Weaver's Week 2008-12-07
BBC Scotland for BBC1, 4.05pm Tuesday and Thursday, 30 September – 4 December
The eighth series of Raven, the tenth review we've done (counting spin-offs), and we are almost beginning to run out of things to say. There are only so many ways we can describe a sequence of brave young people pushing themselves to their limits, and providing both entertainment and inspiration through their achievements. We are, as ever, completely and utterly in awe of what they've done. It's far better than we'd ever have been able to do.
There were some very large production changes for this series. The largest is a complete change of location. Castle Toward, which has been the series' home for the past seven years, has been left behind, for the forests around Aviemore. It's meant that the show had to leave behind many of its traditional locations – the courtyard where they played Eyeless Demons, the ruin of Burning Battlements, the Wizard's Tower, even the glade that was home to the Surely Impossible Way of the Warrior. All of these have been left behind, and the new locations are different. They're not obviously better, they're certainly not any worse, they're just a little different.
This eighth series has also been showing on the BBC-HD channel, and there have been a few concessions to the more adult viewers. Raven has very brief interviews with some of the warriors, asking how they intend to defend their lead / take the lead / climb out of last place. The responses are little different from the pieces to camera that the contenders still deliver throughout the show, but it helps cement the show's structure for those older viewers who haven't quite caught up with the previous series. The schedule of BBC-HD required the show to be slightly longer, 28 minutes from beginning to end, compared to 24 minutes for previous series.
We're not sure why we don't see the real feathers disappear from the real staffs, or see the warriors put real rings on their standards. Our best guess is that the disappearing feathers trick didn't work when filmed in HD, and the producers have substituted computer-generated images while they crack the problem. This doesn't particularly impress us, though we do like the way it gives Raven an opportunity to recap on the scoreboard towards the middle of each episode.
The final production change was to show the series over ten weeks, at two episodes a week. Tuesdays and Thursdays were chosen, and it's proven a wise decision: once a week would mean the viewers forgot what happened, while daily would only be possible if there were a daily slot around teatime going spare. (Hmm. Can we convince Raven that The Weakest Link is actually hosted by Anne Varison? No? Shame: the show would have fit very neatly into that spot.)
Almost inevitably, the change of location required many new games, though many of the most iconic games – Leap of Faith, Riddle Bridge, Demon Square – survived the move. By our reckoning, there were seventeen new games in this series, and details are in the show's main article. Some of the new challenges were old ones under a slightly different guise, but some of them were entirely new.
If the last series had a feel that it was Gladiators done out-of-doors, this run felt like it was a new series of water games. With no buildings available, the majority of challenges took place on, in, or near water, and most of the ones that were on dry land involved climbing or descending. We found the new challenges towards the end of each week of heats, and some in the final, showed a great deal of imagination by the designers – indeed, some of the games would fit well into Fort Boyard or The Crystal Maze.
Ravine, for instance, was played in pairs. One of the pair is on a rocky outcrop some distance above their partner, who is in a flowing river. On top of the outcrop are four boxes, and on the first box is a symbol. This symbol should lead to one of the half-dozen wooden symbols on the riverbed. Attached to the symbol is a key, which is winched to the top by using a fishing rod. If everyone's got things right, this key will open the next box. Readers of a certain vintage might recognise this game from The Crystal Maze, with that show's nested metal boxes replaced by a series of wooden ones, and with two players rather than one. As in Richard O'Brien's day, it's still a timed game, with players who don't complete the task losing a life.
Demon Rock felt more familiar than it actually was. Warriors are to pass along a rocky outcrop, past a demon, and leap for rings hanging from a tree's branches. Touch the demon, they've lost. Fall in the water, they've lost. Fail to get any rings when they jump, they've lost. This one comes straight from the French Fort Boyard school. Imagine this: the grown-up contestants have to walk along a narrow corniche, with a gap in it, avoiding touching the rope that will ring the Bell of Automatic Lockin, then leap out to grab the key to unlock the door and let themselves out.
Demon Star was another two-player game. One person is in the courtyard of a ruined castle, where demons vanish and symbols are revealed. The player in the courtyard must shout what it is through the window to a player in a room. In turn, they use long blocks of wood to spell out that word. The blocks have letters at both ends, and the player outside the window can spot letters for their comrade. This feels like the sort of thing that Fort Boyard could play while they're releasing the prisoners.
