The Magician’s House

Sunday, October 31, 1999 by

This one will sort out the men from the boys.

In some circles the arrival of The Magician’s House marked a television event more momentous than that prehistoric nonsense the BBC keep trying to push down our throats (am I alone in thinking that some of the dinosaur effects in Walking With Dinosaurs are pretty questionable?) Expectation does strange things to your enjoyment, and it was as a comparative study that I sat down to watch The Magician’s House. On the plus side, Ian Richardson has always had the making of an excellent Hartnellesque Doctor Who, and the blurb in the Radio Times with its talk of time-travelling magicians and children sent away to stay with relatives at Christmas was lip smackingly, Box of Delights-ingly tempting. Anticipation was tempered by the news thatThe Magician’s House was to be a co-production. US sentimentality is the very antithesis of great British children’s drama, surely the last genre on TV to be able to exude genuine evil when required.

To formulate a reaction from 30 minutes is difficult. Certainly Paul Lynch’s direction appositely framed our protagonists as vulnerable and observed. The effects were competent but refreshingly presented as part of the narrative and not set pieces. Richardson, did not disappoint but failed to really throw himself into the part (perhaps later episodes will bear witness to his theatrical range). Pearson made a competent dad (a role which rarely presents the actor with a great deal to do), and the other cast members proved to be never less then adequate. The narrative unfolded in pleasingly predictable style, episode one laying the foundations and successfully introducing an acceptable series of questions which we await to see resolved. However, the whole thing was distinctly lacking in jeopardy. The seditious narrative of The Box of Delights makes episode one of this drama appear frugal in comparison. It’s as if an audience now starved of such fantastique will find satisfaction in mere morsels, when what we really want is a narrative with real impertinence.

So then, the most pertinent question that remains is the extent to which The Magician’s Househas been created as a continuance of traditional British children’s drama, and how much of that categorisation is a reflection of this reviewer’s own predilections. Certainly the author has pedigree (adaptor of The Machine Gunners), and the scheduling and billing appear to acknowledge children’s drama at least as far back as Narnia. Beyond that, perhaps the true driver behind The Magician’s House is the potential foreign markets. One feels if my affections lay with co-productions I could eulogise interminably on the stylistic debt owed to the Danson led adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels that so successfully entertained us some Easters ago. WillThe Magician’s House catalyse a dramatic renaissance in fantasy drama? If so will it be my type of fantasy drama?


Comments are closed.