Weaver's Week 2008-02-24

Weaver's Week Index



Warriors, ready!

"My long winning streak is over. I'll just have to start a new one."


BBC Scotland for CBBC, 28 January – 22 February

It's surprising to realise that this is the seventh series of Raven. When it began, back in 2002, some esteemed commentators didn't quite get the point. In fairness, the first series was a bit pants, everyone involved was finding their feet on camera – never a comfortable sight for the viewers – and there was a certain something missing. Series 2 provided a reason for the gold rings, the storyline began to coalesce, and has remained one of the best game shows on television since.

For this year's tournament, a lot has changed. There are – at least nominally – sixteen new games, though some are very familiar. There's even a new map charting the progress across the week, something we've not seen since 2003. As they did in the last two series, the new contestants again engage in a contest to secure their emblems – rather than winching the flag up to a wall, they now paddle across the loch and pull down on their standard.

The peg-back-the-leader challenges tend to the cerebral: Skull Trap is the old parlour game Kerplunk scaled up to life-size, and with a penalty for knocking some of the skulls to the floor. The Gorge is the old symbol-description game Dwarf Mine played on the steep bank of a stream, with a demon keeping time, and with a climb up a waterfall for the leader. Riddle Bridge has been played since week one, and is deservedly a favourite.

Target Run is the only leader's game to prove non-logical skills – they use a crossbow to shoot at a moving target. That particular game is similar to Fire Water, where everyone uses a ground-frame catapult to fire at a fixed target on the lake. Hitting targets in the latter game results in a very satisfactory explosion of pyrotechnics and fireworks, and without the use of any computer graphics.

Other games are familiar from previous years: Long Staff has been played before, though usually on the water, rather than on podia ten feet in the air and with oversized cotton-wool buds. Loch Leap is that old favourite the Leap of Faith, but with the jumping out of a tree element excised and replaced by jumping into the titular body of water. Stone Soldiers, the final reward game of the week, is a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, replacing Blasted Mountain's three-dimensional jigsaw that they played every blimmin' week for the first six series.

Just to confuse, some new games have old titles. Spider Web is now a climbing game, similar in concept to series 3's Ring Climb, and nothing at all like the ropes-in-a-cave game from series 2. Battle of the Boats isn't a straightforward canoeing race, but is a two-team tactical battle to steer a course without bumping into the demons. We've not seen Wrestling Ring or Cliff Climb before, but it shouldn't be too difficult to work out what happens in them.

Demon Army does require a little explanation – this team game uses a large portable catapult to shoot at advancing demons, attempting to hit and destroy them before they reach their target. Those of us of a certain age remember playing Space Invaders in the park using these rules. The final week introduced Stone Bridge, where the contenders had to move along floating stones to the middle of the loch by using a plank of wood to bridge the gap. It combined the Stepping Stones game from earlier years, and the establish-your-path games that were popular more recently. Nevar's Eye, without Nevar, and with water. Very rum.

Many commentators have suggested that the weakest part of Raven is the final day, which consists of The Last Stand and 20 preceding minutes of filler. This year, there's an over-arching story to Fridays, spent going through the passages beneath the Blasted Mountain. The Chasm is a very difficult game testing balance on a narrow path while rocks swing about. Boulder Run is a somewhat more easy game, pushing a boulder along a course while rocks fall and spiders do their thing. Lava Pit requires the remaining contestants to hook ten skulls, and we've already discussed Stone Soldiers. That this formed the final day of the quest felt like a missed opportunity: there was no direct hand-to-hand combat between the two.

Would it be possible to group the games on other days? Perhaps not; as there are eliminations based on performance so far, it would be wrong to have a day testing physical capabilities and nothing on the psychological challenges. This was a significant weakness on the opening day of Finals Week, where a surfeit of physical games put the more cerebral contenders at a distinct handicap.

While we're being picky, we should point out that a very marginal decision half-way through the first week affected who went out that day, which in turn affected who qualified for the final. Decisions on who played whom on the opening day in turn had repercussions that ultimately determined the champion. However, this is the Very Hidden Lesson of Raven: life can be capricious. Sometimes it's obviously fair, sometimes the path is manifestly unfair, and sometimes the smallest decision can have large effects that no-one predicted.

