“Where shall the ‘nighted Snowman go?“
We start this episode with Kay slicing at some wolves with a sword and stabbing one to death. OK, we never see the blade make contact with anything, but it’s still pushing things a bit for a children’s show, and it’s an indication of how Kay is having to grow up quickly here. Within minutes of the start of the episode, Cole has made Kay the new guardian of the Box of Delights, and pretty soon Cole has been “scrobbled” by the bad guys, taking away what felt like a safety net of an adult protector and mentor. With Carolina Louisa also out of contact, and the telephone line down, the writer is systematically stripping away everything that normally brings security to the life of a child. Just in case anyone thought the police would be any use, the Inspector writes off Cole’s kidnapping as young officers “having a bit of a frolic”, and seems more interested in showing off his magic tricks than checking if the reported kidnapping really was just “a bit of Christmas ragging”. This is all part of a key development that nearly always has to happen in a children’s adventure story. The fallback position of getting help from adults has to be removed from the equation.
All this takes place against the backdrop of an absolutely stunning snowbound landscape, making the snow machine the crew planned to use completely redundant. It’s not often the British weather co-operates so well, and for all the money spent on this production, the greatest special effect is the one nature itself very obligingly provided. That adds so much to the atmosphere, which is already heightened by having Kay venture out at midnight for the start of the episode, and then just before dawn, after a secret breakfast. The late night and the pre-dawn feel like other worlds to children, places they don’t quite belong.
“You see all kinds of exciting things at this time of day you never see normally.”
Later in the day, the Joneses seem to be making what looks like a snow Dalek, until Ellen the party pooper turns up, but that does Kay and Peter a favour because they head off for a walk and find Charles and Joe digging to try and find the box, and then follow them to see their car turn into a plane, in a slightly silly sequence (this series will have a few of those).
This episode we learn more about what the box can do, and see all three of its magic properties in action. First there is the opening of the box, which takes Kay into a world where he can become anything and do anything. Herne takes him on a tour of nature, showing how an enemy lies in wait on land, in the air, and in the water, so when they are stags they are menaced by a wolf; as wild ducks a hawk circles above; and as fish a pike is ready to attack. The only way to achieve this sequence was with animation, and the episode’s mix of live action and animation, with some integration of the two, is an artistic combination that is very much of its time but also has a beauty that is somehow timeless.
Then we have the “go small” and “go swift” magic. Kay shrinking and then sliding down through a hole in the floorboard is very Alice in Wonderland, as is his friendship with a mouse who already knows his name. The pirate rats sequence is a little odd to say the least, and then they “go swift” to the Prince Rupert Arms, just in time to eavesdrop on Abner, who has been keeping in touch with everything Kay has been up to.
“What I won’t do to that boy.”
It probably wouldn’t be phrased quite like that nowadays, but there’s our slightly weak cliffhanger to end the episode. After all, we already know Abner was out to get “that boy” if he got in his way, and with the box in his possession that’s exactly what Kay has done. Something tells me he’s going to need to build more snow Daleks. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Box of Delights Episode 3