I just got to see the new Knightmare episode, and I have to say it exceeded my expectations by a huge margin, and I'd like to share my thoughts and feelings on this one-off special.
Obviously, the first thing I saw was the opening titles - plucked straight from the later series of the original run. To be honest I thought nothing of this... until it dawned on me that the original theme was included. I don't know all the specifics, but I believe the rights to the theme prevented it's use in KMVR, and was (for me) one of the points of contention I have with that experiment. In the Geek Week Special it's back in it's rightful place. I'm not sure what Tim did to achieve that (have the rights issues been solved, or somehow not apply to specials like this?) but having the original theme ensured from the get-go that the special felt exactly how it should do, a legitimate continuation of the classic series. The last 20 years just melted away and it almost feels like the series had never left us. The choice of the title sequence from the later period of the original run did seem a bit peculiar, especially given other elements of the special itself - I was never a fan of the live-action one, preferring the animated earlier title sequence and versions of the theme, though I guess the choice was made because it might have been difficult or impossible to have the original animation looking reasonably decent in HD resolutions. Considering the one-shot nature of this special, expecting a brand new title sequence is probably being unreasonable, I believe the best was done in the time and budget available.
After the titles came our first glimpse of the new assistant and the CGI version of Treguard's antechamber. I don't really know what to say about Isy Suttie's character since we don't really get to know her (something that's also the case with two new dungeon dwellers), but I found her to be pleasant enough to be enjoyable in the long term (if she's ever brought back in the future) and simply oozes the same kind of appeal that Pickle the Elf had. It's perhaps unfair to compare Daisy and Pickle as we knew Pickle for quite some time, but when Pickle first appeared he altered the series dynamic quite a bit. In the first few series we simply had Treguard all by himself. A new face in the antechamber was a strange and bizarre prospect that felt weird at first - until it became apparent it was a change for the better. I'm feeling the same vibes from Daisy, and if her purpose was to remind me of how I felt all those years ago, she certainly succeeded in buckets.
Regarding the antechamber... I've seen quite a number of varying comments on this. I am aware the CGI antechamber came about as they had far too little time to construct an actual physical set, but I actually believe this idea is the way forward. The CGI set itself was bizarrely low quality compared to the actual dungeon rooms, but on closer inspection it's actually a really good copy of the Series 1 antechamber, which was originally a constructed set. The only major difference lay in the use of a wall-mounted magic mirror, where the Series 1 antechamber had television sets concealed within what appeared to be a treasure chest.
While I did say that the room was low-quality, that (again) is probably a harsh judgement. Short development time and lack of funds were perhaps the biggest hurdles in the creation of the special, and this needs to be kept in mind at all times. In addition, the aim was to be purposefully nostalgic - to recreate Knightmare how it was, not how it would be if made today. The low-quality CGI antechamber made me smile as I recalled how low-quality the original antechamber looks in hindsight. While it's never looked exactly terrible, it's always had a sort of false quality about it which is replicated perfectly here. The walls never really looked like they were made from stone. Perhaps this was originally done to help blur the lines between reality and the virtual dungeon itself, nonetheless it serves the same purpose here in bridging the gap between our real world and the stylized rooms in which the dungeoneer found himself. Some might not like CGI antechambers, but this one was (again) the best that could have been achieved, and as a best-case scenario that was realised deserves high praise. Of course a new series (if one is ever made) could take this a stage further - using the capabilities of modern computer graphics to fully realise a photo-realistic set with proper lighting and shadows. Being CGI isn't a limitation, it's freedom itself - and one which I'm pleased Knightmare is prepared to fully embrace.
Onto Treguard... I was fully aware the man himself would be returning, and I thought this was handled exceptionally well. For good or ill a long time has passed since we last saw the Dungeon Master. Treguard (when we initially see him) is in advanced age, asleep in his chair and a little senile. One little gripe I have about this bit is that the 20-year gap is specifically mentioned. The Treguard in that chair looks far more than 20 years older than when we last saw him, and considering that we are meant to be gazing across time it's only significant that a lot of time has passed, not 20 years specifically. I'd have accepted 40 or 50 years have passed for Treguard since we last saw him perfectly easily. Time in the Knightmare realm doesn't quite flow the same as it does for us (hence "temporal disruption"), so pinning down the number of years since the last quest seems quite a bizarre thing to be doing.
