This is not going to be as easy to write as my overview for series one, mostly because it has taken me so long to watch this series that I’ve practically forgotten what happened at the beginning of it. But I have my reviews to remind me, so let’s get down to it.
A reminder of the episodes
I did this in my series one overview, but this time it’s as much for my benefit as it is for my readers.
1. The Head of Form
Most of the form return for second year (sans Emily and Katherine) and we meet new girl Ellen who’s there on a scholarship and the new teacher Mr Parker. As the title suggests the main plot is about choosing the head of the form which ends up being between Sally, Alicia and Gwen. There begins the disharmony as Darrell tries to be friends with both Sally – who wins head of form – and Alicia, as per the books.
Although Ellen and Nosy Parker are in the books they are played differently on-screen. Ellen is mostly cheerful while Mr Parker is new to the school and rather all over the place with his attempts at discipline.
2. The Dunce’s Cap
Continuing with the theme of Mr Parker being ineffective he brings in the dunce’s cap and shames Mary-Lou for her lack of confidence at reciting in front of the class. This ties in with the magic pink chalk trick which the girls play on Mam’zelle Rougier and Mr Parker.
The trick is funny, but not as well-done as in the book, while the dunce plot seems nothing more than a way to pad out the trick into an entire episode, seeing as they fail to use it to further Ellen’s storyline.
The fact that Ellen doesn’t fit in becomes more apparent as we see her oversized uniform and her wrong lacrosse kit. She has a rant about how the other girls are lazy and don’t appreciate what they have, leading them to making an act of charity towards her which doesn’t go down well.
The title refers to a cat which Ellen finds and starts to take care of, mean while the leaky roof from previous episodes is explained when we find out that Malory Towers is in financial difficulties.
This is a rather uneven episode, with Ellen’s outburst coming rather out of nowhere, and the cat being rather superfluous.
4. The Audition
Head Girl Georgina Thomas is putting on a play about Lady Jane Malory and her lover Highwayman Jack. Gwen persuades Darrell into auditioning with her as she wants to impress her father, but Darrell still has time to go treasure hunting after Lady Jane Malory’s diary is found.
Almost nothing in this episode comes from the books, and it shows. The auditions are pure nonsense – they HAVE to audition in pairs, regardless of whether both girls even want to be in the play, and only girls from Darrell’s form even audition.
5. The Caricatures
Mary-Lou (who has been revealed as the artist behind some caricatures lately) draws a new one of Mam’zelle Rougier and Matron, leading to a lot of trouble, and Gwen makes a big fuss about learning her lines and making the play a success.
I love the (fairly small) part of the book where Belinda’s drawing causes first an upset and then a resolution between the two Mam’zelles. However Mary-Lou having been secretly skilled at art, leaving secret caricatures around and then drawing a somewhat spiteful picture doesn’t make sense. The story lacks impact, also, as there isn’t the same history of animosity between Matron and Mam’zelle Rougier.
6. The Runaway
Ellen messes up taking a test and is so upset that she runs away. Meanwhile personal belongings are starting to go missing and Gwen’s acting oddly about it.
Ellen’s storyline has been patchy at best, rather than building slowly to this moment for her it has come in fits and starts. The start of the episode does show her waking up amongst her study materials, implying she’s over-doing it but it’s a bit late.
7. The Play
The Lady Jane Malory play is held, with Darrell ending up having to take the role of Highwayman Jack at the last minute. Gwen has to try to keep her lies/secrets from unravelling as her mother comes to see the play, and Mr Thomas (Georgina’s father) also attends and is possibly going to save the school by investing.
This is one of the better episodes due in large part to it heavily featuring Gwen and her mother, both parts being acted extremely well. Lots of intrigue starts to build up here with questions over Mr Thomas’ motivations and Gwen’s behaviour.
8. The Measles
Much of this episode takes place in the San. Georgina has the measles, Mr Parker is unwell but it turns out not to be the measles and Gwen has to quarantine in case she has measles.
With Mr Parker absent Sally is given responsibility for the class and struggles to exert her authority, while Gwen is able to discover that Mr Thomas plans to demolish Malory Towers. She also steals something belonging to Georgina, establishing that she taking on the role of thief in this series.
Although there are some fun scenes in this episode (Mr Parker laid up in the san for example) much of it doesn’t make sense. Why is Mr Parker in Matron’s bed? Why is Gwen quarantining right beside a confirmed measles case? Well, to further the plots obviously, but it makes it all look very silly. I found Gwen’s honourable behaviour rather out of character, too.
