This is my second least favourite of the series (River being the least) so you have been warned, this review may be more negative than usual. It’s not that I don’t like the book, it’s just not as good as the others. Saying that, sometimes watching a less than stellar adaptation can leave you with a sudden fondness for the original.
THE MYSTERIOUS PRE-CREDITS SCENE
We are outside the Dominion Museum as a black limo draws up. A man in heavy black lace -up boots gets out. He’s very happy to see a ship in a bottle on display. It’s a 12th century replica Roman galley.
In a fit of criminal mastermindry he just smashes the glass and walks out with the ship and bottle. The black-hatted man in the car is equally happy to receive it, but it turns out that the secret compartment inside it is empty. The booted man makes several strange noises, like an evil Mr Bean.
At Craggy Tops Bill and Allie reveal to us that they are going to be married tomorrow. Dinah and Lucy-Ann are trying on some of the worst bridesmaids dresses I have ever seen outside of the 1980s. They make awful noises when the girls move. After the wedding, Bill and Allie are to go on a cruise of the Channel Islands.
Bill then gets a call on his mobile from his boss. His side of the conversation goes:
YOU MUST BE JOKING. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS. I DON’T BELIEVE IT. I MUST STRENUOUSLY OBJECT, THIS IS ABSOLUTELY OUTRAGEOUS.
So it isn’t good news then. The wedding has to be postponed because Bill is needed at work. He and Allie have a bit of a row, but there’s nothing that can be done and Bill leaves.
He is told that a gang is planning to overthrow Zimbabwe. Leon Slade (our chap in the black hat) is the leader of the group and they are looking for funds. Bill is the only one who can stop them (He’s as sceptical about this as we are.)
It seems that his boss is right though, as within a few hours Bill is hot on the trail of ships in bottles.
Leon Slade is ahead of him, though, and has men turning up with ships in bottles so he can smash them and look for secret compartments. He then throws them out the front door to the hounds when there is nothing inside the ships.
Fool! You know what penalty for failure!
Igor (the booted man) is still around, and still grunting more than he speaks.
CAN I CHANGE MY BOOKING AT THE LAST MINUTE? I WANT TO BRING FOUR CHILDREN AND A PARROT INSTEAD OF MY HUSBAND
Allie decides to take the children on the cruise with her – somehow booking three extra last minute tickets. Kiki is simply allowed on without issue – though she is to remain in the cabin at all times. The children run rather wild at first – Jack gets into trouble for swinging on lifeboats which I’m sure the children never would have done in the books.
Something else that would never happen in the books – Lucy-Ann FORGETS to buy Jack, her beloved brother, a birthday present. Their cruise attendant helpfully directs them to a nautical gift shop on one of the islands, despite Jack having no more of a interest in the sea than the rest of them do.
And surprise surprise, there is another galley in a bottle in that shop! Lucy-Ann buys it just before Slade and Igor can.
I just want to know how Slade (and later, Bill) discover that this ship is in that shop. Do they have an online listing of all their gifts? Is the ship so important that there is a paper trail of sales leading to the shop? And if so, how can Lucy-Ann afford it with her pocket-money? The other question is how do Slade and Bill know that there are only four possible galleys out there? Surely anyone could make replicas?
Anyway. Igor collapses outside the shop to distract the children and Allie and Leon steals the bottle. Except he discovers he has stolen Jacks’ large container of cockatoo feed which just happens to be a cylinder of a similar size to the bottle.
Igor then manages to sneak on board and gets around the ship without anyone demanding to know who he is or what he is up to. The stewardess merely tries to direct him to the store cupboard when she sees him.
BIRTHDAY PRESENTS, RUNES AND BROKEN BOTTLES
Jack gets a scanner for his birthday which he can hook up to the little computer he takes everywhere with him, but they all agree that the ship in a bottle is the best gift of all. (It’s at this point I realised that Bill and Allie had booked a honeymoon to coincide with Jack’s birthday. That’s not very nice of them!)
There is runic writing on the ship like they’ve already seen on the stewardess’ necklace. She tells them it is called the Andrea (not the Andra as in the book). The bottle smashes when Igor tries to steal it in the night, but Kiki scares him off before he can take the ship. Allie is momentarily concerned but then leaves the boys to pick up all the broken glass.
Of course the kids find the hidden piece of paper inside. I would call it a map, but it’s more of a parchment with colourful pictures on it – and more runes. They decide to have a treasure hunt, did you expect any less?
MORE LAST MINUTE BOOKINGS AND BIRTHDAY PRESENTS
There are two new passengers on board – Slade and a young boy who is coached to say
You are Murray Eppilenska known to your friends as Eppy. You’re a watch manufacturer.” “I’m Lucas Eppilenska, your son, I’m 14. My mother couldn’t make it…
So these are Mr Eppy and Lucian. Eppy/Slade immediately gets close to Allie and the kids and Lucas gives Jack a suspicious watch for his birthday. It has a tracker in it. Igor then bursts into one of the children’s cabins and gets seen by the stewardess – so they then know that someone is really after them.
Igor then runs around roaring at people indiscriminately, then chases Jack when he realises he has the map on him. Jack is actually saved by Eppy, and Igor taken off by police. Eppy has now more become even more trusted while preventing any further scenes on board.
INJURED RELATIVES, MAP SCANNING TECH AND BAD SIGNPOSTS
Allie then gets a message to say that Uncle Jocelyn has had an accident and broken his hip. Eppy is quick to offer to keep an eye on the children.
