So two things before I start this week.
Firstly, I had forgotten that the TV series has mucked about the order of the episodes. For some reason they have River as the seventh and Circus as the eighth. I promised Circus anyway, so I’m going to stick to the book order. I don’t imagine it will matter too much.
And secondly, Circus is my absolute favourite of the series so I really hope this one isn’t a disappointment!
THE MYSTERIOUS PRECREDIT SCENE
Outside Wytcherly Prepatory School for Boys there is a smoking man. Inside, at dormitory A an alarm sounds in the distance. It’s a toy police car. The man guarding the corridor is knocked out. The smoking man waits outside while his two cronies bring out the wrong boy…
THE SET-UP FOR THE STORY
Bill got a cast of the car’s tires and found some Turkish cigarettes. This must be why they decide to put Gussy with Bill et al over the holidays. Sir George foists the boy on Bill even though he hasn’t had a break since his marriage (presumably River didn’t count as he was working then too).
Allie tells the children that the boy’s name is Gus and they all burst into laughter, and Kiki starts up her fussy Gussy routine right away. At least in the book they don’t make fun of him until he turns up and acts rather strangely.
Back at the school suspicious music is playing. Something must be up. No, it’s ok, it’s just Bill. Though I suspect there’s some sort of filming or tracking going on, so maybe it isn’t ok.
“I shall not lie down under the blanket. I shall make the protest!” So Gussy is going to be quite a pain still. He also has very silly long hair, which looks even more ridiculous in the 90s. It’s shoulder-length for goodness sake. And clearly a bad wig to boot!
Gus then blurts out his true identity within ten seconds of getting inside. Having ruined Jack’s ‘best rugby shirt’ with a paintball pellet, Jack demands to know “who do you think you are, royalty?” Which is rather a non-sequitur as he hasn’t acted at all royal. And Gus immediately replies with, “yes, I am Aloysius Garmondie Racemolie Torquinel”. Bill then confirms it all with the front door wide open, and enemies watching from the road above the house. It seems like we may skip a lot of the bad behaviour from Gussy before the reveal, and probably fill the rest of the episode with dramatic running around. (Side note, that’s probably the first time I’ve ever heard Aloysius out loud and it sounds nothing like it does in my head… who knew it wasn’t Al-oy-see-us??)
On the plus side it’s good that they’ve kept the details of Gussy’s name and that he’s from Tauri-Hessia.
Bill’s first idea is then that on the first day of their holiday the children go for a picnic on the beach (with Gussy protesting at having to carry his own rucksack as he is not a donkey) without adult supervision. They’re not too far from the house but it still seems rather silly to let a child who is supposed to be under 24/7 protection to go off like that.
Madam Tatiosa and Count Paritolen are snooping about and see the kids alone on the beach, yet still stick to a plan of taking him that night.
That evening there is a knock at the door. I now suspect that that Bill and Allie will be lured away and a kidnap will take place. We are less than fifteen minutes into the episode. And yes, a slightly foreign sounding chap with a bloody hanky to his head is wanting help, claiming there has been a bad car accident down the road. Bill and Allie go off without a second thought or mentioning it to the children. The man then pulls a gun on them and makes Bill throw his gun away.
As per the book Bill and Jack are out badger watching (though we see nothing but a rabbit and an owl), and Philip heads back early because he is tired. He arrived to hear Lucy-Ann screaming and shoots one of the henchmen with his paint-gun. With Madam and Count in charge they decide to take all the children, and Jack climbs into the car-boot as in the book.
Jack’s airport scene is rather less convincing as he climbs out of the car boot while the occupants are still inside. Kiki flies off and is recognised by the children who say she is a policeman, sending some of the henchmen on a wild goose (or indeed parrot) chase.
Jack manages to sneak right past Madame T and the Count and gets into the helicopter (rather than a plane).
Meanwhile Bill and Allie have made it back to their car but the keys are gone. They return to find the house empty. Allie finds a smashed, framed photo of the children on the floor. Who goes on holiday and packs framed photos?
Sir George has the cheek to tell Bill off for putting their government in a very awkward position. Again, Allie gives him what for, considering her children have been abducted too. Luckily an unidentified helicopter has been seen crossing the English Channel and can “only be heading for one place. Tauri-Hessia”. (Tauri being pronounced as Tow-ree and not Toh-ray as I always imagined.)
NEXT STOP, BORKEN CASTLE
Philip tries to run off as soon as they land and makes it about ten feet before he is caught, so it is lucky they have Jack following them. He does get spotted by the henchmen though, who follow him in a car when he gets a lift in some sort of van. They are slowed down by a horse-drawn carriage and Jack leaps out and climbs on the back of it. The poor van-driver must be very confused by now.
