Worst to Best
The Adventure Game
Season Three

Season three of The Adventure Game didn't appear until 26 months after season two. With the producer and deviser having retired, it saw a very different feel to the programme, and the emergence of one of its most famous elements: Bill Homewood as Ron Gad, the backwards-talking Argond with his much-mimicked catchphrase "doogy rev".


by
THE ANORAK
JULY 2017


Airing from February-March 1984, the season received an extra episode's allocation, bringing the total to six. All six episodes are currently available to buy on DVD from Amazon. In the meantime, please join me as I rank the season from worst to best...

6 Episode Two

Perhaps the only marginally below-par episode of the season, as contestants Sue Nicholls, Duncan Goodhew and member of the public Emma Disley fail to buld sufficient chemistry to really compel. Goodhew is affable, but, as has been seen in previous season rankings, often having a contestant who's "nice" isn't necessarily that engaging. While season three varies the games and keeps things moving, it was a very different world of television that expected viewers to be enticed by watching three people sitting around a BBC Micro, even if said Micro controlled "Dogran", a robotic three-eyed dog.
     However, season three is the season to introduce arguably the biggest and most memorable star of the programme, in the form of Ron Gad. For such a well-remembered character, it's surprising that he only debuted in the third season, and that he only made one appearance in season four. Ron's various interactions are all a delight, though a particular favourite is the revised "Drogna Game", which is now reconfigured as a virtual boxing match, Ron Gad the trainer to a very Hitch-Hikerish Red Salamander of Zardil. A formidable opponent, the hilarious Red Salamander remains undefeated throughout the season.

5 Episode Six

The series finale sees easy-natured, amiable contestants in the form of Noel Edmonds, Fern Britton and member of the public Ray Virr. Often the dialogue between them will go back to the level of discussion in the very first episode, where the contestants talk relatively quietly amongst themselves, not doing a "turn" for the cameras. It makes for a likeable, if not entirely engaging, season finale. (Incidentally, as one section of Arg is now called "Baggy Bottom", did the constantly amused Noel Edmonds see that and think it would be enough material for eight years of Saturday night television?)
     Virr is the only one to escape the vortex, one of just four contestants (out of fifteen, three having been evaporated beforehand) to beat the vortex this season. Speaking of trivia, then although Bill Homewood has been referred to as "Ron Gad" throughout the series, his season three credit is actually as "Dagnor". This is amended slightly here, as his credit becomes "Dangor (alias Ron Gad)". The makers of the programme were actually entranced by Homewood after seeing him singing backwards on an episode of Swap Shop, so Noel Edmonds does a good job of pretending not to recognise him.

4 Episode One

Series Devisor/Producer Patrick Dowling had retired and emigrated to Australia after the second season, leaving the production in the hands of former director Ian Oliver, while Christopher Tandy took over the directing duties. Dowling treated the programme as fun, but also took it seriously, and warned contestants to never break the fourth wall. With Dowling's absence from most of the series (he was present at some filming), the difference can immediately be felt. Not only does Charmian Gradwell have to adopt some laboured "amateur TV presenter" schtick as the show is now part of "Arg-O-Vision", but the contestants often seem to follow suit, peering out of the fourth wall now the presenters are doing it.
     It's an odd clash of styles, whereby the contestants are encouraged to never look into camera, even though the presenters are regularly giving asides. (In the case of Ron Gad, this can only be a gniht doog). 11 minutes in and, as part of a gum-chewing task, Richard Stilgoe decides to turn to the camera and address the viewers, telling them "you at home may wish to take some time off while we're doing this", while Sarah Greene adopts a cod American accent to say "see you after the break." Contestants can either work with or against the nature of the programme, and any interaction here with the Argonds sees the contestants not taking it seriously, or working against the tone of the show. While this does give it a bit more energy than the two episodes ranked below it, it does make it a frustrating view, where remarks like "Shall we throw this egg at camera one?" constantly undermine the artifice of the programme.

3 Episode Five

The second of two back-to-back episodes featuring Doctor Who companions: Bonnie Langford three years before she'd appear as "Mel Bush", and, as this season was filmed around August 1983, then Janet Fielding would still have been playing the role of "Tegan Jovanka". As with Stilgoe and Greene, Fielding frustratingly tries to draw attention to the reality of it all, with lines like "I think you should throw this water on any of the cameramen who are smirking" and "I don't like the way somebody smiled when I said that." It's particularly frustrating in Janet's case, because she's not a presenter like the other two, but an actress who had spent almost three years pretending to be on alien planets.
     Possibly the most bizarre Vortex game ever sees antiques dealer Nigel Crocket get to safety by going almost exclusively down the right-hand edge, while His Royal Highness The Rangdo of Arg, for reasons only known to himself, goes down the opposite side. He at least devises a strategy to obliterate Fielding, with Olympic judo champion Neil Adams having already been evaporated before the vortex game started.

2 Episode Four

A great, fun episode with Bonnie Langford being joined by presenter Paul McDowell. The member of the public is Christopher Hughes, who has since become a minor celebrity thanks to his successful appearances in quiz shows like Mastermind, Eggheads and The Weakest Link. Bonnie is incredibly good-natured, and one major thing to her credit is that in the rare occasions where she enters a room and accidentally looks into one of the multiple cameras, she immediately looks away so as not to spoil the illusion.
     One of the most notable and perversely engaging elements of season three is the introduction of a "phone in", where Charmian Gradwell talks to children (oddly, shot on film), asking them for ideas for presents for her Uncle. The segments are pure car crash entertainment as dead air fills the screen, and each child looks puzzled and apprehensive, giving the impression that they've been forcibly coerced into appearing. Charmain constantly telling the callers that their ideas are wrong and asking for other examples causes an uncomfortable reaction, whereby the kids involved, doubtlessly hyped up to deliver their sole answer, are then forced to think up the name of another fruit or colour... a question that should be easy enough, but, in the painfully stilted and awkward environment, forces the poor kids to look like they're in physical discomfort, almost tortured by the situation.
     Appearing twice in every episode, it's uncomfortable, uneasy viewing... which, in turn, leans toward "twisted genius". This particular instalment has the following exchange when a caller suggests Uncle would like water, as he's a plant:

"He doesn't like water, he likes coffee though."
"Well give him some coffee then!"

1 Episode Three

A terrific episode with a good-natured Sandra Dickinson throwing herself into things, Bill Homewood firing on all cylinders and lighting up the screen, while Chris Searle sings to an angry pot plant while accompanied by an alien dragon. The series hits possibly its peak of lunacy in this one, with a nicely disjointed flow, the sometimes formulaic nature of the series given way to some of the strangest sights yet seen, including Dickinson jumping over some wooden sticks being banged on the floor by living pipes. Season one might be the pick for purists, but there's a very good case to be made for season three being the peak of the programme, and the most-remembered.
     The viewers' phone calls are particularly engaging this time around, with Charmaine revealing that they took place "133.3 years ago", meaning that those who love backstory can realise that the series takes place in 2117. Highlights of some particularly awkward exchanges include:

"I'd give him some polish to polish his scales."
"Aspidistras don't have scales, do you mean leaves?"
"................ No."

"I could give him a kiss or anything...."
"Oh, I think he'd like a kiss but I don't think he'd like anything."


Excruciatingly awful stuff, elevated almost to the level of TV Gold.