9. The Sneezing Trick
Stealing a plot from Third Form at Malory Towers, Alicia and Darrell play despite Sally being firmly against it. This sets up a lot of strife as the trick is discovered and Sally takes the blame and Darrell falls out with Alicia for not owning up. Meanwhile, Gwen continues to steal.
This sticks reasonably closely to the (wrong) book, but it’s just not as funny or well-done as it was with Miss Potts, Matron and Mam’zelle Dupont.
10. The School Trip
Gwen carries on stealing, though has an attack of conscience when she finds out how much sentimental value Mary-Lou’s item has for her. Darrell and Sally find a clue to the treasure and Miss Grayling reminisces about her childhood at Malory Towers.
This episode drags a bit as Mary-Lou spends rather a lot of time locked in a cupboard while Gwen runs around risking being caught by having all her stolen goods out in the open. The stuff about Miss Grayling’s childhood was nice but again, seemed freshly made up for this episode.
11. The Quiz
Malory Towers is to host a quiz against boys from a school nearby. Alicia accuses Ellen of being the thief, and Darrell ‘proves’ it’s true by catching Ellen looking through Mr Parker’s desk in the night.
With Ellen excluded – or so they think – Irene join the quiz team and after an extremely rocky start the girls do win.
Despite trying to base events on the book this falls very flat. Ellen’s actions and motivations are bizarre and the girls’ behaviour during the quiz is just silly. I was very disappointed that Darrell and Sally weren’t stronger in defending Ellen against the first thieving accusation, in fact Darrell’s speech was horrible to watch. The highlight was watching Gwen trying to work out how Ellen was expelled for theft when it wasn’t her.
12. The Heroine
Gwen is desperate to post off her stolen goods and so Mary-Lou ends up taking them to the post office via the cliff path. As per the book she falls over the edge and is later rescued by the thief, aka Gwen.
This sticks as close to the book as it can given the change of the thief’s identity and the fact it was filmed on a sunny afternoon. Some of the drama is lost as the girls chat quite casually despite one of them hanging off a cliff, but overall it’s not a bad episode.
13. The Lost Treasure
Everything comes to a head in this, the final episode. Gwen’s parcel is found revealing her to be the thief, and so Ellen is exonerated amongst her peers. Darrell and Sally go searching for the Malory Treasure while Alicia and Gwen try to delay Miss Grayling from selling the school to Mr Thomas, and then Gwen has to face Miss Grayling – and her dorm mates – over her thieving.
Everything is neatly tied up in the end – as you’d expect. I wished Mr Thomas had had more of a comeuppance but I’ll just have to enjoy the memory of him falling in the mud back in episode 7.
There were a few changes this term, as shown below.
Returning girls –
Darrell Rivers ( Ella Bright) – continues to battle her temper and finding her place in the form between steady Sally and the wilder Alicia.
Alicia Johns (Zoey Siewart) – The main trick-player for the series Alicia is perhaps in the background more often than she was in series one, though she is key in accusing Ellen of theft.
Irene (Natasha Raphael) – Irene was again under-used in my opinion as she’s very funny when she does get screen time.
Sally Hope (Sienna Arif Knights) – Sally has a bigger role now that she’s not holding onto so many secrets. As head of form she comes up against Darrell and Alicia on several occasions. I think that Sienna Arif Knights was a more confident actress in this series compared to series one, and was able to convey more feeling behind Sally’s prim exterior.
Jean (Beth Bradfield) – Jean’s main role is as a friend to Ellen, and her staunch defender which was nice to see.
Mary-Lou (Imogen Lamb) – Mary-Lou’s character was fleshed out a little more, though deviating from the books, as she is the mystery caricaturist.
Gwendoline Mary Lacey (Danya Griver) – As in series one Danya Griver’s acting was superb and she steals almost every scene she is in. Her facial expressions continue to be wonderful and convey so much without her even having to open her mouth. I can’t say that I was the biggest fan of making Gwen the second form’s thief, but Danya Griver certainly carried it off well, her consistent, skilful acting making you forget when the plot didn’t entirely make sense.
The new girls –
Ellen Wilson (Carys John) – Ellen is the new scholarship girl who comes from a much poorer home than the other girls. She finds it difficult to fit in and feels like she isn’t keeping up with the rest of her form, not having studied the same subjects at her previous school. Her story culminates in her trying to steal the answers to the inter school quiz and being falsely accused of the thefts in the second form.
Georgina Thomas (Edie Whitehead) – Not new to the school, but new to our screens, Georgina is solely in charge of the play the second formers put on. She’s also the daughter of Mr Thomas though thankfully she manages to finish out her last year at the school without his actions effecting her.