Key Descent could also fit into French Boyard. In Raven's version, two warriors come down a cliff face, passing a key between them to open boxes and take gold rings – they have to come down before a skull hits the ground. Perhaps M. Minne could challenge his visitors to abseil down the outside of the Fort, using a key to open boxes and reveal the four numbers to free the codeword.
Skull River was a game that wouldn't fit into these shows, because it was familiar from our own childhood. A canoe. A fast-flowing stream. Some vertical gates for contestants to pass through. Raven offered rewards for passing through the gates rather than time penalties for missing them, but the principle is the same. Here, in a four-minute segment, was the long-awaited return of Paddles Up.
The Surely Impossible Way of the Warrior also made the move to the new location, and was quite clearly designed by someone who didn't want anyone to win. It's harder than ever. In a completely useless statistic, we reckon that the last person to fail represented the 100th time a warrior had failed to reach the portal. In all that time, only four warriors have ever completed the task, a rare feat. Perhaps not as rare as tie-breaks in Mastermind (three in 152 episodes before this week's), but still worthy of note when they happen.
We're somewhat more pleased to see the mudbath of The Last Stand hasn't survived, and the course has been rebuilt from scratch. No longer is it a race to climb up a mudslide, as that never felt like a fitting conclusion to the series. Instead, it's a physical and mental challenge, testing skill, brute strength, and all the qualities between.
Once again, we're genuinely in awe of the achievements of the contenders on this series. The production values remain as high as ever, and we still reckon that a version for grown-ups could work in that awkward Saturday evening slot.
Second round, match 3: Corpus Christi Oxford v Edinburgh
Corpus Christi Oxford (who we'll be referring to as CCO, because that's their initials, and anyone who confuses that with Christ College Oxford is going to have to live with it). Er, Corpus Christi Oxford were all over Durham, notching up 330 points on Bastille Day. Edinburgh played on 22 September, and won their match against King's Cambridge by just ten points, 190-180. We're expecting a cracker.
One substitution: the CCO captain Mark Hamid hasn't returned, and the replacement is an DPhil student from Chicago. "Quarantine" is the word of the week, and the Edinburgh side quickly concludes that "Walls have ears" is a phrase of four words. The Countdown job is over in Leeds, you'll find. CCO proves adept at spelling homophones, Edinburgh at guessing plays performed at the Edinburgh fringe. The teams take forever to recall the "all that glisters is not gold" play, much to Thumper's disdain.
Have we lost the visual round behind the back of the sofa? It's well overdue, but Thumper is asking a regular question about dancing horse chestnuts... sorry, about concordances. Ah, here's the visual round: Name That Wing Roundel. You know, those little circular insignia on the wings of planes. CCO has overcome a slightly dodgy start to take the lead, 75-50.
Blimey, CCO really have got their skates on this week, getting three tricky questions about monarchs spot on. This week's Shortz Stumper combines two state postcodes into answers to longer clues, and it's just about beyond the sides. We don't blame them: we heard it and we can't understand it. The audio round is on the operas of Wagner, but it defeats the sides, and CCO's lead has extended to 125-50.
The Oxford side have got their foot down now, and there's just no stopping them. Everyone's given at least one correct answer to a starter, they've answered at least one correctly from each set of bonuses, and they've restricted Edinburgh to one correct answer in half the game. The second visual round is on iconic pictures from 1968, and CCO's lead has reached a staggering 245-60.
Is it unsporting to write "game over" when there's still seven minutes until Victoria Coren? We've very pleased that Edinburgh managed to correctly put Finisterre in Brittany, because it's not a nice place to be stranded. Who wants to be in Finisterre? Thumper feigns amazement that anyone can't work out that "1010" in binary is 10 in decimal. Corpus Christi loom up on their second successive score of 300, but Edinburgh would rather ensure that they all have at least one starter to their name. At the gong, Corpus Christi have won, 295-85.
For CCO, Gail Trimble answered eight starters correctly, the side answered 29/48 bonuses correctly, but picked up two missignals. Edinburgh's best buzzer was Mike Blumenthal, with two starters. The side was correct in 6/16 bonuses, and had one missignal.
Next match: Queen's Cambridge v Warwick
Believe it or not, this is the final English-language episode to air in the current series this year. Mastermind Plant Cymru begins on Sunday, for those who prefer their contestants to be a) young and b) speaking Welsh. (And for those who prefer their hosts to be Betsan Powys, which certainly includes this column.) Repeats of the 1980 series continue on Artsworld, and there may be some celebrity editions over the festive break. For the main series, though, the December shutdown starts in 28 minutes.
