Season two of The Adventure Game saw it move from BBC1 Saturday mornings and into a 6pm BBC2 slot on Monday evenings. Introducing the popular Vortex game, as well as the Uncle changing into an aspidistra, it was responsible for adding many of the elements that make the series so fondly remembered today.
Broadcast during November 1981, three of the five episodes are currently available to buy from the BBC Store. In the meantime, please join me as I rank all five episodes from worst to best...
Season two of The Adventure Game is very much a product of old school, middle class BBC. While the third season introduced a backwards-talking, gum chewing Australian as part of its line-up, season two begins with the incredibly posh series devisor Patrick Dowling introducing the programme while a brass band plays the new theme tune of Edvard Grieg's Norwegian Dance Opus 35 No. 2.
In terms of content, then the season seems a lot cheaper (the Argonds in their alien form are particularly tatty) and there's a lack of innovation present. While some of the affectations, such as space-time trains, are welcome, there's a repetitiveness to most of the games, with each episode containing pretty much identical puzzles for the contestants to solve. The real selling points of the season are the introduction of the Vortex (which claims 9 of 11 possible victims throughout the run) and Lesley Judd as "the Mole".
While Judd's stagey performance is an odd fit with regulars Chris Lever and Charmian Gradwell, having the contestants suspecting each other of being undercover is a nice touch, and in this particular episode Derrick Griffiths is eliminated from the game after being wrongly accused. Joining Griffiths as contestants are actress Nerys Hughes and member of the public Tessa Hamp, both of whom are evaporated by the Vortex.
With the highly talented Griffiths involved, there's every chance that this could have been a classic episode of The Adventure Game, but it's one that was wiped from the BBC archives and no copy is currently known to exist. As a result it assumes last place by default, just one of two episodes to be completely missing.
Sue Cook is the main contestant in this instalment, but in 1981 the Rubik's Cube was such a phenomenon that an aficionado of the puzzle - David Singmaster – could feature as a "celebrity", leaving Philip Sheppard as the sole "member of the public". Cook stands out for two odd moments – telling Charmain that "I think you're getting a bit fat" and then, at the show's climax, she's stranded by a space direction sign and says, possibly as an ad-lib, "wish I'd bought the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy". This is particularly significant as Dowling got his inspiration for the series from both adventure/dice games, and the Douglas Adams SF comedy. Dowling even went so far as to ask Adams to write the series, though scheduling conflicts meant this wasn't possible.
There's also the first mention of Dograns here - "nasty little creatures that creeps up behind you and bites you on the bum" – and, with Singmaster, the first example of a contestant using the gift of a sandwich to predict where the Vortex will be. This is a slightly dry episode, hence the relatively low ranking, but it's still a lot of fun, and with the concept of the BBC itself sending contestants to an alien planet, the season has the most developed backstory of the lot.
The Adventure Game isn't a particularly expensive series, and the sometimes wobbly cameras or misplaced boom mikes do occasionally add to the charm. The final episode of the season, however, is probably the most amateurish of all purely from a production stand point. Just over five minutes in and a crew member can clearly be seen on camera laying down wiring… ten minutes in and a camera is in shot, while later the Mole game clearly has an edit, with contestants changing places between takes. The contestants enduring such ramshackle surroundings are John Craven, actress Kirsty Miller and Bill Green, an executive who is rather quaintly described as a "conniseur of cornish pasties".
The big flop of season two is a pitch black room, which was developed in later seasons, but throughout this run has had no other purpose than a room which contestants wander in, only to easily get out the other side. This is somewhat developed here, as for the first time a game is implemented within the room, thus giving it a narrative point, and, later, it's used to trap a member of the Galactic Police who turn up to arrest Lesley Judd for being a mole and for unauthorised use of an evaporator. This is one of the strangest turns of events in the whole programme, as Norman Bird's "Captain Acteon" engages in scripted dialogue with the main cast, and the gameshow element is almost forgotten entirely as the series gives way to a sci-fi "drama" presentation for the remaining minutes.
An episode that is officially missing from the BBC archives, although they were able to present another officially missing episode (season one's episode five) as a purchasable instalment in the BBC Store. Strangely that's not an option with this one, even though it has been widely circulated in various outlets thanks to low quality off-air copies. Here actors David Yip and Madeline Smith are joined by member of the public Derek Gale.
Yip is likeable, though, upon hearing that a Mole is part of the show, clearly instantly suspects the non-celebrity. A slightly "off" atmosphere makes this one enticing, as Gradwell hurries up Lesley Judd at one point, and also makes scripted remarks about her weight. Smith, meanwhile, starts off well but gets increasingly bossier as the episode goes on...
As season two is now over 35 years old and each episode lasts 45 minutes, it can naturally drag in places, particularly when contestants struggle unduly with the games and have to be helped along. This is eliminated here with Graeme Garden (here between BBC and ITV seasons of The Goodies) who is so astoundingly sharp that he almost instantly solves every puzzle. It's a commendable intelligence from a thoroughly likeable contestant, and means that this opener never drags, speeding along on momentum and getting the season off to a great start.
Graeme's amazingly sharp brain picks out Lesley Judd as the Mole almost instantly, though this ultimately proves to be his undoing: as the first contestant to voice suspicion, he immediately brings suspicion upon himself, and, while almost turning it around, is ultimately accused of being the Mole and evaporated. Garden's fellow contestants (presenter Carol Chell and member of the public/Rubik's Cube enthusiast Nicolas Hammond) go on to face the Vortex and fare badly in one of the finest episodes. Lastly, note that Chris Leaver's "deaf old man" routine is revealed here to be an affectation he puts on only when talking to humans.