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Chocky: The Complete Collection (1984-6)
Creator: Anthony Read
review by Jonathan McCalmont
Do you remember Spangles? You might think you do. But you don't. I have in my hands a memo proving that spangles were in fact created in 1995 by an advertising agency. It formed the basis for a revolutionary form of viral marketing whereby celebrities would be paid to appear on nostalgia programmes and talk warmly of their memories of fictional products that never existed. That way, when they finally release the product it will appeal not just to its core market but to millions of poor saps like us who have been brainwashed into feeling nostalgia about things that didn't exist when we were kids. You might also like to look into where Terry Christian was on the day of the Kennedy assassination and why you've never seen Peter Kay and Captain Pugwash in the same place at the same time. We're through the looking glass here people... follow the white rabbit.
You could easily be excused for thinking that Chocky is also a fictional construct. There's some name recognition there but it doesn't bring the same warm fluffy feelings of nostalgia as Mr Benn or Bagpuss. This is something of a pity because Chocky is really quite good. Well, I say 'good'...
This collection brings together the three series that tell the tale of Chocky and the children she enters into contact with. The story starts with Chocky, continues with Chocky's Children and concludes with Chocky's Challenge. The first series tells of how the alien Chocky enters into contact with Matthew Gore. Chocky tries to guide Matthew in such a way as to change humanity for the better. In particular, she wants Matthew to be the discoverer of a form of infinite free energy. The first series tells of Chocky's impact upon Matthew and how Matthew's family try to make sense of what is happening. Unfortunately, Matthew becomes famous and this attracts the interests of a shadowy organisation representing the Earth's energy companies. In order to protect Matthew, Chocky leaves. Only she doesn't. In the second series, Matthew enters into contact with Albertine. Albertine is a brilliant mathematician and it soon transpires that the two children have a psychic bond by virtue of both having entered into contact with Chocky. The shadowy organisation tries to kidnap Albertine only for her to be rescued through the use of the children's telepathic powers. The final series moves to Cambridge where Albertine has recently completed a mathematics degree in only a year. Albertine and Chocky have to overcome academic and military interference in order to save Chocky and introduce the new technology to the Earth.
Based upon a novel by John Wyndham (he of The Midwich Cuckoos), Chocky begins as a challenging piece of children's drama. However, the later series are not based on Wyndham's work, but are the creation of Anthony Read and the drop-off in quality and intelligence is pretty drastic.
Chocky is relentlessly challenging and serious in tone. It wonderfully contrasts the dull boring world of the rural middle class with the increasingly bizarre events surrounding Matthew. The first series is not only steeped in accessible forms of scientific thought but deals with themes such as adolescent mental illness, the nature of genius and what defines sanity in the first place. At times it is like watching a teenaged version of Brimstone And Treacle. However, sadly the second and third series derive much of their drama from the more pedestrian and traditional dramatic tension of good children confronting evil adults and conflicts are resolved by chases, rescues and uses of 'kewl powerz'. Even the scientific concepts that are accessibly presented in the first series are replaced by new-age twaddle in the second series and mindless trekkie-style jargon in Chocky's Challenge.
The acting similarly begins strongly with an engaging and charismatic Matthew played with good humour by Andrew Ellams, and supported by an increasingly manic and irrational Carol Drinkwater as his mother. The second series sees Matthew separated from his parents and supported by a decidedly lacklustre adult cast. The final series basically writes Matthew out and focuses on Albertine. The problem is that while both Albertine and Matthew are typically under-written children's roles, where Ellams is charismatic enough to engage, Annabel Worrell is depressingly bland as Albertine. The writer seems to realise this by surrounding Albertine with a Michael Jackson impersonator, a sulky Chinese person and a chinless refugee from Grange Hill who does nothing but look perplexed and apologetic like a minor member of the Royal Family in a trans-sexual cabaret club.
Don't get me wrong, when weighed against the grunge and earnest political correctness of most children's drama, the Chocky series stands up pretty well. As far as drama for kids goes, this is top-notch stuff. The problem is that, beyond the first series, there's a lack of ambition about the writing that makes the second and third series a little dull. Where the first series is full of themes and ideas, the later two seem padded and listless as plot points get dragged out longer than strictly necessary. The continuous watering-down of the cast as first the parents then Matthew get written out, then Matthew himself, add to this sense of Wyndham's ideas being repeatedly whipped by an eager and deluded jockey.
Well worth a look but I can't help feeling that Read's wife should have dragged him away screaming, "Leave it! Leave it!"
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