The infamous Goblin Horn moment made me beam! It's little opportunities like this, which Tim Child and his team seized upon that really show the effort that went into this production. While the original horn sound effect wasn't used (not that I actually noticed or realised when I watched) it was a very famous element of the original series, particularly during the early years, which I'd all but forgotten about. New viewers probably wouldn't get the joke, but it was an incredibly brief but powerful bit of nostalgia despite it's inaccuracies.
When Daisy cast the spell to REFRESH Treguard, I found it quite bizarre that she chose to actually say the word "refresh" at the end. This strange magic-calling method was also used by Treguard later in the episode to DISMISS the team, and struck me as even stranger on that occasion. While I'll agree this was probably done because of the lack of on-screen lettering, I don't recall on-screen lettering ever appearing when Treguard cast DISMISS, UNITE or HEROES. Back then, even though I was only nine I still knew what Treguard was spelling out so I can't really see the need for him (or Daisy) to actually say the name of the spell at the end. A silly niggle I know, incredibly minor. Something I feel guilty for hating, yet I can't deny the feeling that the casting process feels more childish for it.
The transformation effect itself wasn't perfect, but got the job done. A nice CGI fade transition (similar to how Doctor Who regenerates, minus the glow) would have been better perhaps, the spinning chair being incredibly cheesy, however this doesn't annoy me at all. Knightmare isn't a serious show, even though it can appear to be quite dark it's always had it's tongue-in-cheek moments and the spinning chair scene wasn't out of place. If anything I was reminded of early episodes where Treguard was overpowered by dungeon denizens and bound against his chair, moments from the early series that simply never happened after the great Series 3-4 changes had occurred. It was great to be reminded of those, especially since Treguard was wearing clothes somewhat reminiscent of his Series 1-2 attire.
Post transformation, Tregard was - well - Treguard. Exactly how he was, which is amazing considering that 20 years have passed for Hugo Myatt just as they've passed for all of us. Treguard does look a little older than he did in Series 8, but it's only marginal, certainly not 20 years! For me he already appeared to visibly age far more each time his outfit changed in the original run, Treguard of Series 1-2 looking a good deal younger (and shabbier) than the more eloquent gent he became after that point. Hugo's characterization of Treguard is also faultless, as if the character had never left our screens. Seeing Hugo back in the role, and performing so effectively and flawlessly does cause me to ponder the silly decision of why Treguard had been reduced to a CGI avatar merely voiced by Hugo in KMVR. As the face of Knightmare, as long as he is able and willing to reprise the role of Treguard physically, he should be. This special proved beyond all doubt that Myatt not only still "has it", but still loves the role after all these years - that's the main thing, and it certainly shows in his performance. Something that could equally be said about the other lead, Mark Knight AKA Lord Fear.
Pretty much everything I have already said about Treguard above could also be applied to Lord Fear as well. Perhaps even Lissard. While we visibly see more of Treguard (since he's in the antechamber throughout), the couple of brief glimpses we got of Lord Fear gave Mark Knight a chance to really bring back his classic character in style. His performance was top-notch, and (just like Hugo Myatt) he still knows how to perform that role with flair... but was ever so slightly marred by the costume he wore in those scenes. While Fear's helmet did change a couple of times in the original series, the decision to outfit Knight in (what I can only describe as) as long silver Marge Simpson hairdo shaped helmet caused those scenes to appear far more cartoony and ridiculous than they ever were in the past and were a great distraction for me. Helmet aside, the gag concerning his mobile phone seemed a little off to me. Lord Fear has always been somewhat ironically up-to-date with his new techno-sorcery devices, and we've been carrying mobile phones for years. Maybe Fear should have had a tablet PC or something like that instead? Nonetheless he did manage to sneak in an "internet" reference - by luring Ariadne into Level 1 and "webbing" the place up.
I was delighted to see Fear again, but it felt strange. It wasn't until after the episode ended and I sat and thought about it that I figured out why - there are two reasons:
1: Lord Fear was seen in an episode that featured dungeon chambers only ever seen during the period of time before Fear, when Mogdred was the opposition. Apart from Series 8, Lord Fear (to me) was part of the package introduced when the David Rowe artwork dungeon was replaced with live-action Eye-Shield footage and it's oddly strange to see the two together.
