Here I am going back to the penultimate episode after watching in book order. I rate River as my least favourite anyway, so I suspect this could be quite dire. I imagine a lot will have to be changed, as Tala and Oola’s portrayals might potentially be considered too ‘racist’ just as Jo-Jo’s was. Then there’s the bargua – I can’t see Philip carrying a snake around for any part of this episode so some reasonable rewriting will have been done.
THE MYSTERIOUS PRECREDIT SCENE
It’s a dark night outside a government defence department. The gate has a sign reading No Entry and other writing in what looks like Arabic. A security guard comes to check the gate is still padlocked… Meanwhile, somewhere inside the compound a man with a torch turns down a narrow alley. He is dressed all in black with only his eyes showing so I have mentally nicknamed him Ninja Man.
Ninja Man has a blank key card and a handheld device which manages to trick the door system into opening. Once inside he already knows the code for the vault (which conveniently seems to be right by the door he’s just come through). Inside is a room empty expect for a suitcase – marked extreme danger – on a table. Ninja Man opens the suitcase to reveal a tube of green liquid.
SPOILED PLANS AGAIN?
Bill is planning a river cruise with the Mannering/Trents, but is interrupted by phone. It is, as usual, Sir George, who wants to speak to Bill. Bill reminds him that he is on holiday, but that means nothing in the world of secret service agents and so he has to go in ‘for a chat’ which apparently won’t spoil his holiday plans at all…
In the book Bill suggests the river cruise because he wants to keep an eye out for Raya Uma, and thinks his family will be the perfect cover. It makes little sense for them to plan a river cruise then be told that Raya Uma (or an unknown enemy) is conveniently going to be around that area, or even another river that you could cruise down.
And we know that Raya Uma is going to make an appearance (as a fat, bald man) because we then see him happily admiring his green vial while being served exotic food somewhere presumably abroad.
RAYA UMA AKA RAY UMA AND MR RABOS
So by complete coincidence, Uma who they wouldn’t normally bother a minute on – because he couldn’t organise a kids birthday party is planning something big so Bill is to keep an eye on him while on holiday.
As noted in my heading he is now called Ray Uma, and is an overweight, Caucasian bald man. Raya Uma of the books had a very uncertain heritage – nobody really knew who he was or what he looked like. He has a man servant who seems to be of middle-Eastern origins, called Taj. Taj does all sorts of jobs though the episode from spying to passing on messages but he also serves food to Uma so I think that man servant still applies.
They are in league with a bad, evil man by the name of Rabos (pronounced Raboss, though I thought it was Ramos for a while).
So instead of ‘Raya Uma, criminal mastermind, plus a few hired thugs’ we instead get ‘Ray Uma, rather mad, power hungry but considered quite useless plus a prominent lacky plus a genuine evil mastermind that everyone’s terrified of.’ So basically a lot of unnecessary complications.
Unfortunately this episode is also guilty of a fair bit of bad science. Not as much as other episodes, but enough to be worthy of note.
The stolen vial from the teaser is called Zero One. I’m not sure what that name is supposed to convey other than being easier to say and remember than ethalhexylmethylsuphate or something like that.
Anyway, Zero One is the deadliest liquid known to man. It is said that One drop could wipe out the whole of London and even breathing the fumes is deadly.
As such, it is of course a toxic glowing green. Plenty of very dangerous substances are incredibly innocuous looking, but film and TV makers always feel the need to make something dangerous neon green.
AT THE HOTEL SHIRAZ
By second handy (or not so handy) coincidence Bill and Rabos are staying at the same hotel. I immediately thought of red wine (which I don’t even drink) but Shiraz is also a large city in Iran – a choice to suggest we are in the Middle East somewhere.
Bill is oblivious to Rabos’ presence, but Rabos is sure he has seen Bill before.
Also at the hotel are a snake charmer and his boy assistant. He does a moment or two of snake-charming with a very plastic-looking cobra. This is derailed when a large and deadly-looking spider escapes from a drawstring bag. Bill throws some sort of cloth over the spider (isn’t your reaction usually to flatten it?) and the spider is safely stuffed back in the bag.
Unfortunately Rabos sees this and marks Bill as react(ing) like a man trained for action and he puts Uma on finding out who he is, so that he doesn’t get in the way of their big plan.
The kids then see that poor boy of the snake charmer’s. He is being scolded and pushed about a bit roughly. This is nothing compared to in the book where he is beaten by his uncle. Yet the cause a big scene screaming at him to run away. It works well in a poor-run down town by the river, but not so well in an expensive hotel.
THE MIDDLE EAST AKA NEW ZEALAND
The hotel manages to look suitably Middle-Eastern, but when they head outside and onto the river we can tell they haven’t left New Zealand (which usually is pretending to be England but also Austria and Wales at times). Allie had earlier said that there wouldn’t be snakes on the river which seemed a bit ludicrous as there are many water snakes and snakes that live near water, but as they are firmly in New Zealand it seems more reasonable!
Bill gets off the boat at the first landing spot, and goes off in a taxi. The pretence of the Middle-East is held by having a cafe/shack surrounded by donkeys and chickens. The stall is being manned by Taj, adding to the effect.
The riverboat has also been doctored with a very obvious stick-on sign with Arabic text.
FAKE NAMES AND FAKE SPIDERS
Taj, having bribed the real stall-holder, is there to find out what he can from the kids. Being suspicious they stuff him up with stories of Bill being a pop star guitarist in a band called Kiki, and that surname of the family is Howe (some quick thinking after Jack stamps on Lucy-Ann’s foot and she yells “ow” which he turns into Howe). So not quite the ‘always be honest’ mantra from the books, where the kids will do everything they can to avoid lying, even if they manage to omit a truth occasionally.