Image:Square Nevar.jpg

Raven's signature challenges – The Surely Impossible Way of the Warrior, and The Last Stand – have survived without too many changes. Indeed, The Last Stand has remained as an assault course for four years, and has not altered at all since the start of Series 5. It is a tremendous shame that the contest is still be decided by one's ability to ascend a steep slope against a muddy stream. On a dramatic level, we remain unconvinced by Nevar – while it's right that Raven should have some greater cause, a reason to recruit his warriors, his adversary only bothers to put in an appearance at the end of each week, and Raven has never offered any evidence to support his claims of Nevar's links with the demons of mass destruction. There was no narrative flow between this series and last summer. The Secret Temple series showed Raven's character as being a little head-strong, preferring to rush into battle without securing his lines, but this dramatic aspect was left hanging. And we still don't like to see anyone blubbing on screen.

Three weeks ago, we cheekily suggested that Sky Onc's revival of Gladiators would be filmed in a children's playground. The BBC has beaten them to the punch. Long Staff is Duel. Cliff Climb is a direct copy of The Wall. Fire Water? That's early-years favourite Danger Zone, albeit without the running between weapons, or the target firing back. The Chasm is Hit and Run, even more brutal than the original, and Boulder Run bears more than a passing resemblance to Pursuit. And, of course, the huge obstacle course at the end concludes with the contenders running up the travelator before bursting through the portal.

After having relatively few innovations during the past few series, there's been a tremendous rate of change in this year's contest. Raven has – rightly – been allowed to take some weeks off the television, to keep the series a little fresher. There's been a good level of publicity, and a game on the show's website. Once again, Raven is promoted as event television.

And it almost lives up to its billing. We found the heats of this year's series to be a little lacking in excitement, the contestants didn't always push themselves to their limits. In part, this is because both the previous series and the spin-off Secret Temple gave ample evidence of warriors breaking their previous limits. In this series, evidence only emerged during the final week, when immense odds were faced.

But let's not carp too much: these are minor criticisms, how to make a good show even better. BBC Director-General Mark Byford is right: Raven is consistently one of the best shows on the telly.

University Challenge

First Semi-Final: Manchester v Christ Church Oxford

The first side in the semi-final last year, when it aired on 2 April, was Manchester. First side in the semi this year, it's Manchester. Will this year's side make the final like the 2007 side? The highly competent Christ Church Oxford side stands in their way. We're just going to sit back and enjoy this one.

Oh alright, we'll share our excitement with you. As has become traditional, the game starts with a definition: this week it's RENDER, and Sean Furlong gets it for Manchester. Max Kaufmann gets the next starter for CCO. Angharad O'Leary mistakes last year's Harry Potter novel for one of the older ones, allowing Oxford to pick up the starter and take a lead. The first visual round is Name That Actor, it's CCO's fourth starter of the show, and the side leads by 60-25.

"It's 'East Enders', it's beneath you," says Thumper to the Oxford side. Brainteaser of the week is to reverse the words of the numbers "one" to "ten", put them in alphabetical order, and work out which comes first. [1] Manchester gets a set on rhyming schemes, which doesn't help their campaign. By buzzing early, Oxford implicitly says that Hannibal Lector is a character in Great Expectations, a concept that could provide hours of fun. It probably doesn't, but it's more interesting than Stars In Their Eyes Academy.

A race to the buzzer for the "New" in "New pence" is won by Christ Church's Charles Markland, earning a set of questions on Watteau (the artist, not the Radio 4 current affairs programme.) Less than half-way through the show, and every member of the Christ Church side has answered at least one starter correctly, and Thumper is rightly encouraging the team to pass rather than think all night, but allows a little more pause than is strictly fair when CCO buzz. It's in the audio round, on Parisian school composers, after which the Oxford side is 115-60 ahead.

On the next starter, Manchester ensures that they've all answered precisely one starter correctly, and gets a question about a very obscure 11th century archbishop of Canterbury, pulling them to within 20 points. Christ Church get caught up in some questions about squid, but do manage to remember the Australian prime minister who lost the election last autumn. It puts the side ahead by 50, and the next starter and bonuses – both on literary prizes – increase their lead to three rounds.

