Hood living off rabbits because he's past proper hunting in Robin or Guy Fawkes trying to work with King Charles to prevent the gunpowder plot in Gunpowder, 26 minutes is not enough time for the story to breathe.
There are a few ideas that might have been worth developing more such as the suggestion in Gunpowder that Rothgo died as Guy Fawkes but came back after.
There is a large Who content amongst the writers with well known Dr Who scribes Bob Baker (co-creator of the show), his ex-writing partner Dave Martin, John Lucarotti, Anthony Read & Robert Holmes. Also 2 other authors wrote scripts for Who which were never used Morris Fahri and SF novelist Christopher Priest.
Series 3 saw only Simon Beale come back out of the younger actors and Ron Moody's Rothgo being replaced by younger actor Chris Harris as Lazlo. Lazlo is a more overtly comic creation & not an attempt to make a Rothgo clone. Harris clowns too much sometimes & is not helped by lines like "Come on Phil it's a race against slime!" but his character works & is quite fun. Belor is back but gets a useless henchman Bram (played by veteran actor Howard Goorney) who is dedicated to being no earthly use to anyone.
The formula is a straight forward one; the kids/Phil arrive at a time look for Rothgo/Lazlo locate the Nidus/pice of Nidus/missing half of Scarabeus. They then face a peril linked to the plave they have visited ususually orchestrated by Belor who then prevents them gaining what they are looking for. They then move on. A slight change for series 3 is a green slime which threatens to envelop Phil & Lazlo if they do not get the scarabeus back in time. Series 3 features "Delta Time" where fioctional characters like the Phantom of the Opera & Dr Jekyll are real.
It has no final ending, just a series ending for series 3, which would not have prevented series 4 had they wanted to do it.
Cheapness & the production values, is a problem. There is an over-reliance on CSO which dates it, but to be fair it was for kids, not a family audience & CSO was near enough the norm 30 odd years ago.
Almost everything takes place in the cave sets which are just redressed a bit for each new time, which is a little like a school play.
There's a dreadful attack of plasticine dinosaurs created by Rothgo in 1 ep which looked bad even then! Who's Invasion of the Dinosaurs is Jurassic park by comparison!
Also the labyrinth which the enter to go into different times in series 1 & 2 should be a centrepiece, given the series title. Instead it's a barely knee high to the kids, cheaply made maze which looks like it was made from papier mache'. It almost invites the title "Whoops Labyrinth!"
For all it's faults it remains a fun bit of nonsense. Well worth a look if you saw any of it 1st time around or if the writers are ones whose work you have enjoyed before.
If you have no such interest to begin with, it may not be for you.