The henchmen double back and find Jack sitting at the back of the caravan, and chase him into some woods. As usual Kiki does her usual wild-parrot chase and we pad out the story with another five minutes of running around. So now Madame T and the Count know about Jack being in the country, and it seems that we will have to endure more added material of them trying to hunt him down.
VELCOME TO THE GUEST SUITE
At Borken Castle the children are sent to the dungeons – so the final escape will play out quite differently. Madame Tatiosa makes some threats, demanding that Gussy takes over the throne from his uncle (which doesn’t make very much sense. In the book I’m sure they want Gussy’s father to abdicate so they can put his weak uncle on the throne).
They are treated to a stew of beef and three-day cooked cabbage which only Gus enjoys as it is traditional Tauti-Hessian fare.
The children try to escape the dungeon with a modified version of Fatty’s trick, involving a blanket under the door and a fork with two tines broken off. They get caught in the process, however.
Jack finds himself at a busy circus where he meets Pedro who is half-Spanish, half-English, with a New Zealand accent and who runs the circus (it’s even called Pedro’s Circus). He’s a twenty-something guy instead of a boy Jack’s age.
It’s a very bustling place, and unusually most of the performers are in full costume already. Jack asks about the bad CGI castle in the distance which he is told belongs to Count P and is empty, more of a prison than a castle now.
Even though it looks to be a good few miles away, Jack appears at the castle door in the dark of night. He is able to walk right in the front gate where just inside is a conveniently open window above a strong ivy plant.
Cue much sneaking around reasonably well lit corridors with a torch, until he miraculously finds his way to the correct dungeon. At least there are some nice touches like a hidden passage and the spy-holes in the painting.
FRANK AND… THE LIONS
Frank has eaten wild mushrooms, and has a very bad stomach-ache. He doesn’t believe in doctors, though, so we have a convenient situation whereby they’re worried that there will be no show without the lions. Also, they are “very strong and may escape”.
Jack says that he knows someone who could handle the lions… which is really pushing the boundaries of believable in this adaptation where we’ve barely seen Philip with an animal. Pedro is easily convinced into going to rescue Philip and the others, though.
THE RESCUE IS MOUNTED
Meanwhile the King is out wandering in the night, alone, and is easily kidnapped by the henchmen.
Jack starts to saw through the padlock on the dungeon door, but Madame T comes down to talk to Gussy before they can escape. Pedro lures away the guards while Jack gets back to work on the padlock (cue a few more minutes of pointless running around before Pedro knocks one of the guards out with a juggling ball…)
Soon they’ve all fled via the secret passage which comes out under a statue in the woods. The juggling ball clue, however, has Madame T sending her men straight to the circus to find the children.
Frank has recovered by this point, however, so it seems we shall not get to see Philip rescuing the circus folk from escaped lions. The children escape detection with Gussy and the girls dressing as local girls, while Jack and Philip are dressed as clowns and run around crazily, distracting the men, before Frank seems to threaten to set a pig on them. This is not as good as the children pretending to be Jaberwockians, Philip getting in the bear cage and Gussy being Ma’s little grandaughter.
Then Bill turns up quite casually to say hello, his only disguise being a floppy hat and waistcoat.
ADDITIONAL RESCUE AND DRAMA
The king is still being held, and the threat now is that he will be killed if he will not abdicate willingly. Bill wants Jack to show him and his colleague into the castle to rescue the king… leaving Gussy unprotected again. They arrive just in time to stop Count P shooting the King. But Bill’s colleague then turns out to a double-agent (it wasn’t until I went back to take screen caps that I recognised him as the smoking man from the school). He demands Bill steps aside so he can shoot, well he seems to be pointing the gun at Madame T or Count P, but I assume he meant to be aiming at the king? Luckily Bill had suspected that all along and had removed the bullets from his gun. All because Ronald, his colleague, smoked Turkish cigarettes…
AND THE HAPPY ENDING
Then we end with the children all dressed up in Tauri-Hessian finery, and Gus who has had his hair cut. Kiki even gets a medal, and it does rather feel like a series finale.
Over-all it wasn’t too bad. It remained mostly faithful to the book, but as usual fell into the trap of adding unnecessary running-around for ‘drama’. I’m assuming that because the adaptation was originally shown in several short parts they felt the need to have some sort of exciting scene in each section to keep children interested. I also don’t know why they had to have that extra part at the end, surely the children being rescued should have been enough as a finale?