The second visual round is Name That Ceiling, culminating in the Sistine Chapel. CCO's lead is pegged back to 170-125, but the Oxford side gets the next starter, and Manchester must have their work cut out to win. Christ Church's strength throughout has been on the buzzers, and Max Kaufman has led the side from the front in every game. If they have a weakness, it's a slightly poor performance in the bonuses. With five minutes to play, Oxford's lead is 75 points.

Four starters and their bonuses should put Manchester back in touch, but every starter goes to Christ Church until Andrew Read spells "desiccated", and the side picks up three bonuses in about two seconds. The next starter raises their hopes, but Indian geography is not their strongest suit, and the gap remains obstinately large. A missignal on the next starter just about seals Manchester's fate; the final score is 220-170 to Christ Church Oxford.

Six starters for Charles Markland of CCO; Max Kaufman also had six starters, but one missignal. The side made 19/42 bonuses with three missignals. Manchester's bonus conversion rate was 15/30 with one missignal; that Andrew Read and Stuart Thompson were joint best buzzers with three starters shows where the Mancunians lost it. Still, four semi-finals in a row is a formidable achievement.

Next match: Magdalen Oxford v Sheffield

[1] "Three", or e-e-r-h-t.


Second Round 2/6

We have had months of damaging dithering, delay and indecision, and that was just the heats of this programme. Back in time to John Humphrys, who has turned up for tonight's show wearing a grey suit, black tie, and off-white shirt. Can he not afford the colour license fee?

Peter Gaskell will take the Life and Career of Robert Clive, Clive of India. Clive was an army commander for the British in the 1750s, doing a lot to establish British rule in that part of the world. The round finishes with a question about Clive's death, which shows it was the right length. 13 (2) the final score.

Anna Torpey discusses the Novels of Joanne Harris, best known for writing Chocolat and inspiring other in-flight movies. Seriously, every time we fly, they're showing one of her books. It's a good round, even though Smallhead talks through the buzzer. We'll slap his wrists. 16 (0).

Susan Sworn won the first heat of the series and will tell us about Mary Tudor. It's not that we're saying that it's been a long series, it's just that when this contender last appeared, Northern Rock was a stable financial institution, and "sub-prime" was only known as a losing strategy for Numberwang. Mary Tudor was the English monarch between Edward and Elizabeth; the contender has been practising her swift speech, perhaps enough to earn an extra question. She gets the extra question, and her pass after the buzzer, and a score of 18 (1) is seriously impressive.

Tom Rutherford will talk about the Cricket World Cup 1975-2007. It's sobering to think that this tournament hadn't even been conceived when this series started. He's very lucky to have the first breath of a question before the buzzer, and ends up on 11 (3).

"Not all World Cups are a disaster, but the last one was a shambles." It's been all downhill since the 1975 edition, complete in two weeks, and perhaps the 20/20 competition will become the new gold standard of one-day competition. None of it's as good as Test cricket, naturally. But we digress. Mr. Rutherford has turned up in a bright orange shirt, and we would like to think – probably incorrectly – that it's a nod to Peter Snow's recent election night garb. He doesn't recall Pete McCarthy's journey to find his Irish roots, which is a shame. XI marks the spot; the final score is 22 (7).

Mr. Gaskell suggests that Clive went to India because his father wanted rid of his troublesome teenage son. There's a certain symmetry behind Tony Benn being born in the building that was knocked down and eventually became Labour's headquarters. The final score here is 20 (7).

So, it looks as though we'll have at least one woman into the final: in terms of entrants to the heats, that's what we would expect. Anna Torpey confirms that the food in Joanne Harris's books is just shorthand for emotional literacy. Yes, the cross-word (1913) has been going for longer than the seedings at Wimbledon (1922). She remembers Twin Peaks, though probably didn't understand it. That's no slight, and 26 (3) is no slight achievement.

