I have been told that the Secret Series episodes get better as the show progresses, and I’m glad to say I can agree with that – but only just! The Secret of Spiggy Holes is an improvement on The Secret Island, but not by a huge margin. The biggest improvement is there is no crazy monk with magical/technical tracking abilities.
My partner half-watched while he was playing the PlayStation and at the end commented “Well, that wasn’t very Blyton, was it?” And I think he summed it up quite well.
THE OPENING SCENES
The episode opens with a pair of baddies making some trial runs to see how fast they can drive, and then we return to the children at home with their father. I assumed Jack would be there as he would have been adopted by the Arnolds at the end of the last episode. However we soon cut to Jack alone, fishing. He cuts his finger and then heads to a shack to eat scraps from a tin can, so we can assume he is fending for himself in the wild now. (I really wonder why, and how, as this is set in the nineties and surely social services would have been involved.) Not to worry, though as Thaddeus takes the children to rescue ‘Wild Jack’, who hides from them at first. Thaddeus is awfully joky about a young boy living rough actually, and I thought perhaps he wasn’t really in any trouble but the other children don’t find it funny and I doubt Jack would hide when he heard people unless he really was a runaway.
NANNIES AND TRESSPASSING
Anyway, he’s restored to the family and then we see Lord Foggo arguing with the Scoop magazine editor again. I still don’t think it’s explained who Lord F is, but he fights for Thaddeus anyway, arguing against him having to go off on a book tour. Charlotte is also back and she’s all for the tour, in fact she advertises for a nanny to take care of the children.
While Thaddeus is meeting with one prospective nanny – a woman reminiscent of the Trunchbull from Matilda – the children are exploring an abandoned monastery nearby. This is rather where the whole story falls down as the girls reveal they’ve been there lots of times before. In the book Peep-Hole, the old house, and the whole area is new to them.
The car racing baddies from earlier are at the monastery, and they chase the children off because they have rented the place. Much later I discovered the man’s name to be Diaz (like in the book) but there’s no Mrs Diaz or Luis, but we do have a man called Bert instead.
Thaddeus wasn’t sure about the Trunchbull, but as no other nanny applied the children might be stuck with her. That is, until a young woman rides up on a scooter. She doesn’t like to clean and admittedly she isn’t much of a cook, but she can dance! Therefore she will make the perfect nanny and Thaddeus and Charlotte head off for the book tour.
Ruby, it turns out her name is, and she is certainly no cook. She even burns toast. Miss Dimmity she ain’t.
The adventure then starts when Prince Paul is brought in by boat at night. I had half-thought he wouldn’t be appearing as I have a vague recollection of some discussion about him being absent from some adaptation or other, presumably for politically correct reasons. But no, there he was, being smuggled in clear view of the children at their window. Prince Paul’s father – still the King of Baronia – is warned he must abdicate and pass the thrown to his brother should he wish to see his son again. The King has a perfect English accent, as do most Baronians except Prince Paul who sounds more New Zealander, but not as strongly as the other children.
And then we cut to Charlotte and Thaddeus, as this episode proves to the like the last in that it jumps between two narratives. The still-bickering couple are forced to share a hotel room as their second room has been taken by someone else. It seems that this other party is none other than the King of Baronia, who checks in during the night. Sensing a scoop, Charlotte spies on him but is seen heading back to her room. The Baronians then sneak into the room and kidnap Thaddeus, assuming him to be the spy. In doing so they drop a great big stinking clue in the form of a hankie with a monogrammed Baronian symbol.
Unfortunately Charlotte misses the obvious clue and assumes Thaddeus has simply run off home to avoid the book tour.
Back to the children and they are sneaking out of the house in the noisiest possible fashion, and end up hiding in the caves to watch for smugglers. They then think ‘hey, maybe there is a secret passage from here to the monastery’, find it within minutes, and head inside. Jack sneaks upstairs and hears Bert taking food to Prince Paul, but when he and the others try to leave they find the cave has filled with the tide.
Given enough time, Charlotte has finally found the clue and is desperate to get to Baronia, as she rightfully believes that the king has kidnapped Thaddeus and taken him there.