Once she’s out of the way, Jack gets to work scanning the map – which does have the outline of an island on it. His computer whizzes through all sorts of maps of the UK and matches it up with that of Anders Isle. Conveniently they are docked at Andersea at the time, which is very close to Anders Isle.
Andersea is a real place, actually. It’s a tiny village lying between Taunton and Glastonbury in the Bridgewater area of Somerset. Bridgewater had a port many years ago, but it connects to the Bristol Channel and is nowhere near the Channel Islands, so I suspect this is a coincidence and the names were picked to go with the Andrea.
Handily for him, Igor was punted off the ship at Andersea and has been released by the time the children head off and hire bikes (with those strange flag things on the back). He is able to follow them to the stewardess’ friend’s house. Owen (a priest) is knowledgeable on runes and the island, and when shown three out of the four sections of the map furnishes them with some clues:
A monk with a snake – the guardian will show the way
A young woman – beware the smiling princess
The ship – turn the ship north, 7 and 5
A special coin – one has just sold at Sotheby’s for £50,000
Meanwhile Igor has changed the direction of a signpost back to the ship. The kids follow the wrong path on their way back and get chased by Igor who crashes his bike.
BUGS, TEDDIES AND BILL AGAIN
They make it back to the ship and Philip finds a bug in their cabin. They then pretend to have hidden the map in a stuffed toy in the shop – saying it clearly into the bug so they will be overheard. It sounds an extremely stupid plan – even if no teddies had been sold yet, they couldn’t ensure that none would. But Lucas it sent to buy all the bears, watched by the kids. They then know exactly who is after them, and their map.
Allie has reached Craggy Tops by now to discover nothing is wrong with Uncle Joss. Two men from “the phone company” have disconnected the phone. This is actually a nice little twist on the tried-and-tested Blyton contrivance of getting the adult(s) out of the way. (Though even Blyton did use it herself in Circus of Adventure when Bill and Allie go off to help old Aunt Naomi who is perfectly fine.)
The kids have fled the ship to escape from Eppy and camped out on the island with next to no supplies. They might as well treasure-hunt while they’re there, though.
Bill then arrives on the ship while Eppy, Igor and Lucas are trailing after the children, following the signal from Jack’s watch.
As usual Kiki flies off… as she has done so many times in this series. Jack goes after her while the others wait. That means Eppy etc are only following Jack now. When he sees Eppy et al nearby he intermediately realises his watch is a tracker and sends Kiki flying off with it. This has the men running back and forward and round in circles.
And then there is lots of farcical running around (just like in every episode). Allie returns in time to run into Bill.
DONKEYS, COLUMNS AND THE QUEST FOR THE HOLY GRAIL
Using the map the children are able to find an old cross with a hollow column. They use the ‘7 and 5’ clue and try pacing five and seven steps from the cross, which seems pretty silly when they have to idea of direction or length of step. And yet Lucy-Ann digs up a stone with one of the map symbols on it on her first try. They turn it around and open a door at the bottom of the column.
Igor is now leading along the donkey which the children saw earlier, I do not know why. There was a donkey in the book – bringing food for Mr Eppy’s crew and commandeered by the children.
Underground, the children find a big round pool which seems deep. A monk from the map is on the wall – walking on water. Dinah follows the ‘guardian’ and finds stepping stones just under the surface of the water, following the shape of the snake. (Somewhat like Indiana Jones making the leap from the lion’s head in his quest for the Holy Grail).
A TRAIL OF WINEGUMS, THE PRINCESS TRAP AND DON’T CROSS ALLIE WHEN SHE’S MAD
Lucy-Ann has left a trail of wine gums leading Eppy right to the open column so he is soon after them (though how he knows how to cross the pool is a mystery).
Three of the children forget to follow the map advice and get shut in a room with the smiling princess statue – only Dinah isn’t in there so she can rescue them. She spots another monk on the wall, holding a ship in a bottle.
Using the 7 and 5 again they find a tile in the roof and press it, revealing a cascade of the coins like the one on the map. Eppy walks in just in time to see this, and ties the kids up. He even ties Lucas up – and reveals that Lucas’ father has been held hostage presumably so that Lucas will do Eppy’s business.
Of course the children escape and do the only sensible thing – make lots of scary noises. to scare Igor and Eppy.
Bill and Allie have visited Owen and managed to make their way to the cross, and find Eppy clutching bags of money, and Allie knocks him into the water by throwing a bag of money at him.
We assume everything then has a happy ending and Lucas is reunited with his father… but nothing is said.
Allie and Bill get married by Owen (the priest who helped them with the map) and thankfully there are no awful bridesmaids dresses.
The episode ends as the kids promise no more adventures with their fingers crossed behind their backs.
This is another slightly strange adaptation.
A lot is lost by taking away the rich Greek history of the story. Much of the excitement is lost by revealing the secret nature of the ship before the children even embark on the cruise, and again a lot of time is given to silly chases and pointless running around. Igor is one of the worst baddies I’ve ever seen – he’s stupid, bumbling, clumsy and I don’t think he utters a fully coherent word the whole way through.
They somewhat redeem themselves with the underground portion of the episode, though – the set is convincing and the clues work. I’m really glad they kept to the underground passages to find the treasure and the column with a tunnel inside it as well.