Monday, January 5, 2009

DVD review: Children of the Stones

Children of the Stones is a British cult favorite science fiction children’s television series, filmed on location at Avebury, England, with its stone circle that predates Stonehenge. Combining ancient druidic rites, brain-washing, the ouroboros, psychic phenomena, black holes and time bubbles – not to mention the creepy soundtrack of moaning, wailing human voices - this little series is as eerie now as it was when it aired in the 1970s.

Episode 1, “Into Circle,” introduces us to Adam (Gareth Thomas) and Matthew Brake, astrophysicist father and his teenage son who have come to the village of Milbury to research its megalithic standing stones. They quickly notice that something isn’t quite right with the villagers: everyone in Milbury is slightly strange, like very happy pod people. Everyone, that is, except the few other folk who are also new to the village, including Margaret Smythe, the curator of the village museum, and her daughter Sandra, who befriend the Brakes.

In Episode 2, “Circle of Fear,” after touching one of the standing stones and getting a huge shock that knocks him unconscious, Adam is intrigued by what he thinks is “residual magnetism” in the stones. Margaret thinks the force is more psychic in nature, however, and shows Adam the research she’s done on the ley lines that intersect at Milbury. Meanwhile, Matt has met the resident nutter, a poacher named Dai, who tells him that no one leaves the circle – until they’re dead. Later that night, Matt sees all the villagers, the Happy Ones, chanting around the Hendrick manor house in the center of the circle.

In “Serpent in the Circle” (episode 3): Matt and Sandra debate being “normal” versus one of the Happy Ones after one of their formerly normal classmates has a happy breakthrough. Crazy Dai finds a stone amulet with a serpent on it, like the carvings on many of the standing stones. Adam learns that centuries ago, a resident of Milbury witnessed a supernova in the night sky.

“Narrowing Circle” (episode 4) starts with Adam, Matt, Margaret, Sandra and another father and son pair, the last of the Normals, being concerned about their decreasing numbers. Adam and Margaret each get an invitation to dinner at the manor house by its owner, the creepy Hendrick. Dai rolls the bones and gets a very bad omen. Later, the father and son show up brainwashed like the rest of the village, and Dai takes a deadly fall.

In Episode 5, “Charmed Circle,” Hendrick decides to insist on Margaret and Sandra coming to dinner to welcome them into his “happy family.” Adam, already disturbed because Dai’s body has mysteriously disappeared, is worried about them and asks them to stop by to see him and Matt after their visit to the manor house. Dinner turns out to be a very eerie affair – the dining room is decorated in druidic temple style – and afterwards there are two fewer Normals in Milbury.

Episode 6 is “Squaring the Circle” in which Adam and Matt discover their last friends have been body snatched into Happy Ones. They decide to leave Milbury at once but before they do, Matt breaks into the village’s locked and deconsecrated church, unable to restrain his curiosity. He finds walls of computer banks in the cellar but Hendrick catches him before he can discover much more. As father and son drive out of town, something comes over them both; they regain consciousness locked in Hendrick’s manor house. With an amazing leap of logic, Adam decides that the village is trapped out of time with the rest of the world.

In the final episode, “Full Circle,” Adam and Matt are determined to escape from Hendrick’s clutches. They confront him with their hypotheses at their own conversion dinner and are able to trick him enough to escape, wreaking havoc on all he has wrought on the villagers. When the Brakes finally drive clear of the stone circle, the time trap resets itself.

The DVD extras are slim: interviews with actor Gareth Thomas and director/producer Peter Graham Scott, looking back at Children of the Stones twenty-five years later; production notes; series trivia; and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery.

Although created as a half-hour episodic children’s television series, Children of the Stones is far too dated for today’s children; the clothes and hairstyles, so hip in 1976, will not appeal to youth weaned on Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers. For adult fans of Dr. Who and other classic, campy sci-fi shows, however, Children of the Stones is a fun and freaky treat. The North American DVD releases on January 20, 2009.

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