Back to the vortex – ‘The Adventure Game’ on DVD

❉ Does the cult kids game show live up to its doogy rev reputation?

“An imaginative mash-up of 1980s BBC science fiction and puzzle-solving, The Adventure Game is truly brimming with cult appeal.”

I have vague memories of watching The Adventure Game as a child around 1985/1986, so I was keen to revisit the series (or as much of the series that survives – more on that later) when I heard this DVD release was forthcoming.  It’s a TV show fondly remembered by a certain demographic, but could it live up to its reputation?  Well, yes and no.

The Adventure Game is a game show where teams made up of celebrities, academics, and members of the public travel to the planet Arg and compete in the fiendish games devised by the Argonds (shape-shifting dragons who appear in mainly human form) with the hope of escaping back to Earth without being “evaporated”.  It’s an imaginative mash-up of 1980s BBC science fiction and puzzle-solving, and it’s truly brimming with cult appeal.

Shockingly, for a show that began in 1980, four episodes have been wiped, two from Series 1 and two from Series 2.  It’s painful enough that shows from the ’50s to ’70s were wiped en masse, but this was a show made within my lifetime that had episodes destroyed in the 1990s.  As I say, shocking.  Two of the missing episodes are thankfully present here as off-air copies, but two are apparently lost forever.  A pilot episode was recorded, but isn’t included in the set for reasons unknown, although rumour has it that it really didn’t work in its original form.  Nevertheless, it would have been fascinating to see it.

It’s a fun series in many respects.  Made for children, supposedly, but featuring some extremely difficult puzzles that most adults would struggle to solve if they were given a week.  Thankfully, help is as hand here, and several characters such as Gnoard (Chamian Gradwell), Darong (Moira Stuart), and Gandor (Chris Leaver) are on hand to point the contestants in the right direction and most importantly, try to keep the show running to time.  The odd contestant, such as Heinz Wolff and Graeme Garden, seem to breeze through the tasks, but in the most part the guests really struggle to get through many of them.  Then again, it’s always fun watching celebrities making themselves look foolish.

Charmian Gradwell is wonderful, and her presence is missed in Series 4.  Sarah Lam as Dorgan fills the void well, but her delivery is a bit too “Playschool” for a show featuring adult contestants.  There were several cast changes over the four series, but after the initial shock of seeing Moira Stuart playing an alien in Series 1, the format allows for these changes without any major detrimental effect on the series.  It’s only fair to mention the highly-talented Bill Homewood’s contribution, as his backwards-talking Rongad is a highlight of Series 3 and (all too briefly) Series 4.

Some of the games are memorable.  The climactic vortex game is something most people seem to remember, and it’s very entertaining to watch.  The effects are fairly impressive considering the era, not to mention the budget.  Some people even remember the values of the Drogna (the alien currency), and the board with the coloured shapes on it is also an iconic image to a certain generation.  The Rangdo of Arg (the ruler of the planet) first appeared as a man, then became an aspidistra, and finally a huge teapot – all wonderfully bonkers.

It’s not a show that really lends itself to the modern craze of binge-watching, as it can be very samey in parts.  Some of the games can also be frustratingly slow.  I’d describe it as a set that would be best dipped into from time to time, as it doesn’t really benefit from being viewed in any particular order.  Some of the edits can be a tad jarring too, as it seems that lots of footage would have been cut so it fitted within the allotted running time.  The rules and format of some of the games can also be a bit vague, so it can be sometimes be hard to follow exactly what’s going on.

Overall though, this 6-DVD set is a worthwhile purchase, and fans of BBC Sci-Fi, Douglas Adams, The Crystal Maze, and Knightmare will lap it up.  The Adventure Game is a fascinating curio that I don’t think would ever be commissioned now, more’s the pity.  Highbrow children’s TV is something of an oxymoron these days, but I think there would be a place for something similar in the schedules even today.  It may be best enjoyed in small portions, but the series is delightfully eccentric, and fans of cult TV should add this to their DVD collection.

“Doogy Rev”, indeed.

❉ ‘The Adventure Game’ Series 1-4 is out now on DVD from Simply Media, RRP £24.99

Become a patron at Patreon!