Susan Sworn needs nine to win, and is talking about Mary Tudor, the lady who had five stepmothers and wasn't allowed to marry until she was 38. Has there ever been a game show called Shogun? Should have been, it can't be as much of a feedback as Tycoon. The contender's trying at every question, which is the right thing to do, but missing more than she's hitting, which probably isn't. The final score is 23 (2), but that was an entertaining two minutes.

0898Gate: New Rules

Image:Square Premium rate.jpg

To mark the first anniversary of the premium rate scandal, OFCOM has proposed new licence conditions to make broadcasters directly responsible for viewer protection and ensuring that telephone services are run fairly. The new rules say that broadcasters will be responsible for "the handling of all communications – whether by phone, email or post – from viewers".

Television broadcasters will also have to obtain proper, independent, third-party verification of "all systems used in [premium rate service] voting and competitions". The channels have until the end of June to get their proof-of-honesty arrangements in place; OFCOM announced its intention to make unannounced spot checks until the end of the decade to ensure broadcasters are complying with this requirement.

This Week And Next

We mark the passing this week of Richard Knowles, leader of Birmingham City Council, and the man who pushed through the International Convention Centre and National Indoor Arena as speculative projects. Without him, Gladiators would have been in a poorer venue.

A couple of addenda to our review of Duel a couple of weeks ago. For last Saturday's broadcast, the show gained a new sponsor, a furniture store. Don't knock it too much, having a sponsor shows a level of commitment from ITV to air the remaining programmes as scheduled. The programme also moved to the Fountain Studios from the TVS facility in Maidstone, and introduced a new element.

Out went the Cash or Chips decision for the winner of two duels, and in came The Champion Versus. Here, a champ is given one question, seven seconds to answer, and three chips. Cover the right answer and they'll earn £2500, doubled for each additional chip remaining, and doubled again if they've won a third duel. The upshot is that a two- or three-duel champion can't walk away from the game, but can take home some cash even if they're defeated. In turn, that'll build characters across three or four programmes, and provide a far greater chance that the jackpot will be won before the show comes off air.

KP, a regular at Bother's Bar, pointed out that the net effect is to ensure that a brilliant contestant will win the jackpot, no matter how averse to risk they might be. No longer will they face the choice between £20,000 cash or the prospect of a half-million-pound jackpot. In that respect, Duel knocks the still-popular guessing game Deal or No Deal into a cocked hat.

Antan Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway also came back, with more celebrity guests than the contacts book for Celebrity Ding Dong. Five on Prankety Prank (work it out...), nine on Celebrity Mushrooms, eleven on Ant v Dec The Teams, and Kirsty Gallacher hosting that element. And others we missed bringing the total to 27. Sadly, still no return of Wonky Donkey; for the benefit of those who saw every episode but forget the rules, it's a donkey with a leg missing. It's a wonky donkey, and we're beginning to see why Dec got so worked up. It's simple!

Reality show participants in France have sued the programme-makers for overtime. The court has ruled that those appearing on Temptation Island are company staff with full employee rights. We're adopting a similar attitude to domestic reality shows: are we getting paid for watching Big Brother or Spellebrity Love Eyeland? No? Then we're not watching.

Ratings for the week to 10 February have arrived, and Dancing on Ice (8.45m) still rules the roost, with In It to Win It (7.4m) and The One and Only (5.15m) doing well. Millionaire had 4.25m, Dancing on Ice Make Me a Star 3.6m. BBC2's most popular programme overall was Masterchef (3.4m), with University Challenge also scoring more than 3m. In its final week on the channel, The Weakest Link secured 2.7m viewers, comfortably beaten by Deal or No Deal (2.95m). On the digital tier, Pop Idle US led with 805,000, ahead of 615,000 for Come Dine With Me and 550,000 for QI on Dave. Challenge's top show was Friday night Take It or Leave It, seen by 108,000.

Highlights for the coming week include Happy Birthday, Brucie! (BBC1, 6.35 tonight), which should explain itself. There's a bit of a brain strain on BBC2, as Brain-Jitsu (7.30am) and Brainbox Challenge (6.30pm) test mental agility. Masterchef reaches its seasonal final, Wipeout reaches Challenge, and the UK selects its latest losing song for Europe in Eurovision: Your Decision (Saturday 7pm).

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