So let’s take a moment to think about that. You are sure your son is in Australia, having been kidnapped there, so you fly there. You think a man has spied on you, and is therefore connected to the kidnapping. So you then fly all the way home with this man to question him. Logical? No. A waste of time, not to mention fuel? Yes. A risky decision, which may antagonise the Australian government? Quite possibly. I think it just goes to show that they shouldn’t have tried to pad out the story with their own extras.
Ridiculous trips halfway across the world aside, the children communicate with Prince Paul by climbing a tree near the monastery and shouting loudly at him to get his attention. He then draws letters in the air to tell them that he is a prisoner.
They tell Ruby all about it, but she believes that the boy is Mr Diaz’s son, and heads over there to tell him off for playing tricks. Mr Diaz, in a very creepy way, invites her inside to prove there is no boy, and she somehow believes then that the children dreamed up the prisoner all by themselves.
In the next ridiculous turn in the Charlotte/Thaddeus sub-plot, Charlotte has made it to Baronia and walks right up the the palace gates. There she cries “what’s that?” and distracts the lone guard by pointing over his shoulder. She then karate chops him in the back of the neck and drags him off. The next time we see her she has donned his perfectly fitting uniform and made her way inside and down to the dungeon to free Thaddeus. Together they simply walk out of the palace and start walking through the woods to the border, a mere ten miles away.
The children are also planning a daring rescue at this time. They take their burnt burgers to feed the dogs, and have a rope ladder at the ready too. As in the book Prince Paul gets caught before he can climb down, and Mike too when he goes up. The girls are spotted by Bert with the dog and make an unconvincing act of freezing to the spot before they run away.
Now Ruby has to believe them, but the policeman doesn’t. Very conveniently Laura then suddenly remembers that there’s a tunnel between their house and the monastery. I just about gave up watching at that point! How could you forget something like that? Finding it is just as contrived. They sit down to think – perhaps there’s something in one of their father’s old books? But before they can do anything as clever as research, Ruby suggests lighting a fire. No, that’s no good, the fireplace in that room smokes terrible. It must be blocked or something. Can you see where this is going?
Yes. Ruby then says that it can’t be blocked as she felt an awful draft coming from it earlier. The children look at each other. Bingo! The secret passage is in the fireplace! They find it in about two seconds and are off. With no roof-falls to contend with they get over to the monastery in record time and rescue the two boys. Meanwhile, Ruby shows us how stupid she is by shouting at her own echo down the tunnel. Dimmy had a good reason not to go with the children, being an elderly woman (and the book tunnel involved steel ladders and a great deal more danger,) what is Ruby’s excuse?
Jumping over to the imprisoned boys they do manage to untie each others’ hands, but Mike’s genius idea is then to pick the lock using a large nail. Thankfully for him, the tunnel comes out directly into the tower room and he’s spared from having to keep trying. Mr Diaz immediately finds that the boys are missing and somehow knows it was via the secret passage even though it has shut behind them. He and Bert head over to Peep-Hole, and Ruby and the children then steal their car to escape. Only Ruby waits until they are in, seatbelts on before she reveals she doesn’t know how to drive a car, only a scooter…
Thaddeus and Charlotte are having similarly bad luck as they awake in the woods to find themselves surrounded by Baronian soldiers, and are taken back to the palace.
The children and Ruby, who has managed to get the car moving, are chased by Mr Diaz and Bert on Ruby’s scooter in a rather silly car chase. As they are running out of petrol Ruby drops them at the edge of the lake and, leaving her with the car, the children head over to their island. Being not in the least bit secret, Mr Diaz spots them over there as soon as he arrives and heads after them in a motor-boat.
Having managed to prove their identities via the internet, Charlotte and Thaddeus have returned by plane with the Baronians – in about thirty minutes or less. They turn up in Jeeps just in time to listen to the girls screaming incessantly as the baddies drive round them in circles on the water. All ends well, however as they manage to disable the baddies’ boat and row back to safety.
Well, there you are then. It was better than the first one, but it lacked a great deal of what made the book so wonderful. Instead of a new area to explore, one steeped in history, we had a bunch of children exploring their backyard. The subplot with Thaddeus and Charlotte was even more ridiculous than the last one and reduced the grand, clever King of Baronia into a bumbling fool who cared more about free trade than his son’s welfare. I’m glad to have seen that Charlotte won’t appear in the remaining episodes, though unfortunately Ruby will. It will be a good while before I can summon up the courage to watch the next episode to find out what happens next.