Monday, 16 December 2013

Under the Mountain (1981)

I vaguely recall seeing at least some of Under the Mountain when it first aired back in the early 80s. This 8 part New Zealand series was based on a children's novel, and introduces us to an ancient struggle between two alien races, the last stages of which are being played out on earth. On one side are a malevolent race of slug creatures, who fortunately have the ability to shape change, which allows them to spend most of their time on screen as humans with odd complexions. Their transformed selves are quite delightfully old school examples of make-up and costuming. Very Tom Baker-era Doctor Who. On the other side is a single representative of a race that in their natural form resemble a sentient, living flame. He too can take human shape. Convenient for hiding among us, and for budget conscious directors, too!

Stumbling into this conflict come Theo and Rachel, a pair of twins who appear to be in the 10-12 year old bracket. They were chosen as children by the good guy alien to assist him in defeating the slugs and preventing the destruction of the earth. As twins, they are able to unlock telepathic powers similar to his own, and work together to destroy the slugs. The show's in no hurry to tell us all that, though. The first two episodes just focus on general creepiness and cryptic hints of what is to come. Quite why the good guy alien takes so long to explain things to the kids - and then later, when he has no option - to their family, is a bit of a mystery. It seems like a bit of straightforwardness would have made his life a lot easier.

Still, there's little to complain about there. The cast is serviceable - even the kids, which is often the weak point of a show like this - and the pacing though slow and a bit uneven, is not really that far removed from that of then-contemporary episodes of Doctor Who. So it was clearly a reasonably effective model. Still, I wouldn't recommend hunting this down unless you have nostalgic childhood memories of it.

I see there was a movie adapted from the novel in 2009. It's available cheaply on DVD, so I think I will pick it up for comparison.

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