Here’s something interesting. In the early 90s, writer Russell T Davies was writing for children’s TV, and turning out some great stuff. I’ll be looking at the fantastic Dark Season in a couple of years, but first, his later serial, Century Falls.
I notice that I recorded the first episode on BBC2 with a repeat. I can’t remember if I knew this show was coming up, but I definitely would have been watching out for it, after Dark Season.
The programme takes place in the small village of Century Falls. A young girl, Tess, has moved there with her mother.
They’re not the only recent arrivals to the village. Brother and sister Ben and Carey Naismith have come to stay, with their father, at their uncle’s house. Ben’s a bit of a dick. As the two of them duck out of the house at night, she warns him he’s running wild, and he yells at her “You’re holding me back!” It doesn’t endear him to me.
His father talks to their uncle, local bigwig Richard Naismith (Bernard Kay is one of the few familiar faces here).
We learn that Ben drove his mother away, so he’s definitely some kind of wrong’un. He goes to the local waterfalls, and seems to be summoning up some kind of flaming power from the falls.
Tess meets the Naismith duo. He’s really horrible to her, making jibes about her weight, but since they are the only children in the village they have to tolerate each other.
We also meet some of the villagers, all of whom are suspicious of the new arrivals, and all of whom keep referring to some past shameful event. Here’s sisters May and Esme Harkness. So did Jack Harkness get his name because of its use here? Was he named by Davies or Steven Moffat? Or were they both influenced by the Fantastic Four character Agatha Harkness?
Richard Naismith reveals that it’s not a coincidence that Tess and her mother have come to the village, and that he knows her mother is pregnant, something that is clearly significant to whatever his plan might be.
Tess, Ben and Carey got to a burned out temple outside the village, where something awful happened forty years ago, and through Ben’s magical mind power, they see a vision of the temple burning and people running screaming.
The trio then go to Century Falls themselves and see more visions – a young girl by the falls. And there’s a bit of slightly false cliffhangering as Tess falls into the water.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 21st February 1993 – 10:30
Before the next episode, there’s the end of Newsround presented by an achingly young Krishnan Guru-Murthy.
There’s a trailer for Blue Peter featuring Nigel Mansell driving Indycar.
Then Andi Peters introduces part 2 of Century Falls.
The young maid working at Naismith’s Manor House, Julia, is asking at the post office for anything about the history of the village. Esme is suspicious about why the manor house is suddenly a hive of activity.
We meet more of the villagers. Miss Cooper is the local blind lady – always a good look for a horror piece.
The villagers have some kind of seance.
Esme Harkness warns Tess’s mum that no child has been born in the village for the last forty years, and if she stays there, her baby will die.
And Ben goes back to the falls to try to expand his powers, and he conjures up a vision.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 24th February 1993 – 17:05
Before the next episode, another long section from Newsround, then a trailer for Blue Peter featuring Paralympic skiers.
Then, part 3. Richard Naismith has a mask which looks a lot like the vision Ben conjured up.
Ben takes Tess and Esme to the falls and has more visions about what happened forty years ago. This show is really eking out the information.
The maid, Julia, tells Carey she heard her uncle talking to the butler about Ben. They tell her he’s dying because of his powers. But when Carey leaves to warn Ben, we discover that it’s Julia who has been in charge.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 3rd March 1993 – 17:05
Before part 4, Andi Peters presents some Comic Relief news.
In part 4 we learn more about what happened forty years ago. The village created a being called Century, made up of all the minds in the village. “She was a monster. We thought her beautiful” says Esme.
One of the villagers wore the mask of century, and was supposed to hold the combined minds of the village. It was Esme’s mother, who’s now mute, and housebound. Also destroyed was Naismith’s father.
Esme wonders how Tess can see so much, why she is sensitive. And slowly they piece the truth together, that her mother was a baby from the village, who was taken away soon after the fire.
And while we’re discovering new old villagers, Ben is introduced to his great uncle, Richard Naismith’s father, thought to have died in the fire.
Julia persuades Ben to use his power to bring the past back to the present so they can recreate the ceremony, and complete Century. So it’s back to the falls again for Ben to do his magic, and create a firefall. It’s quite an impressive image for such a low budget production.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 10th March 1993 – 17:10
Before the next episode, it’s now Philippa Forrester in the broom cupboard.
Then part 5. Carey learns that her power is to hold back Ben’s power, suppress it. Literally the first thing we ever heard him say to her. She manages to stop the firefall, then tells Julia she’ll listen to what she has to say back at the house.
But Tess and Esme are hiding in the land rover, and the four of them escape.
Another village seance is held to discover the truth about Julia, and they conclude that Julia is somehow a manifestation of the whole village’s subconscious mind.
Julia, in turn, discovers that May Harkness is guarding Tess and the two twins, so she tricks her into bringing the children to the manor house. She says she’ll save the whole village. Esme seems to be the only one who doesn’t believe her. “Then we’ll all burn. There’s not a mind living able to contain such energy.”
Then Julia drops her bombshell. It’s not her that will become Century. It’s Tess’s mother’s unborn child.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 17th March 1993 – 17:10
Before the next episode, a trailer for Dodgem.
Then we come to the final part of Century Falls. Esme is able to resist Julia’s persuasion because her mother is protecting her.
Ben uses his power to restore the temple to how it was before the fire.
Tess is still seeing visions of a young girl.
Old Doctor Naismith starts the ceremony again.
Esme tries to stop it but Julia overpowers her mind. But Tess has an idea, and back in her house she looks forward, not back, and sees her sister.
Then the fire returns as Ben, influenced by Tess’s future sister, rolls time forward again. Tess tells the village they can have hope in the future. But the villagers turn on Julia, who runs to the falls. It’s getting a bit witchhuntery.
But Julia has nothing for herself, and she jumps into the falls, never to be seen again.
There’s a coda saying that the village now has a future, and we get to see Tess with her real baby sister.
I don’t love this as much as I love Dark Season. It suffers from not enough plot, and what plot there is is a bit fluffy. Psychic powers can be a difficult thing to sell in drama as their limits aren’t clear, and neither are the stakes. The length is also a problem, as the first four episodes really don’t have that much in the way of plot, and spend most of their time going back and forth from the falls, having more and more visions and trying to stretch out the backstory as long as possible. Dark Season’s 2×3 episode format worked much better. I think this could have been 4 episodes long and be much improved.
The writing style is also very mannered. All the characters declaim, and the dialogue isn’t remotely naturalistic. It takes a bit of getting used to, and does tend to be a barrier to really liking the characters. But the show really feels like a homage to all the great supernatural children’s dramas of the 70s.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 24th March 1993 – 17:10
After this, recording continues with a trailer for the repeats of the very first series of Grange Hill. 15 years ago from this recording, now 40 years ago as I write this.
Then, an episode of Neighbours. BBC One – 24th March 1993 – 17:35
There’s a trailer for Crimewatch File.
Then the start of the 6 O’Clock news, presented by Anna Ford. Top Story is the UN suspending relief flights to Bosnia.
The tape ends during this bulletin.