I enjoy listening to the Gerry Anderson podcast hosted by Gerry’s son, Jamie Anderson, along with Richard James and Chris Dale. the podcast discusses the television shows Gerry Anderson produced over a nearly 50-year career in television and includes such well known shows as Thunderbirds and Space: 1999. Chris Dale’s segment on the show is called “The Randomiser” and in it, he watches a random episode from a random Gerry Anderson show. In an episode a few weeks ago, he discussed a show called Lavender Castle, which I’d not heard of before.
Now, when I first heard the title, I pictured something very different from Gerry Anderson’s usual oeuvre of action shows, often with a science fictional element. To me, the title brought to mind princesses, ponies, and an idyllic fantasy land possibly under threat from a comical villain. While listing to the Randomiser, it became clear this was something different. I finally decided I needed to learn more about this show.
Lavender Castle tells the story of the crew of a space vessel called the Paradox, commanded by Captain Thrice, an elf-like grandfatherly being with an eye on his nose in addition to the two on either side. He’s accompanied by a sentient walking stick and a Scottish-accented engineer named Isembard. The Paradox is built like an English cottage with a thatch roof. In the first episode, they land aboard a pirate ship called the Cutting Snark, which floats in a magical glowing river between planets. There they rescue several would-be slaves and recruit them for their crew. The other crew members are a dog-like hero named Roger, a medical student named Lyca, who has butterfly wings, a robot called Sir Squeakalot, and Sproggle, a lovable, lizard-like goofball.
The mission of the Paradox is to prevent a villain named Dr. Agon and his minions from destroying the titular Lavender Castle, which is the source of light and goodness in the universe. Dr. Agon flies through the universe in a monstrous ship called the Dark Station and has an elephant-like landing craft called the Mammoth. Agon’s primary minion is a pterodactyl-like creature called Trump, and I’m especially amused that they all consider the name a horrible insult. Occasionally teaming up with Dr. Agon is the pirate Short Fred Ledd.
The character designs and premise are the brainchild of British illustrator Rodney Matthews, who I wasn’t familiar with. While his style is very much its own, it reminded me of Brian Froud’s illustration work, which inspired movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The series ran for 26 10-minute episodes in 1999. Many of the episodes were scripted by Gerry Anderson himself. The show features a mix of stop motion and computer animation.
Given that the entire series has a run time of about four and a half hours, it’s an easy show to binge watch. I love stop motion animation and this was nicely done, especially for something that was produced on a television budget in the 1990s. They pack a lot of story into each 10-minute episode and I didn’t feel like I ran into too much repetitive material. Because the episodes are so short, we never get much back story for the characters.
I’ve always hated reviews that say something to the effect, “this show will bore adults, but it’s great for children.” Although children are very much the target audience, I found myself thoroughly enchanted by the show. My only complaints, particularly since this is a children’s show, are that almost all the characters are male and the characters can merrily breathe in space. Admittedly that latter point is something of a nitpick since these are clearly fantasy creatures existing in more of a magical realm than a scientific one, but I think a nod could have been given to the real world without slowing things down too much or sounding like a science lesson.
Several episodes are really top-notch. Favorites include: “Dueling Banjos” in which Captain Thrice must have a banjo duel with a crawfish-like swamp creature to get fuel for the Paradox; “Galactic Park” where the crew is lured to a theme park, but it proves to be an elaborate trap by Dr. Agon; and “Interface” where the Paradox responds to a distress call, only to be knocked out by sleeping gas and attacked by a giant mechanical spider. In that episode, Sir Squeakalot must find a way to save the crew by himself.
The entire series can currently be found on YouTube, but less because it’s legal to be there and more because no one is really enforcing the rights. The show was financed by Carrington Productions Incorporated, which was ultimately absorbed by Entertainment Rights Incorporated. Entertainment Rights was eventually purchased by Dreamworks Classics. I gather Anderson Entertainment is currently working on the rights issues with hopes of eventually producing a home video release and perhaps even some tie-in media. I hope they’re successful because this would be an amazing series to watch remastered on Blu-ray. While it may be little more than wishful thinking at this stage, I enjoyed this show so much, I would love to pitch a story for tie-in media if the opportunity ever arose.
While we’re waiting for a home video release of Lavender Castle, you can check out some of my whimsical and sometimes scary retrofuturistic fiction by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com