The returning staff –
Mam’zelle Rougier (Genevieve Beaudet) – Mam’zelle returns to rule her French classes. She has a couple of minor storylines – the chalk and sneezing tricks are played on her, she doesn’t pass on Darrell’s concerns about Mr Thomas to Miss Grayling, and she and Mr Parker play their own trick on the girls after some song lyrics are mistaken for a love letter.
Matron (Ashley MacGuire) – After Gwen, Matron gets some of the best scenes in the series – none of it based on the books, but just lots of little moments peppered throughout the episodes. She gets soaked when the dorm ceiling falls in, she battles herself over whether or not to eat the chocolate cake they’ve just baked, and so on. She’s very funny, and actually more likeable than in series one.
Miss Grayling (Birgitte Solem) – I swithered over whether to put Miss Grayling as returning or new, as the character returned but the actress did not. Miss Grayling still dishes out good advice but I thought she failed Ellen rather badly in not listening to her.
The new staff –
Mr Parker (Jason Callender) – With Miss Potts gone Mr Parker arrives to take over the form – for 9 of the 13 episodes, anyway. He is a strange teacher, struggling to exert his authority at the beginning before fading into the background or disappearing altogether later in the series. It is a shame that Jason Callender rarely got to shine as his character had moments of sensitivity with his pupils, and I liked the storyline about him being picked on by the boys at his old school, though unfortunately it never went anywhere.
Everyone else –
Ron the garden boy returns and is involved in a few important plots – the selling (and rebuying) of Gwen’s mother’s stolen brooch, and the finding of the treasure.
Mr Thomas, Georgina’s father, has been created for the series and first appears as a benevolent benefactor with the power to save the school. Then we discover that he is only in it for his own gain.
Mrs Lacey returns for an all too brief visit for the school play and is as aloof and wonderful as ever.
Felicity also turns up for the play along with the newly-created character of Mary-Lou’s granny.
My thoughts on the series
I definitely didn’t find this series as compelling as the first, hence me taking months and months to watch just 13 episodes.
But first, the good points –
The standard of the acting remained exceptionally high – I couldn’t fault a single moment of the acting from any of the cast, no matter how young or how little their role.
The costumes, locations, sets and so on were also excellent. Visually it’s all very beautiful and (to my millennial eyes) perfectly of the period.
There were some really humorous moments woven in, and I commend the script writers and the actors for doing that so well. They never felt like filler material, but they brought uplifting moments that slotted nicely in-between slightly heavier or even just serious scenes.
And now for the bad –
I was really disappointed to not get Daphne or Belinda. As two girls left the dorm it’s a real shame we couldn’t have either girl and both their storylines were given to other girls. It was rather square peg in a round hole for both, but Danya Griver and Imogen Lamb acted it all very well and made it as believable as possible.
Both Ellen and Mr Parker had potentially interesting storylines (one from the book and one made up, of course) so I was frustrated that neither of them got the time to really explore that. Ellen seemed to get forgotten about rather a lot, and would then come out of nowhere with a rant or argument. Her storyline was cut in half, with what seemed like a resolution to her problems, then later being accused of theft and deciding to steal the quiz answers. It would have been much better to stick to the book and have one big bang for her with the accusation(s) and cheating at the exam. I can see how that would have reduced her screen-time, however, as Ellen is very much in the background of the book until the end.
As for Mr Parker, he had lots of small moments that didn’t really build to anything. We saw he had a teddy in episode one, that was never mentioned again. He did struggle to exert his authority in a few early episodes, but we never really got to see him bloom into a confident or capable teacher after that, except for perhaps his sensitive chat with Ellen in the san. He is missing entirely for four episodes, and his role in many episodes was reduced to a minor background plot such as playing the love letter trick on the girls or them thinking he was proposing to Matron. I feel like they didn’t really know what to do with him.
The treasure hunting story also suffered from a lot of stop-starting and getting forgotten about. I know the ghost story was similar but that just seemed to work better. It was also patently obvious – even for those who hadn’t read the book surely – that the treasure buried under the cross on the cliff would, after the cliff had crumbled, be likely to still be in the vicinity. Or at least that would be a good place to start looking!
I will caveat some of that with two things – I had long gaps between watching episodes (I watched two at a time until the last three which I did at once) so that may have exacerbated my feelings on the rhythm of the plots. I also realise that I am basing perhaps too much of my opinions on the books. Book Gwen isn’t the same as TV Gwen, so when I’m saying Gwen wouldn’t do that, what I mean is that book Gwen wouldn’t have. My issue is that they’ve changed the character rather than her acting out of character.
Just a last note to say thanks to everyone who’s commented on my reviews of this series, lots of interesting points have been raised and they’ve definitely given me more to think about when watching this adaptation. It’s always interesting to see what others have taken from watching it.
