This series has certainly had ups and downs in its run so far. For me, Island was an acceptable adaptation, Woods was absolutely awful in every way, Valley was an unexpected success and then Sea was another reasonable episode. Shall we see how Mountain does then?
THE MYSTERIOUS OPENING SCENE
Another dramatic opening with a man plunging to his death from a helicopter. Two men, watching, are amused by this. Then we see a young boy in a ragged jumper running away from an unknown threat. The red helicopter then lands and one man says to the other, “We need more test pilots, Erlick.”
Over in England Bill is arguing with his boss, Sir George, as he wants to take a holiday. Sir George isn’t very happy – “You are just back from New Zealand,” he says. Bill makes the point that his holiday there was cut short by being kidnapped. Sir George wants to know if his holiday will be with “that woman and her kids.” He sound a little disapproving of Allie one moment and the next he is meaningfully pointing out that it’s hard to adopt children without a father. At last he agrees that Bill can have one week.
Back in New Zealand Bill wants the children to guess where they are going. They work out there are mountains, but it’s not Scotland. There are lakes, but it’s not Wales. They can get there by car without crossing water. They speak a foreign language there, and the children have never been. Bill’s final clue is humming/singing a bit of a song the children know from school.
They’re off to Germany, pony trekking in the Bavarian mountains to be precise.
After the children run off to do whatever it is they do when they’re not getting into adventures, Jack wanders back looking puzzled. He queries the ‘not crossing water’ clue. “The channel tunnel,” Bill says with a grin, admitting he is right by a technicality.
We have had several bad science entries between this series and the Secret Series, now it’s time for the geographical version.
They seem to think that New Zealand and the UK are interchangeable, or indeed pretend they have been in the UK all along. Sea of Adventure was set in New Zealand – we knew this before Sir George mentioned it. Are we to believe that everything else, however, was set in the UK? That’s the only way it would be possible to drive through the channel tunnel and get to Germany. It would also explain how the white jeep is driven around Craggy Tops and also Germany. It does not explain all of the New Zealand accents and locations through the other episodes, however.
PLANS AND LAME EXCUSES
They arrive in the Valley of Eagles (a name which proves to be entirely pointless as there is not a single eagle to be seen) and immediately we get a series of ‘necessary’ but contrived reasons as to why the kids are going to go trekking with just a guide. In the book Aunt Allie injures her hand and Bill, who is clearly sweet on her by then, stays to take her to the hospital.
On TV the adults have decided they’re not trekking before they even arrive in Germany. Bill only has one week and presumably has wasted rather a lot of that driving from England to Germany. Allie intends to paint anyway, and the children note that Bill is keen to stay with Allie.
Meanwhile the ragged boy is still running around, now having flashbacks to dark tunnels and strange men. It is the helicopter that is looking for him, and Bill finds it highly suspicious to see a helicopter. A tiny nod is made to Philip’s skills with animals as he picks up a good-sized goat. Bill calls him Dr Dolittle, which would be inaccurate based on on what we see in the series.
MYTHS, INTERRUPTED ROMANCE AND FOG
The children go off with Hans, their guide, through areas with no roads and no houses. (The kids wear helmets thanks to modern safety rules.) Hans tells them a story about the Mountain of Kings, which is said to have an ancient, wicked king buried inside it. Legend says that one day the earth will shake and that king will rise again to rule the world.
Meanwhile Bill and Allie’s romantic picnic is interrupted by Sir George. Bill is needed to cover for someone with the flu, and will have to leave first thing in the morning. Again I get the impression Sir George is trying to throw a spanner in the works – especially after impressing the importance of Bill coming back moments before picking up his clubs to go golfing.
A fog rolls over the children’s camp that night, and they trek through it in the morning until Hans’ compass stops working and he admits that they are lost.
PROPOSALS, WOLVES AND EARTHQUAKES
The children go for some water, as they all decide to stay where they are for a while. Something then spooks the horses and Hans sees wolves drawing closer. It seems for a moment that he has been spooked (like David in the book) and rides off on his horse, but then it seems likely that he is chasing the ponies to retrieve them. Unfortunately he cracks his head on a branch and knocks himself unconscious.
Meanwhile Bill has proposed to Allie while she paints (though disappointingly he doesn’t go down on one knee). “It’s beautiful. But it’s an engagement ring,” she said stupidly before he asks the question.
The children do their best to cope alone with wild (but hopefully not poisonous mushrooms for dinner. They hear what they think is thunder, then realise it’s an earthquake. (Well, they are in New Zealand!) Is the wicked king returning? I don’t know about that but they do recover one pony, which was carrying food matches and ropes.
