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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
he creepy English village is one of those TV and movie archetypes that’s been done to death, yet nevertheless remains an effective storytelling tool. Add into the mix another tried and true gimmick – the prehistoric stone circle – and you’ve got “Children of the Stones,” an unsettling little thriller made in 1977 for Britain’s ITV. The series, which spans seven 30-minute installments, was aimed at children, but as is often the case with fare from this time period, it will most definitely appeal to adults as well. You might even have vague memories of it if you were lucky enough to have Nickelodeon in the early 80s, as here in the States it was shown on the anthology series “The Third Eye.”
Astrophysicist Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas of “Blake’s 7”) and his son Matthew (Peter Demin) travel to the tiny hamlet of Milbury for the sole purpose of researching the stone circle that surrounds the town. They’re welcomed with open arms by the unusually polite townsfolk and quickly settle into a new (albeit temporary) life. Well, it’s supposed to be temporary. The father and son team will eventually discover that leaving Milbury is considerably more difficult than entering. The town seems to be under the spell of a local scientist, Hendrick (Iain Cuthbertson), and one by one the locals fall prey to his hypnotic ways, making them “Happy Ones.” As the story moves forward, each of Adam and Matthew’s allies succumb to Hendrick. Only one other man seems impervious to Hendrick – Dai, a poacher (Freddie Jones of “Dune” and “The Elephant Man”), and he may eventually play a key role in the proceedings. As each installment unfolds, the mysteries deepen and the plot becomes increasingly complex. Had I viewed “Children of the Stones” as a young teenager, it would’ve blown my mind.
Given its target audience, this is one of the most layered pieces of this type of television I’ve seen in a good long while. It’s very tempting to describe it as some great, long lost mid-70s “Doctor Who” serial, as the production values are nearly identical to your average Tom Baker-era storyline – the standard mix of videotaped interiors and filmed exteriors being the most obvious example. However, the show contains almost no special effects, and therefore there’s very little here to bring the affair crashing down in that department. Further, Adam and Matthew have an almost Doctor-companion type of relationship, as opposed to father and son. They’re equals, and the son brings just as much to the mystery-solving table as the father. But what really sets the show apart from old “Who” is its intricacy. If “Doctor Who” had been this dense, it never would’ve survived for all those years. This is most definitely thinking man’s TV as opposed to action/adventure, and having only viewed it once, I can honestly say I still don’t quite get all of it, but I know the answers are there – it’s just going to take another viewing or two to piece it all together. It definitely falls under the heading of sci-fi, although it plays as a mix of horror and mystery as well.
The acting is top notch and it’s always great to see Gareth Thomas playing someone other than Roj Blake. Iain Cuthbertson is suitably sinister and yet completely sympathetic as the main villain. But perhaps the real star of “Stones” is the unsettling, ethereal score, punctuated by wordless howls and moans, which wraps around the entire production. As each episode begins, the music sets the perfect tone that effortlessly carries you on to the next installment. This is a real hidden gem of a series that for a certain type of viewer – you know who you are – will be a welcome addition to your collection.
Special Features: There isn’t a whole lot here, and yet it’s actually more than you’d expect for a show this old and nearly forgotten. There are two lengthy interviews with Gareth Thomas and the director, Peter Graham Scott. There’s also a section of production notes, which is incredibly lengthy and details nearly every aspect of the production. Finally, there’s a photo gallery and a batch of series trivia.