Do you hear that? That faint chiming sound in the distance, just detectable over the howl of the wind? Kind of melancholy… ethereal… vaguely threatening? Yeah, don’t worry about that, it’s just the sound of my uncanny village alarm going off. It’ll stop in a minute.
Though you’d never have guessed from the name, Century Falls is a village with a dark secret, this may or may not be to do with an unresolved issue from the past (it is). And hang on, what’s going on here then? Is there a mysterious evil mastermind running amok, plotting to harness all that malevolent energy for their own nefarious purposes? But who could it possibly be? Well let’s examine the suspects;
Perhaps it’s teenager Ben. Ben is that sort of boy. No not that sort of boy, the other sort, you know, the type that can set a lake on fire. With his mind. Ben’s a wildcard, which means he has extremely developed psychic and telekinetic powers. We later learn each time he harnesses these powers a portion of his mind is destroyed. One can only imagine this destruction has begun in the part of his brain responsible for charm and good manners. At least Ben’s pyromania is more creative than that of the equally rude and charmless boys from the village where I grew up, who mainly confined their activities to setting fire to the recycling pavilion. Perhaps he’s not the evil mastermind after all.
Maybe it’s his strange twin sister Carey with whom there are hints of an incestuous relationship and whose accent suggests Essex origins, despite her brother’s plummier tongue. No not her, entirely too dull.
Could it be one of the Harper sisters, the aggressive elderly spinsters who run the corner shop/post office? They do seem very angry about something and they do talk about dead children an awful lot.
If not them it’s got to be Richard Naismith, the wealthy, power crazed local landowner. He’s in possession of some very intriguing artifacts and no mistakin’. Namely a locked cabinet containing a weird golden mask and an ultrasound of the unborn child of the newest Century Falls resident, a woman he’s just tricked into moving to the village. He also has a henchman, which is always a dead give away.
So the story with Century Falls is that at some point in 1992 Colin Cant, children’s television director of some note (Grange Hill, Moondial, Dark Season) has a bit of a crisis of confidence in the latest spooky kid’s drama he’s supposed to be getting ready for the 5.10 Wednesday afternoon slot on BBC1. Luckily he’s been working with this chap Russell T Davies who seems to have quite the gift for scaring children and he commissions him to quickly write something to replace the original script. Davies duly delivers the first episode of Century Falls, the story of socially awkward teenage girl who moves to said uncanny village with her expectant mother. Cant likes it and away we go. The reason this sequence of events is important is it goes long way to explaining the unevenness of Century Falls, why, to use an awkward and slightly sexual metaphor, it’s so top heavy. Ok, let’s get all of the awkward sexual metaphors out of the way here and now. It explains why Russell T Davies shot his load too soon.
The first episode is packed to bursting with perverse, sinister characters of the variety most supernatural kids dramas confine to the odd one or two. We’re not introduced to them gently either, they’re unrelenting. This isn’t an uncanny village, this is Dante’s 5th circle of hell. There’s a lot of bellowing. And then we have the remaining 5 episodes (and more bellowing) to tediously try to determine who is the least trustworthy/most deranged. Almost as if someone wrote the first episode and worked out where it was going later. To get to this point it is therefore necessary to throw in as many mysterious otherworldly concepts as possible to maintain intrigue/try and bulk out the plot. The best thing about this approach is it also excuses the introduction of some really useful (lazy) narrative devices. A waterfall that ‘remembers’, where memories are stored in the water (everyone can just peer at it and see the past), a boy with extrasensory powers (everyone can touch him and see the past), a strange shared collective consciousness among the villagers (everyone can look into the middle distance and see the past).
Century Falls is a slightly different viewing experience for me, in that the majority of supernatural kids TV I watch is via jittering VHS tapes and badly pixelated YouTube videos. Century Falls is available on DVD, the quality is good, it comes with a ‘collectors booklet’ which means I don’t have to put my glasses on to try and make out blurry credits. It also means I can read in afore mentioned booklet what additional stuff Davies was originally planning for the plot. This includes a university lecturer investigating a stone circle with his young assistant, mysterious symbols carved into megalithic stones, some leylines, and assorted ghosts/timeslip apparitions (for good luck). It’s hard to tell if it’s a loving homage or a hastily drafted 1970s supernatural drama checklist made flesh. Hey Russell, you forgot the exorcism (and the owls).
The booklet just annoys me. I don’t want to watch anything that comes with a booklet anymore. The notes shamelessly ingratiate Century Falls into the cannon of supernatural children’s drama, as if using the idioms of every 1970s spooky TV programme Davies ever watched while growing up somehow elevates it to their status. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have it’s moments, the evil mastermind plot twist is delicious, just in the wrong place. Most of the characters are genuinely interesting, if slightly one dimensional, and due to the central theme of the village as a place where no children have been born for 40 years have been cast from a stock of experienced character actors that really know how to do their stuff. The accompanying score from David Ferguson is understated and brooding, and teases up the hair on the back of ones neck most satisfactorily.
I did enjoy this, don’t think I didn’t, it’s just overall Century Falls is clumsy and badly paced (like it’s heroine) and wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve, which is perhaps the problem with viewing it retrospectively. Had I been one of the four million children quietly freaking out while watching this after school things may have been different. As it is, knowing how much more Davies is capable of, I can’t help watching with detachment, duly noting the nods to various 1970s supernatural offerings, a bit of Rosemary’s Baby here, a bit of the Wickerman there, oh look, there’s the guy from Witchfinder General! And what’s this we see emerging from the landscape, the ultimate sign of deference to children’s drama of the 1970s? Yep, a nice neat, heart warming BBC happy ending. Didn’t see that coming.