This is just as well as the German mountain rescue team can’t go out in the fog to look for them. The wolves turn up again but Philip charms them and reveals they are actually Alsatians. This was more believable in the books where we saw him keep lizards, hedgehogs and other creatures in his pockets and tamed wild animals.
Lucy-Ann is the one to spot the runaway – by a river not up a tree this time. So the kid is our Sam the pilot. He’s gone by the time the others get there and they don’t believe her at first.
Another earthquake strikes, but by now Bill is out with the mountain rescuers who find Hans alive.
BAD SCIENCE, OR JUST BAD EFFECTS?
According to an article in the most recent Enid Blyton Society Journal the series had a $10 million budget, but unfortunately the ‘lightening’ coming out of the mountain looks pretty silly.
THE ADVENTURE PICKS UP
The runaway boy is now being chased by the dogs, and by men with guns. Philip manages to get himself caught also (I managed to miss exactly how). The other kids follow, naturally, and manage to fall down a mine shaft. This bit seems to be there just to pad out the story for the running time. Interestingly the journal article also revealed that the series ran for 28 episodes, which sort of justifies the long running time for each book.
It does not justify the fact that the children needed to sing get again – this time to get Kiki to fly down into the mine shaft with a rope.
Yet again the girls try to flag down the enemies for help, while Allie gives Sir George a real ear-bashing for daring to ask Bill when he’s coming back. This seems to improve his opinion of her and he contact the German embassy to procure them some more help.
The children can’t work out how to get through the ‘solid rock wall’ at the base of the mountain. Kiki gets in though – and considering there could be any number of entrances behind the enormous bushes there, it’s not an impressive feat.
They find their way to the room where Philip and the other boy are. The German boy is revealed as Alexai who explains things. “You. Fly. Down. Dead.” This takes so long they are very nearly caught again. Alexai won’t leave the room to escape with the others.
There’s a weird heavy breathing sound in the tunnels now, and Jack is using his palm-pilot-type-device to find their way out. He navigates them straight into what seems to be a heavy breathing vampire in a cape.
As in the book they then get themselves quite lost and end up on a gallery looking down on what I can only describe as ‘crazy futuristic stuff’.
Lucy-Ann actually floats away when the machines are turned on, as does Dinah, and then the others too. Kiki flies off.Meanwhile it is discovered that the children have escaped.
The kids get out of mountain but run straight into men with guns.
They are returned inside to meet ‘the King’, a scientist who has created anti-gravity to reduce the air pollution produced by cars and aeroplanes. Unfortunately Erlick plans to blackmail the aeroplane makers etc with the promise of keeping this discovery a secret.
The children end up back in the cell again, but Alexai guides Philip to climb from their window down to another room where he meets the king. He is able to persuade him of Erlic’s treachery but he and the others overpower the king and make him continue the experiments. (Why isn’t clear. If you’re evil enough to blackmail the world’s transport companies surely you’d be evil enough to do it with a flawed technology?)
Anyway, Jack is forced to wear the antigravity chest panel – no beautifully crafted wings here. The helicopter arrives to take him for his final flight but the surprise here is ruined by the fact that Bill has already revealed to us that he has captured the helicopter and the pilot. He doesn’t shout ‘don’t forget Bill Smugs’ either.
The mountain-top is rather lacking in drama too. It’s more of a hummock at one side of the mountain, from which they shoot the helicopter as it tries to land without throwing Philip out.
Bill still takes helicopter back up with fuel pouring from it to rescue the rest of the children.
Inside the mountain the king has had a breakthrough and makes himself fly – and also causes an explosion. The budget clearly didn’t allow for a big explosion so Bill remarks “oh course, anti-gravity. It imploded not exploded!” as the lightening is drawn back into the mountain.
They go back inside themselves to find Kiki (and we get another tearful scene where she is presumed dead) and find out the king is alive. So is Erlick who catches them, but Philip is quick to set his own dogs on him. To escape Erlick throws himself off the mountain with the anti-gravity thing on… and screams as he plummets to his death (from an impossible height from what we’ve seen of the mountain so far).
Well. This is probably a middling episode. It stuck fairly close to the story with understandable omissions regarding black paratroopers and stereotypical Welsh folk.
Unfortunately, even given the added legend, the sci-fi element seems a bit silly. It’s somehow more believable in the book (for me anyway). It is also unfortunate that the important point of Philip taming the dogs is not very believable as his skills have been barely shown in the previous episodes. It would have been nice for that part to be played on more – if they had escaped the mountain and then hidden in the tunnel with the dogs etc, that would have added to the running time instead of the silly ‘fallen down a mine’ scene.
On a side note, I just wanted to add that I do like Malcolm Jamieson as Bill. And actually, all the cast – main and supporting – are good.