For collectors of Dr. Who and British science fiction
Strange New Worlds Issue 12 - February/March 1994
by Tom Beck
Picture a slimy, worm-like man dressed in black, slinking around the castle. Could this
possibly be a Prince of royal blood? Yes. It is Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh, known as the
Black Adder. He is the youngest son of Richard IV.
What? You dont remember the glorious thirteen year reign of Richard IV from your
English History? That is probably because the Monarch exists only in the fevered
imagination of Ben Elton, Richard Curtis, and Rowan Atkinson.
Blackadder is British "alternative comedy." These comedies, mostly
running on BBC Two, parody traditional television and society. They appeal to viewers with
a decidedly warped sense of humor. Blackadder offers an inspired series of spoofs
of British history from the 1480s through the first world war. In four separate series
(and two specials), Blackadder parodies Shakespeare, Elizabeth I, Sir Walter
Raleigh, Cromwell, Samuel Johnson, the French Revolution, Charles Dickens, and the Red
Baron. Its not science fiction, but if you are a fan of Monty Python, Fawlty
Towers, or Red Dwarf, youll love Blackadder.
The series showcases some of Britains finest comic and acting talents: Brian
Blessed, Peter Cook, Frank Finlay, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tom
Baker, Nicola Bryant, William Russell, Chris Barrie, Rik Mayall, and others. Rowan
Atkinson plays the Black Adder (and his descendants) through the entire series.
American audiences first saw Blackadder on the Arts & Entertainment cable
network; more recently PBS is its home. All twenty-four episodes of the four series are
available on videotape with three episodes per tape.
The four Blackadder series depict a wide range of British social history. In Blackadder,
Rowan Atkinson plays a royal prince. Edmund is cowardly, conniving, and corrosively witty.
He is so slimy you wonder how he sleeps without slipping out of bed. In each succeeding
series, he takes a step further down the social scale. In Blackadder II, though no
longer royal, he is still an aristocrat, the Earl of Blackadder, courtier to Her Majesty
Queen Elizabeth. The Earl is handsome, brilliant, sophisticated and no less
calculating, greedy, and acidicly witty. In Blackadder the Third, he is even more
declassé, becoming Mr. Blackadder, household steward to the Prince Regent. In Blackadder
Goes Fourth, he is Captain Blackadder of the British Army in France.
Blackadder is accompanied throughout history by various associates, principally his
servant Baldric (Tony Robinson), who degenerates from a cunning lout in Blackadder
to a shuffling idiot in the three sequels. The magnificent comic actor Stephen Fry appears
in the second and fourth series as Lord Melchett, Blackadders rival. Frys
partner-in-comedy Hugh Laurie appears in the last three series.
The first series, Blackadder, "Filmed in Glorious Television," is a
parody of the costume dramas of the 1930s and 40s that starred Errol Flynn or Tyrone
Power as heroic young noblemen. The three sequels are more parodies of history and famous
people than of the medium itself. Classic episodes include "The Archbishop," in
which young Edmund is forced by his father to become Prelate of All England;
"Beer" in which the Earl must entertain his drinking buddies at an enormous
drinking fest at the same time he is attempting to win an inheritance from his abstemious
aunt; and "Potato," in which Tom Baker plays a bizarre explorer and rival of Sir
Walter Raleigh (played by Simon Jones of A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). A
highlight of Blackadder II is Miranda Richardsons Queen Elizabeth I, whom she
portrays as a frizzy-haired ditz with screeching voice, pop eyes, and insouciant vanity.
The principal attraction of all four series is the enormous comic talents of Rowan
Atkinson. He has recently been seen on HBO as Mr. Bean, a sad sack with a talent for
ruining other peoples lives. Blackadder has a talent for ruining his own life.
The BBC also produced two Blackadder specials: "The Cavalier Years," a
half-hour set during the English Civil War and "A Blackadder Christmas Carol," a
brilliantly nasty mangling of Dickens classic in which Ebeneezer Blackadder, the
worlds nicest man, learns the true meaning of Christmas.
Doctor Who news
The current hot rumor among Whovians: Steven Spielbergs Amblin Entertainment is
negotiating with the BBC for the rights to Doctor Who. BBC has confirmed the
existence of preliminary discussions with Amblin. It is also rumored that Amblin is
seeking the rights to the Doctor Who movie. The previous option-holder, Green Light
Productions, let its option expire at the end of October.
Virgin Books has decided to launch a series of original Doctor
Who novels collectively called "
Adventures." These will involve the first six Doctors.
Previous "New Adventures"
dealt with only the Seventh Doctor. The first book in the new series, Goth Opera, will feature the
Fifth Doctor; it is written by Paul Cornell, author of three previous "New
Adventures." John Peel will write Evolution.
The new "Missing Adventures" will be released quarterly beginning next summer.
These newer "New Adventures" represent a departure for editor Peter
Darvill-Evans. He was adamantly opposed to the idea of original novels with previous
Doctors, saying it would be bad for Doctor Who fans to look to the past rather than
the future. However, overwhelming fan support for new stories with "old" Doctors
persuaded him to change his mind.
A great deal of new Doctor Who merchandise was unveiled at Visions 93, the
superconvention held in Chicago last Thanksgiving weekend. New books included Doctor Who: Timeframe by noted Doctor
Who historian David Howe; The
Sixth Doctor Handbook (a sequel to last years excellent
Fourth Doctor Handbook); and
several "New Adventures." Other new merchandise included audiotapes of "The
Paradise of Death," last summers terrific BBC Radio 5 Doctor Who episode
starring Jon Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen. No word yet on when "Paradise of
Death" will be available in the U.S.; a novelization is due in March. Many magazines
featured stories celebrating Doctor Whos Thirtieth Anniversary. Now available
on video in the U.S. is "The Airzone Solution," Bill Baggs latest
alternative video starring Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy, and
In my next column, Ill be taking a look at Doctor Who on audio. Until
then, remember me to Gallifrey! l