We’re getting a lot of old-style Top Gear recently. I wonder how Quentin Willson and Tiff Needel are doing. It’s surprising how little Clarkson appears, though. Anyway, a few minutes of TG opens this tape.
There’s a trailer for Decisive Weapons, using the Terminator soundtrack as music. And one for Game On.
Then, we have the first episode of Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman’s urban fantasy, which he devised with Lenny Henry who presumably got it commissioned.
It starts, and we’re immediately hampered by some clunky bluescreen, as our hero, Richard Mayhew, does some kind of video introduction. It seems a clunky way to start the show, but subsequent episodes will use the same method to catch us up.
He’s engaged to a woman called Jessica, who is written and played as a rather controlling woman. When a young woman appears out of the dark and collapses in front of them, on the way to a restaurant, she barely notices, and insists he ignore her, but his instinct is to help her, and he takes the woman home, despite Jessica’s ultimatum that the engagement would be called off.
The woman’s name is Door, and she’s being pursued by two unsavoury characters, Croup and Vandemar, great, threatening performances from Hywel Bennett and Clive Russell.
At Door’s request he seeks out the Marquis de Carabas, a magnificent performance from Paterson Joseph.
They make a brief visit to a man called Old Bailey (Trevor Peacock) to whom the Marquis gives a small box.
Then de Carabas leaves with Door to take her to safety, and tells Richard he can stop worrying, and they’ll never see him again.
But he wakes up to find that nobody remembers him, and his flat is being sold. Even his former fiancee doesn’t recognise him. So he has to find Door and the Marquis, which leads him to a world underneath London, and some jeopardy.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 12th September 1996 – 21:00
Another Top Gear tail-end before the next episode, along with trailers for Game On and a rather nasty looking program about incoming benefit changes called The System, complete with a Tory talking about scroungers and ‘wrong people’.
Then, part 2 of Neverwhere, Knightsbridge. The talking heads opening remains, allowing Richard to do a ‘previously on’. Richard is spared from harm because his captor can talk to rates, and a rat tells him how Richard helped Door. One of the ratspeakers, Anastasia, offers to take him to the floating market, where Door was going to find a bodyguard.
Door and de Carabas visit Door’s home. It’s very spacious.
Richard meets Hunter, and has to cross Knightsbridge, when we get the second of a strange flashback. These have been heavily processed, but as a result, they look a bit more impressive than the regular photography.
Hunter is going to the floating market to audition as bodyguard for Door.
Richard finally hooks back up with Door, as the group head off to find The Angel Islington, played by Peter Capaldi.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 19th September 1996 – 21:00
More Top Gear, a trailer for All Rise for Julian Clary and a trailer for The System precede the next episode.
Episode 3 is called Earl’s Court to Islington and this week it’s the Marquis who does the ‘Previously on’. I don’t like the random cuts for this – it feels too much like a DEF II interview.
The group meet the Earl of Earl’s Court on an underground train, who is played by Freddie Jones.
On the way to the Angel Islington, they have to visit the British Museum, where Richard’s ex-fiancee Jessica is organizing a display about angels.
Her boss is media mogul Mr Stockton, played by Stratford Johns.
Door and Richard find the painting of the Angelus that serves as the doorway to the Angel.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 26th September 1996 – 21:00
The next episode starts immediate – no Top Gear this time – with Croup and Vandemar doing the catch-up.
This episode is Blackfriars. After meeting with Islington, Richard and Door meet Serpentine of the Seven Sisters, played by Julie T Wallace.
The Marquis tries to do a deal with Croup and Vandemar. It doesn’t go well for him.
Door, Richard and Hunter meet the Blackfriars.
Richard has to go through an ordeal to obtain the key, which takes the form of a psychological trial. I like the way it plays with him being both in London Beneath, and also on a tube platform, and he has to avoid throwing himself onto the line as he’s taunted by hos own demons.