2: Absolutely no explanation was given as to what Fear had been doing for these past 20 years. While Treguard had (initially) visibly aged quite a bit and required a REFRESH spell to restore his youth and sanity, Fear seemed remarkably unaffected. In addition, despite the fact that he's been unopposed these past 20 years, and despite the fact that he's not averse to cheating... why hasn't Fear totally claimed or destroyed the whole dungeon by now, or at least done something incredibly sneaky and evil while Treguard slept? Seeing him achieve pretty much zero after 20 years of him having pretty free reign over the dungeon does diminish the threat of the character.
Well, I've talked enough about characters for now. Any more and this post will require a forum-page all to itself, so I'll move briskly forwards.
The dungeon rooms themselves were beautiful. To begin with I thought they had simply re-used the existing David Rowe artwork, that is until I checked out David Rowe's Knightmare gallery on his website. To my amazement, the rooms are actually recreated from scratch. I can't understand why the decision was made to do this, since I'm fairly confident that the original prints produced by Rowe are high-quality enough to look good on a HD TV set (check out the wallpapers he's recently released). For a single one-shot episode they could have easily used those - but they didn't. The more I think about this, the more I convince myself that what we saw was just a small portion of high-fidelity rooms that have been lovingly re-created, yet why do that when only three or four will be seen in the special? I found the rooms to be oddly accurate without actually being accurate at all - why reinvent the wheel when the original material is still fit for purpose? I hear these rooms are now fully CGI, and the puzzle deepens.
The dungeon itself harked back to Series 1-3, my favorite. I much preferred the old manner of seeing the entire room on-screen at once, and the dungeoneer being guided around by directions rather than by Eye Shield. While Tim Child has a fair point when he's said many times how slow-paced those original series were (and I'm inclined to agree), removing those early familiar rooms, completely restyling the entire dungeon (with real footage that looked too ordinary and certainly didn't look as impressive as the paintings produced by David Rowe) and replacing the method used to maneuver the dungeoneer around was always too high a price to pay for expedience. The special proved to me how crucial that original feel and style was to the show, and were Knightmare to return I believe the episode-length should be increased to fit more rooms and puzzles into each episode, rather than finding ways to cut corners and move things along more than is absolutely required. To be honest I had absolutely no problem with the pacing in the special. When you're glued to Knightmare it doesn't matter if the team have spent 5, 10 or 20 minutes in a room - if something is actually happening (a dungeon dweller has a scene, or there's a wall monster or some sort of puzzle) the viewers are so gripped that the time simply flies! The only thing I'm concerned about as a viewer is seeing more than two or three rooms an episode - but a longer running time would sort that out.
Which brings me to my biggest gripe about the special - the editing. This shouldn't be a gripe, and it annoys me that I'm annoyed by this. Back in the old days the vast majority of adventures weren't paced in any way. They simply didn't need to be. The idea of "temporal disruption" could be used to pause and resume any adventure at any point once the show needed to go off-air. Obviously, a half-hour episode can only run for half an hour, and cuts had to be made to keep to time. There were rooms we never got to see, dialogue we never got to see, all to keep to the running time. This is a problem unique to the special because of it's nature, so I can't really pass any firm judgement on this and I won't. That means I can't really criticize anything that actually happened in the dungeon.
In the same respect I can't criticize the team either. I've seen opinions on both sides of the fence, some people think Knightmare should go for older teams, others think the younger teams are more suitable. On the basis of this one singular team I simply cannot draw any reasonable conclusion. They're just four reasonably ordinary young adults, and how they performed or behaved is merely an indicator of themselves as individuals rather than that of older teams versus younger teams, or of the program itself. I recall the original series had a variety of young teams ranging all the way from brilliantly entertaining to downright annoying. People are people, and there will always be variety no matter which age group tackles the dungeon. I happened to like this particular team since they were clearly enjoying themselves and got into the spirit, after all - it wasn't as if they'd have had enough time to actually win.
Anyway that's my 2 cents (well, glancing over, more like half-million dollars!) on this special. An absolutely amazing one-off that succeeded in all respects in what it set out to do, far more than I could have possibly imagined. No it's not perfect, and there are a few little niggles, but these were either the product of the special being produced very quickly as a one-off or simply aren't significant enough to impact the quality of the episode as a whole.
And despite not being produced as an example of what new Knightmare should be, I find it's an incredibly enlightening insight into where the seeds of a new series should begin. If the ideas and methods used in this special were used to produce a full series, and plenty of time was allocated to ensure everything is spot-on and as good as it can be, there's no reason why a new series couldn't completely eclipse the original run. Knightmare was ahead of it's time back in 1987... 26 years ahead of it's time to be exact. It's time is now.