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Dark Season (1991)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Dark Season (1991)
BBC1, tx. 14/11-19/12/1991
6 x 25 min episodes, colour
DirectorColin Cant
Executive ProducerRichard Callanan
WriterRussell T. Davies

Cast: Victoria Lambert (Marcie Hatter); Kate Winslet (Reet); Ben Chandler (Thomas); Brigit Forsyth (Miss Maitland); Grant Parsons (Mr Eldritch); Jacqueline Pearce (Miss Pendragon)

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Three schoolchildren face a computer takeover of the world that begins at their school and discover an abandoned experiment in artificial intelligence hidden under the sports field.

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Russell T. Davies was by the late '80s a producer in the Children's Department at BBC Manchester. Keen to break into drama and inspired by his fan devotion to 70s children's fantasy series such as The Tomorrow People (ITV, 1973-79), Davies submitted a script of episode one of The Adventuresome Three to department head Anna Home in 1989. Quickly accepted to fill a gap when Tony Robinson deferred on a third season of Maid Marian and Her Merry Men (BBC, 1989-93), the serial, eventually titled Dark Season, launched Davies' drama career.

The two adventures that comprised the run both pitted three wise-cracking schoolchildren against dormant computer-based technologies reactivated in the name of fin-de-siƩcle destruction. The children encounter first a threat to take over the world using sinister computers given free to every child in their school, then a group of Neo-Nazis led by mad computer genius Miss Pendragon attempting to revive Behemoth, an artificial intelligence buried beneath the school site decades ago by the Ministry of Defence.

Davies aimed to create "a fast, lively romp with no strings attached, no subtext." Indeed, Dark Season is a pacy adventure comic strip, no more, no less. Davies felt he could only achieve the beginning-middle-end pace he craved by structuring the six-parter as two three-part serials, which he did without telling his bosses ("in case they said no"). He stumbled across the idea of bringing back Eldritch, the shades-wearing villain of the first three-parter, as a big reveal, creating a linked serial feel.

The witty, fast-moving and fun production has an impressive sense of scale at times and Colin Cant achieved the comic strip feel by constantly shooting at askew angles. The latter half only lets the side down with some terrible Aryan blonde wigs and even vurse German accentz.

As well as marking Davies' drama debut, this was a major break for the 15-year-old Kate Winslet as Reet. Winslet is good but her character is outshone by Marcie Hatter, a lively and searching central character whose eccentricity betrayed Davies' desire to write for Doctor Who.

Plans for a sequel featuring a virtual reality gaming arcade and psychic twins were abandoned when Maid Marian was reactivated but Dark Season's creative team would before long be reunited for Century Falls (BBC, 1993).

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Behemoth awakes! (2:46)
2. Behemoth rises! (1:49)
Complete episode (23:37)
Century Falls (1993)
Davies, Russell T. (1963- )
Winslet, Kate (1975-)
Children's Fantasy and SF
Children's TV Drama