Standing stones seem a peculiarly 1970s preoccupation. From Catherine Storr’s Marianne Dreams, adapted for television as Escape into Night, to Doctor Who’s ‘The Stones of Blood’, there is something about the post-hippie era that inspires stories of ley lines and pagan ritual.
For many older children growing up in the decade, the high watermark of these types of modern folk tales was HTV’s Children of the Stones, first screened in 1977. Revisiting it today, it’s notable how of the era it seems, both in content and approach. In an age when children’s drama programming – and certainly programming for older children, in their teens – has been all but eroded, it’s remarkable to find a children’s drama that can trust its audience to have a good working knowledge of astronomy, folklore and physics.
But more than that, the very look and tone of the piece suggests a more innocent age. From the soft grainy film sequences, which seem to have been filmed in an eternal English summer, to one of the spookiest title sequences ever devised for television, featuring ethereal Clannad-style music swelling to an orgasmic crescendo: even the sight of the HTV logo is sufficient to induce a nostalgia rush.
Watching it now, it’s powerful enough to evoke a blur of memories from the period, all of them vaguely associated with rural England and its hidden menace: childhood trips to Stonehenge; Kit Williams’s Masquerade puzzle book; corn mazes… The associations may not be strictly congruent with the seventies, but that too is highly appropriate for a drama which considers time circular, and is, ultimately, about a community caught in stasis and the cyclical influence of the past on the present.
No wonder children in 1977 were so freaked out by it. It may not be irresponsible children’s programming; but it’s certainly unnerving, putting an astrophysics twist on the story of communities that ‘don’t like strangers in these ’ere parts’.
As the Lord of the Manor, and keeper of the village’s mysteries, Iain Cuthbertson (Sutherland’s Law, Doctor Who) is suitably unctuous and intimidating, and if the child actors fare less well, it’s partly because here the period trappings – the groovy haircuts and sleeveless t-shirts – have endured less successfully.
But we sneer at the period if we dare. Ultimately, this is a drama which knows how to challenge its audience, and which builds to a suitably mind-bending final episode. These days, even the best children’s dramas – where they exist – are not averse to the odd moment of story-resolving gunging, but the final scenes of this adventure are far subtler, and succeed in both resolving and raising questions. For the many, many fans of this programme, its overdue release on DVD will be a ‘happy day’ indeed.
Extras: The second disc features single episodes from four more HTV children’s serials: The Clifton House Mystery, Into The Labyrinth, King of the Castle and Sky. All four serials have been released on DVD, but prices for the latter two are now exorbitant, so these taster episodes offer a neat snapshot of the sorts of nightmares to which TV producers were once happy to subject children.
Released on DVD on Monday 17th October 2011 by Network.
Watch a clip…