He survives, and gets the key, but it doesn’t seem like that’s a good thing, as the leader of the Blackfriars says “We’ve lost the key. God help us all.”
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 3rd October 1996 – 21:00
We’re back to Quentin Willson’s smarmy tones next for another shot of used car porn in the end of Top Gear.
There’s a trailer for BBC2 programmes at 6, with the UFO theme and clips.
There’s also a trailer for Runaway Daughters, a Joe Dante film that seems to have been part of a series, but I don’t remember it.
Then, part 5 of Neverwhere. In Down Street, Richard, Door and Hunter have to get the key back to the Marquis, but he’s been killed and dumped in a sewer by Croup and Vandemar.
At another floating market, Richard meets Lamia (Tamsin Greig) who says she’s a guide.
The Marquis’ body is found and brought to Old Bailey, who is able to revive him using the box he was given in episode one.
He catches up with Richard just in time to stop Lamia stealing his lifeforce.
But they’re not quick enough to stop Door being captured by Croup and Vandemar, with the help of Hunter, who’s been working for them. She reveals to Richard and the Marquis that Croup and Vandemar are working for the Angel Islington, and head to find him. But before they can get there, they have to face the monster from Richard’s flashbacks.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 10th October 1996 – 21:00
We’re back to the end of Top Gear again, with even Clarkson popping up in their coverage of the Motor Show.
There’s a trailer for The System.
Then the finale of Neverwhere, As Above, So Below.
Hunter attacks the beast, but she comes off worse.
Richard has to kill the Beast, but since it looks like nothing more than a shaggy bull, this comes across as slightly anti-climactic and also rather cruel. It’s a failing of the show’s budget more than anything.
Then we’re left at the final confrontation with Islington. He’s been kept captive, and needs Door to use the key to open the door to Heaven. But Door opens a different door, and Islington is banished, along with Croup and Vandemar.
Richard even gets his old life back, even slightly better than before. And he really does collect troll dolls, as he said in the opening introduction.
But this life wasn’t what he wanted, and this wouldn’t be a Neil Gaiman story if it was. So he seeks out a way back, and the Marquis arrives to lead him back.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 17th October 1996 – 21:00
I’ve never read the novel Gaiman wrote, adapting this story, but I understand it goes some way to correct some of the deficiencies introduced by the limitations of this production.
It’s a classic example of a story that really struggles by being shot on video, although the production design really tries to make the most of the locations. At least the amount of video effects is fairly minimal, as that’s usually something that kills suspension of disbelief.
The action scenes are mostly shot in close-up, undercutting the drama a bit, and the big shaggy bull was a nice idea, but a more ambitious (and expensive) monster would have been better.
The story, too, feels like it lacks anything beyond the simple quest. We meet a lot of characters, all of which seem to be interesting, but we never see them for long enough to get to care much about them, and it’s hard to keep them all straight.
But it’s nowhere near a failure. It aims very, very high, and only falls slightly short. And the Marquis de Carabas, with Paterson Joseph’s performance, is an immediately huge hit. You really want to see more of him. By comparison, Gary Bakewell’s Richard is a bit if a damp squib. But I think anyone would be.
After the last episode, recording switches, and we get an episode of Clive Anderson All Talk. His first guest is jockey Frankie Dettori.
Followed by the always delightful Stephen Fry.
This is after the time when Fry went ‘missing’ after skipping out on his play, Cell-Mates. It’s nice that he’s able to talk a bit about it.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 17th November 1996 – 22:35
After this, a nice trailer for the 25th anniversary episode of Film 96 with Rory Bremner standing in for Barry Norman.
There’s also a trailer for Panorama.
Then we have the start of an episode of Everyman. It’s a debate about whether Homosexuality is an abomination. There’s a nice balanced debate for you.
After a few minutes, this recording ends, and underneath there’s part of an episode of The System. It looks like there’s always been inhumanity in the benefits system.
The tape ends after a few minutes of this programme.