After that, Oola, the snake charmer’s boy comes creeping around the boat. That begs the question as to a) how he knew where they were and b) how he travelled so far in a fairly short time. Anyway, he still has the big spider and Dinah quite rightfully screams the place down.
Instead of it being a poisonous (well actually I’m sure the term is venomous, but you know what I mean) spider with something done to make it safe, it is in fact a non-dangerous spider doctored to look like a dangerous one. Philip can’t pronounce its name but it translates to whiteback. So it’s a regular brown spider with a white bit painted on its back to scare people (unfortunately there is no act performed as with the barguas to really justify this). Oola gives the spider to Philip, making it his first pet of the series at last!
My worries about them seeing Oola’s role as racist were apparently unfounded as the kids happily proclaim Oola, you can sleep out on the deck!
LOST TEMPLES, LOST POCKET COMPUTERS AND LOST PARENTS
An “official guide,” meets them at dock to take them to the temple of dreams. Allie is not feeling well, so Bill stays with her and Oola stays as his leg hurts…
Naturally they are disappointed with what’s left of the temple so the guide wants to take them to second temple and walks off. That leaves the kids rather lost – the five minute walk from the boat was a lot further than promised. Jack had plotted route back on his computer, but this has gone missing in the past few minutes.
Bill somehow manages to find them, following Dinah’s screams.
The computer was taken by the guide and given to Uma, but is password protected. They try a few things and Taj suggests the name of the bird. Ray spells it Keke first, then Kiki. And they’re in. It kind of makes you glad of the “capital and lower case and number and punctuation” passwords forced on us now.
Back at the boat Bill recognises Ray Uma right away when his boat “accidentally” bumps into theirs. Bill assumes Uma won’t recognise him, and Ray invites them to his camper nearby for a drink. Bill thinks this will give him a chance to get information from Uma, but he is suspicious enough to deliberately drop the drink Ray gives him, he gets Ray’s drink which is still poisoned and collapses.
Uma orders Taj to get rid of the kids, we need that boat. That seems rather ridiculous as surely you wouldn’t deliberately use a genuinely broken-down boat just to lure Bill out of the way. What if he hadn’t fallen for it? You’d then be left with a broken boat and no way of following him. Anyway, Taj tries to oust the kids from the boat but is scared off by the spider.
When Bill and Allie don’t return the kids leave Oola to guard the boat. They discover signs of a struggle at the cabin and return to find out that men with guns have overpowered him, loaded an unconscious Bill and tied up Allie onto the boat and stolen it.
TIT FOR TAT ON STOLEN BOATS
Naturally the kids take Uma’s repaired-by-Bill boat and handily find a vital map to follow.
Oola then abandons them to walk back to his village rather than go to the temple, as he believes it to be full of ghosts. It’s a shame, really, that his role has been reduced to the bringer of a spider and not much more.
The boat had only had a temporary repair so when it starts smoking they panic it will blow up – how dramatic. Instead it sinks after they get off and all we get is an off screen gurgling noise.
DARN THAT BIRD AND MORE BAD SCIENCE
Kiki (as so often is the case) flies off at inopportune moment leaving kids to search inside the temple/cave/tunnels for her. Another example of torches in very well-lit areas.
Meanwhile Bill tries to turn Rabos and Uma against each other by trying to make Uma look stupid (I’ve got men coming, Uma was so obvious) and/or a double crosser (Uma couldn’t get the real Zero One, that’s a fake).
Bill even goes as far as to encourage Rabos to open Zero One. If he believes Bill and does that it that could kill Bill and Allie too! Uma suggests they use it on Bill instead. How? It’s not like they have protective clothing to keep themselves safe! (Even breathing the fumes is deadly, remember.)
UMA REALLY IS A STUPID SOD
Uma has hidden the vial in the underground burial chamber…. where Kiki just happens to have gone.
This is why these episodes are such a let-down most of the time. Why on earth didn’t Uma disguise the Zero One in an ordinary suitcase, meet Rabos at the hotel and receive a discreet envelope in return. Bill would never have noticed. They could have waited until the next day while Bill was on the river, in fact.
Instead we get a stupid and convoluted story that makes no sense, but manages to alter enough from the book to make it vaguely recognisable.
After solving a ridiculous looking yet easy maths puzzle to open the chamber door (clearly an underground waterfall would take up too much budget) the kids find the case of Zero One before Rabos and Uma get to it.
INEVITABLE POINTLESS WANDERING AND RUNNING
Every episode has it. A lot of wandering around tunnels. Kiki’s noises scaring people. Then the running around the tunnels. The kids play CATCH with the incredibly deadly vial. Then Philip hides it and makes Uma reach into a hole for it and we go through the “bitten by a poisonous creature who is not actually poisonous” rigmarole.
REVEREND MOTHER, I HAVE SINNED
Oola makes a nice little appearance at the end, doing a Sister Margaretta. He has removed something from Uma’s car, meaning Bill can easily arrest him later.
Yeah, so. A fairly naff episode. Not as ridiculous as some from the Secret Series, but a lot of nonsense added in. We get very little river exploring (which is probably just as well as it looked about as exotic as something any one of us could see if we drove an hour outside of a town), no sense of history or mystery around the mysterious Cine-Town.
There’s no rivalry between Tala and Oola, no thrilling ending at an underground waterfall, just a lot of extra characters and silly running around.
But I may have
nearly cried when letter came at the end to confirm they’ve legally adopted Jack and Lucy-Ann. But that’s probably just the pregnancy hormones.