Children’s TV is often overrated.  Tangled up as it is with nostalgia and associations with a more innocent time it can be disappointing when revisited.  Typically produced with lower budgets than adult television it can often be unconvincing, particularly where special effects are involved.  Usually starring children, inexperienced and over earnest acting can be awkward to watch and can contribute to an overall feeling of being patronised, a trap that drama for children produced by adults frequently falls into.  So when you come across something that has not only stood the test of time, but also has evidence of high production values, good acting and a genuinely captivating story, well it’s nothing short of a joy.

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Earthfasts was one of these for me.  It was all I could do not to gobble up the whole of this five part 1994 BBC series up in one go.  I believe this is how other people feel about Star Trek the Next Generation or the Wire or something.  In retrospect it was always going to tick the boxes for me, anything featuring stone circles or ancient monoliths always gets me going for some reason, chuck in an uncanny village and good dollop of folklore and I’m a very happy lady.  So anyway, if your brain works anything like mine you’ll have read the previous sentence and now be thinking “so how much like Children of the Stones is it then?”, well the answer is, just enough.

When I watched the first episode of Earthfasts I stopped it and went back to check  I hadn’t clicked on the wrong link.   Unusual for a children’s drama there’s no cosy preamble or scene setting, it really does hit the ground running, pricking up the hairs of the back of your neck as it does.  Earthfasts is essentially the story of  three boys brought together by  an irregularity in time.  David and Keith are from the present time, two boys passing the last days of summer wandering in the North Yorkshire countryside when they chance upon  Nellie Jack John emerging from the hillside, unknown to him having spend the previous 200 years underground.

Those familiar with all things Arthurian might recognise this as the basis of the Drummer Boy legend.  Richmond, where Earthfasts is set is said to be the final resting place of King Arthur and his knights who sleep beneath the castle with their riches waiting until a time when Britain needs them again.  Local legend has it that in the 1700s visiting soldiers came across the entrance to a tunnel beneath the castle and sent the smallest of their entourage down to investigate ordering him to drum as he went so he could be followed above ground, which he did for three miles, until the drumming ceased and the boy was never seen again.  Earthfasts is the  imagining of how this single event could contrive to disturb the continuum of time.

I mentioned before how Earthfasts has similarities with Children of the Stones.  Though the stories are very different the biggest parallel for me is the way in which there is no letup in the barrage of mysterious phenomenon that is thrown at the viewer.  Just as in the Children of the Stones where in a few short episodes we are introduced to astrophysics, electromagnetism, mind control and prehistoric religion, not to mention temporal paradoxes, in Earthfasts timeslips, standing stones, boggarts, giants, extra sensory perception and Yorkshire folklore all compete for our attention.  The effect of this is the creation of a children’s mystery drama that is actually mysterious, the ending of which you haven’t second guessed within the first 15 minutes.

The way the characters use science to attempt to explain the phenomena they encounter is very like Children of the Stones too.  Central to the story is a strange cold burning candle that Nellie Jack John brought out of the hillside with him which the boys approach with a natural scientific curiosity, albeit with a more highly developed knowledge of measuring radioactivity than I did at their age.  Of the two boys David, played by Paul Nicholls (who I now realise has exactly the same hairstyle for 20 years),  is the ringleader, the more inquisitive boy.  Like Mathew in Children of the Stones he is a sensitive lad who lives with his Doctor father since his mother has died – checking two supernatural kids drama tropes in one.  Keith is the more cautious boy and the narrator, in a lovely thick timeless Yorkshire accent.  No middle class, cut glass accents here.

There is a slight timeless quality to the production as a whole.  There are few indicators of 1994, the time it is supposed to be set in.  Partly because the majority of the filming takes place in and around the North Yorkshire countryside and partly because of the ‘anytime’ style in which it’s written.  The village in which it’s set is uncanny in the sense that it has a quiet reverence for the past and a respect for the folklore that fuels the story.   Based on William Mayne’s 1966 book little attempt has been made to update it, which is no bad thing.  Mayne himself is probably half the reason why Earthfasts is so underrated, I won’t go into details here, you’re on the internet, you’re more than capable of finding out for yourself.  Lets just say there’s nothing like a conviction for paedophilia to kill the career of a children’s author.

On a side note I particularly like the one star review of the book I found on Good Reads which simply reads “I checked this for the children’s library I operate, and decided it was too mystical for our collection“.


Commercial unreleased and rarely repeated if your curiosity is piqued you’ll have to head to YouTube for this one.

~ by hazyhazy on May 13, 2012.

One Response to “Earthfasts”

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