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Century Falls (1993)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Century Falls (1993)
BBC1, 17/2-24/3/1993
6 x 25 min episodes, colour
DirectorColin Cant
ProducerRichard Callanan
ScriptRussell T. Davies
MusicDavid Ferguson

Cast: Catherine Sanderson (Tess Hunter), Simon Fenton (Ben Naismith), Emma Jane Lavin (Carey Naismith), Heather Baskerville (Elizabeth Hunter), Mary Wimbush (Esme Harkness), Georgine Anderson (May Harkness), Bernard Kay (Richard Naismith), Tatiana Strauss (Julia)

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When lonely teenager Tess Hunter comes to live in a remote English village she must discover the dark secret hidden in its past, one that threatens the future of her mother's unborn baby.

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Century Falls was a follow-up of sorts from the creative team behind 1991's comic strip romp Dark Season (BBC, 1991). Writer Russell T. Davies was now at Granada producing Children's Ward (ITV, 1989-2000), so provided the script freelance as a last gasp replacement for a project that had fallen through. Director Colin Cant had previously directed doom-laden supernatural serials like Moondial (BBC, 1988) and Century Falls would be in this gothic style.

The story of an occult ceremony gone tragically wrong that has blighted a remote village since 1953, Century Falls is an homage to the children's TV fantasy of Davies' own fond childhood memories. Draft storylines featured scientists researching a stone circle and leylines (a straight steal from the 1977 ITV serial Children of the Stones) but these central ideas evolved until a waterfall became the core focus of psychic power.

Davies has openly admitted his sifting of what he refers to as archetypes, the chief one here being "that dark, sinister English village," as he put it. "I like taking those old, classic ideas, and reinventing them... it doesn't matter if the story's original or not, it's how you tell it."

Davies slowly reveals events and motivations as the serial progresses so that it genuinely builds, but what he really brings to the table are subtexts and character notes perhaps missing from earlier examples in the genre. The fantasy explores the frustrations of adolescence - the loneliness of the overweight and friendless but witty Tess Hunter (Davies' portrait of his younger self?) and the misdirected anger of latent psychic Ben Naismith.

Century Falls also warns against herd instincts and most of all is an essay on the emptiness of not being able to have children and the pain of losing a child. The depth of emotions explored in the serial and the complexity of the plot strands made for an uncompromising but unpatronising story for older children, although Davies would later reflect, "Maybe I went too adult. It could have done with a bit more clarity and exposition."

Those struggling to keep up with the storyline could revel in Cant's impressive visuals; flames in a waterfall, a beckoning ghost girl and 'Century' herself, the golden masked woman who has cursed the village and appears in visions.

Emotionally and visually powerful, this, above all of Davies' early work, marked him out for TV greatness.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
Children of the Stones (1977)
Dark Season (1991)
Davies, Russell T. (1963- )
Children's Fantasy and SF