Children wander into a cave and find an immortal, fading to non-existence. The source of his power, the Nidus, has been taken from him (somehow) and exists all across space and time simultaneously (somehow). If he can get hold of it again, he will regain his strength and finally escape from his rocky prison and defeat his eternal enemy Belor (of the evil eye?).
That’s the setup for the second oddest children’s quest series of the 1980s, Into The Labryinth.
I watched all of these programmes (there were three series’, of diminishing returns) when they were first aired and watching back over them now I initially had to ask myself what the grip they had on my imagination might have been.
Of course, they involved travels through time, a plot device I find irresistible to this day. And, though it didn’t look like it by the tired end of the sequence, there were seeds of originality and mysterious grandeur planted from that opening episode. Is is not every day you encounter a race of immortals (or possibly just a pair of them? It wasn’t clear.) with immense magical powers who would gradually fade from existence if kept apart from the source of their power. Certainly, not just before you had to do your homework.
Looking at the video of the opening episode (with thanks, as usual to my unknown YouTube benefactors) I felt the tug again. Into the Labyrinth is powered by two performances. Both are certainly larger than life. Ron Moody, as Rothgo, is the still centre. Brooding, insulting and with more than a hint of despair showing through, he acts through his eyes.
The villain of the piece is Balor, who chews the scenery into pulp as she uses every impossible illusion, disguise and deceit to Deny Them The Nidus.
“I deny you the Nidus!”
Balor, played as a kind of immortal superbitch Charlies Angel, intervenes at the end of every episode to prevent resolution by sending the Nidus to yet another time period (in a cave. They were always in a cave. You could travel to any time you liked, so long as you found yourself in a cave when you got there).
The formula was constant, predicable and almost unlevened by anything resembling character development. Nonetheless, as I say, the first series had hinted at grandeur. So, here, the Blytonish brother and sister are led by an exceptionally bright and know-it-all black teenager. That leadership is, from the start, not something the younger brother (who definitely wasn’t a brother) was particularly happy about. But he never refers to the source of his sulky irritation openly. A tiny subtle brushstroke.
Also, they are setting out to assist Rothgo. But what will he do if he gets his hands on the Nidus, and becomes all-powerful? After all, it isn’t for nothing that immortals are imprisoned encased in blocks of stone and buried deep inside mountainsides. What if bringing him the Nidus isn’t that hot an idea after all? He doesn’t reassure us when questioned on his intentions;
“I may use my powers in a way that is not evil. Does that equal good? Or I may use them in a way that is not good. Is that evil? I find it almost impossible to explain to minds that run on rails the concept of the noetic state.
I know. You’re worried you might be the kind of person whose mind runs on rails, seeing as you were previously unaware of the word noetic, or what state it was in. When was the last time that ever happened to you watching Downton Abbey? Worry not, I’m here to look it up in the dictionary for you.
of or relating to mental activity or the intellect.
ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Greek noētikos, from noētos ‘intellectual,’ from noein ‘perceive.’"
I think you’ll agree that we’ve all learned something now. I realised that was the point of the series, and what kept me coming back. Buried in amongst all the amulets, witches and immortals was exactly the same intent which prompted the creation of Doctor Who. We were to be introduced to lots of educational bits of history and myth through the device of time travel. The English Civil War, the French Revolution, the story of Theseus and the Minitor, the Arabian Nights, druidic England, Robin Hood- all introduced and stuffed into the viewers brains through the letterbox of the Nidussy.
And, in case there is any doubt about where I stand on the matter, both history and myth are brilliant.
There was one more grain rubbing from inside the story clam. The entire series was produced by HTV, the Welsh ITV network. For a Welsh audience, finding an immortal exiled for eternity to a cave, seeking (what turns out to be) a sword to restore him to his power… well, there’s only one thing that could mean.
There were two more series. They were rubbish. But for seven episodes, there was something ambivalent, strange and exciting on the telly. Of course I watched it. How could I not?