First into the chair tonight is Richard Heller, who will tell us about the Life and Career of WC Fields. Mr. Fields was an entertainer from Philadelphia, and it's clear that the contender knows his subject. At one point, he's asked a question "What was his wife's name", but that's extended into a potted biography of the lady. The contender's got to wait until Smallhead has finished his spiel. It's almost a perfect round, ending on 14 (0).
Beth McClure is next amongst us, she'll take "Jonathan Creek", a television detective series of recent years. As seems to be traditional in pop culture rounds, the viewer is assumed to be familiar with the concept, and all of the questions are on minute plot details. It's a great round, ending on 16 (1).
Norman McGregor Edwards will discuss Tacitus, that well-known Roman historian and forebear of Iain Duncan Smith. He founded the Secular Games, said the Caledonii all had red hair, and was elected as a Quaestor. The round explains the subject well, and finishes on 9 (1).
Finally, Adam O'Brien strides to the chair. He's got the Life and Career of Keith Moon, the drummer with rock band The Who. We hear about his career with the famous group, and a couple of questions about his accidental death in 1978. The round ends on a familiar score, 14 (0).
Mr. McGregor Edwards is the director of health services for the Isle on Man, and discusses the differences between the UK and Manx experiences. Highlights of his general knowledge round include the definition of BOGOF, and that the oak is the symbol of an 80th wedding anniversary. The final score: 18 (4).
Mr. Heller is very much an admirer of WC Fields, a comedian of slapstick and verbal jokes. Never mind the puns, feel the funny! Mr. Fuller was involved in a low-budget film about zombies attacking a small desert town that's saved by biker chicks, only to be fired for daring to make the production a bit intellectual. He correctly recalls the forenames of Dickie Bird, and the chief cashier of the Bank of England. The round concludes on 28 (0), a stiff target for the others.
Mr. O'Brien proposes that Mr. Moon was both the greatest drummer and greatest hell-raiser in rock and roll history. His round includes a question asking him to complete the line from that great Rolf Harris song, "Stairway to heaven", and about that great Phoebe from Friends song, "Smelly cat". And, just for completeness, about the musical "Joseph". Something for all tastes there. 21 (5) isn't going to win this week.
Miss McClure is invited to pass judgement on the lab techniques on other shows. To precis her comments in the words of Ray Cokes, "don't believe everything you see on TV, kids!" Her questions include the underground line passing through Morden, and the title of Tammy Wynette's hit single. What, she had more than one? The round never quite feels like it'll get there, and ends on 25 (2).
Mr. Heller, therefore, becomes the last winner of the year. We'll pick Mastermind up when it resumes in 2009.
This Week And Next
So, Graham Norton has taken up the mantle and will succeed Terry Wogan as the BBC television commentator for the Eurovision Song Contest. We hope that Mr. Norton can update the style of commentary, perhaps making it ready to face the challenges of the 1990s.
The Saturday night battle continues, with The X Factor (11.75m) still beating Strictly Come Dancing (10.75, plus 50,000 on BBC-HD). I'm a Celebrity had 9.4m Saturday night viewers, HIGNFY pulled 5.4m on Friday night, Millionaire 4.9m on Tuesday, and Hole In the Wall had 4.7m. John Sergeant's surprise exit gave Dancing on Two its biggest figure, with 3.6m tuning in on Wednesday. Dragon's Den had 3.05m, and UC returned with 2.8m. QI, Mastermind, Eggheads and Channel 4's Deal or No Deal all recorded more viewers than Heroes, but we still don't get any of these shows on the cover of the television listings magazines. They'll have to replace Noel Edmonds with a pouting cheerleader.
On the digital channels, ITV2 had 1.1m watching Xtra Factor, and 615,000 the narrative repeat. I'm a Celeb had 610,000 for the Wednesday night show, when there was no programme on ITV. Come Dine With Me on More4 secured 745,000 viewers, and Ballroom With the B-List on UKTV Watch was seen by 115,000. We should also mention a special edition of Y Talwrn on S4C, which attracted 43,000 viewers. Many of the more obscure channels would kill for so many eyeballs.
Two new shows from Wales look set to brighten up our Sunday: Jest a Minute (Radio Wales, 2pm) is a comedy panel game, and Mastermind Plant Cymru (S4C, 7.45) is the children's version of the Welsh-language edition. Radio 3's biennial Choir of the Year takes place this Sunday (Radio 3, 7pm Monday; BBC4, 8pm Friday), and Carol Vorderman bids farewell to Countdown (C4, from 2.55 Friday).
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