Thank you for the season overview, I absolutely love reading the reviews as I don’t know many people in person who have watched the show. I definitely agreed with you that this series was weaker than the first and I missed Daphne and Belinda – but especially Daphne. I also really missed Katherine and Emily and – along with other people I know- wish they had had a better send off. I think that one of the reasons season 1 and 2 differ so much was that one of the directors was changed who seems to have a different style. Also, I don’t know if you’ve heard but there’s a Christmas special that’s airing on the 5 December which might be intresting for you.
Yes – I think it would have been really nice to have had even just a few remarks explaining what happened to Emily and Katherine. I feel that goes for the whole series, really. If they had taken a few seconds here and there to have the girls even SAY that Ellen was studying – again – or being snappy etc it would have built a better picture and made for a more natural progression for her.
I didn’t know about the director so that’s interesting. I also didn’t know about the Christmas special so I will keep an eye out for that even though I haven’t watched series 3 yet.
Just to say I’ve seen the Christmas special now. Interesting if confusingly, it reverts to the original Miss Grayling. It would be perfectly possible to skip straight there but I would recommend watching Series 3 first as preferable.
I really enjoyed the Christmas special but Gordon Bennett, it’s dark. Both in themes and in literal visuals it’s almost a polar opposite to Series 3, which of course has moments of jeopardy but is generally bright and sunny, with plenty of comedic touches.
Thank you from me too for the reviews, which I always enjoy reading and appreciate the effort they take.
I absolutely agree the highlights of the show are the acting and the period accuracy – while it manages to stay accessible to very young viewers, whose grandparents wouldn’t even have been alive at the time it’s set.
I think it does demonstrate that Enid Blyton really knew how to write a story, and while she made it look easy, it isn’t. To spin out each relatively short book into thirteen episodes inevitably means adding extra plot threads, but the further the writers stray from the source material, the more issues they have with subplots not being properly developed and characters not behaving in believable ways.
The major difference I noticed between the first two series is that Series 1 is totally centred on Darrell Rivers. The core plot is her quest to win acceptance in this new school. The forces opposing that are her dark secret, her temper, her word blindness, her mother’s health, her short hair, and then Gwen as a mirror of Darrell’s personality. In Series 2, Darrell takes more of a back seat, and that continues in Series 3. It’s common with ensemble shows that some characters become more successful than the writers originally expected and others less so. Because Danya Griver is very good, I suspect Gwen has become more central to the whole show than might have been anticipated. That’s fine, but I hope there will be a really hefty Darrell-centred plot in Series 4.
NB Alicia is absent in Series 3 but she’s mentioned regularly. I agree with TBT it’s a shame the “act like they never existed” approach was taken with Emily and Katherine.
I can understand Darrell being less at the forefront of series two, as otherwise they’d have to come up with yet more plots to give her. It’s just a shame that her word-blindness (and to a lesser extent her temper) is forgotten about for the most part and only brought out as plot devices when it suits them.
There was a short Malory Towers event at the BFI TV festival earlier this year, which I did go to. Ella Bright made some comment like “this series I hurl a lot of stuff. I mean A LOT of stuff!” Which has mystified me ever since, because Darrell’s temper isn’t a big thing in Series 3 either. I can only assume she was referring to Series 4, which she might have just seen scripts for at that point.
That’s interesting – I wonder what will prompt these outbursts in series 4?
Thanks for doing these reviews; it’s a pleasant change to read considered opinions rather than knee jerk reactions and people looking only for faults with a work.
I think your experience has been affected by watching the episodes so far apart; for me watching them in the space of a month, the plots coming in and out of focus felt fairly natural. For example, it’s pretty realistic for Ellen’s anxiety to recur and need more than one conversation with Mr Parker to resolve.
That said, I agree that the second series wasn’t quite as strong as series 1, though I still felt it was done to a high standard.
I look forward to reading your reactions to Series 3 as and when you get round to it; I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say they keep it fresh and interesting.
With that in mind, I’d be cautious about watching the Christmas special (thanks to “Thatblytonteenager” for mentioning it, I didn’t know about it) before watching Series 3 as it might spoil it for you- I’ve only read synopses of the books but it’s safe to say S3 adds significant original material.
Yes – you’re probably right. The weeks (and on one occasion months) between episodes watched likely exaggerated the choppiness of the series for me.
It’s really interesting a comprehensive opinion on the series! After watching season 3 I think it’s quite a bit better than season 2, with Bill being very like in the book. It seemed mostly similar to the books apart from a large-ish side plot. The Christmas special was really good too, it will be interesting to see what you think!