Forgotten TV: Raven

Sometimes, you love things that you don’t actually like. Anyone with relatives knows the feeling. It is that way with TV shows, often ones from your childhood experience, but sometimes you encounter something as an adult that is quite something for what it is, even as it doesn’t quite hit the mark, and it touches you somehow.

And so it is with Raven.

I have a soft spot in my heart for this very awkward little TV show about a ne’er do well London street kid who gets sent to the country and mixed up in some mystical environmentalism by way of King Arthur mythology. It’s not always good, but it is always interesting, consistently capturing your attention even as your eye begins to wander off a little too much on, say, the cast’s ’70s wardrobe.

Raven (played by Phil Daniels, who was the lead in Quadrophenia) arrives at the home of Professor Young (Michael Aldridge) and his wife (Patsy Rowlands) after a stint in a juvenile youth detention center, and is put straight to work on an archaeological site that is running against the clock after being earmarked as a good storage site for a nuclear power plant.

Raven’s natural talent for taking care of a situation is apparent when begins to work all sides involved in the conflict — the Professor, who is opposed; Bill Telford (James Kerry) who runs the project; and Naomi Grant (Shirley Cheriton), the young reporter trying to break away from covering piffle by forcing her way into this controversial story.

Soon enough there are illusory spells in which Raven sees himself in royal regalia and weirdness involving birds, as well as blackouts and glowing eyes and disasters from which people need rescuing, all leading Raven to believe that there’s something more important than just history to these caverns.

The idea, and they hammer you over the head with it so I’m not giving away much, is that this is all a replay of the King Arthur legend, with Raven in the main role, the Professor as Merlin, Naomi as Gweneviere, etc. Raven’s role is to bring together different sides, united to preserve the mystical site. Most amusing is his apparent Lancelot, Clive Castle (Hugh Thomas), a flirting, fey, sensationalistic TV host who becomes mixed up in the action while trying to exploit it and eventually becoming a bizarre, extremely unlikely romantic rival for Raven in the tug of war for Naomi’s affections.

Unfortunately, it does open itself up to a lot of silly nonsense that seems so even in context of the show. It’s the sort of situation where the Zodiac is presented as a total scientific fact that you’d be crazy to argue against, since it holds the key to everything. And it doesn’t help that it’s presented as such from the mouth of Naomi, who isn’t the most believable or likable character you’ll encounter.

Raven might test the patience of all but the most devoted to the very particular genre of British children’s science fiction television of the ’70s and ’80s, but it has enough bizarre and psychedelic elements that it will keep you entertained — and it’s not exactly dumb, despite all the zodiac gobblebynonsense, and especially when it talks about Arthurian legends and their meaning. It’s a fascinating time piece, preoccupied with ecology and Stonehenge-tinged mysticism, and its weirdness is alluring.

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