Every year, for a few weeks my Twitter feed fills up with people watching The Box of Delights. This has become a Christmas tradition for many and it seems to bring them a lot of joy. As I tend to find myself drawn back to the same films and sitcom specials every year, I fancied something different to bring out the festive mood. I knew The Box of Delights had magic, children, Patrick Troughton and possibly some wolves, which was enough to intrigue me.
While I know many present-day viewers of The Box of Delights enjoy the nostalgia it evokes of their original viewing, that’s obviously absent for me. However, it’s still filled with elements that do take me back to childhood. We meet Kay on his journey home by train from boarding school, two aspects that I associate with the Harry Potter series and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers books. Yet the snowy period setting combined with children in the large house reminds me of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The Punch and Judy show elicits more memories – some of my oldest.
The opening music followed by the snow-covered and seemingly small English village, with the local man of the cloth visiting, places us firmly in a traditional Christmas card. It’s all safe, familiar and cosy, but before Kay has even stepped into the village we know this world is compromised.
It feels quite threatening when the two men swindle Kay on the train. Half a crown seems a lot of money for any small boy and to cheat a child on their own is especially cruel. We assume they also pickpocket him afterwards, so they’re definitely nasty baddies. When we see the four villains gathered in the cave later, it’s a wonderful setting – grim and dark – and I was worried Kay would get caught spying. I’m curious to see more of these characters, particularly the fellow who appears to be their leader.
We have learned a little about Kay. He treats Cole very well and I’m keen to find out more about the mysterious stranger and his magical box. Kay is also curious, polite and he likes birds. I guessed that the bird Kay wanted to see was a phoenix – because when he said he didn’t think it really existed, it was the only mythical bird I knew! Why does Cole have the box and what else can it do? What does Cole use the box for? Or doesn’t he? That might tell me why the bad guys want it so much.
With so many people happy to revisit The Box of Delights each year, I had to ponder why it hasn’t been regularly repeated. Why am I not familiar with the series? Already, one obvious answer is that the special effects place it firmly in the 1980s. They stand out, partly because I wasn’t expecting them in this sort of setting, and I’ve been surprised by how much they are used. It immediately feels like an ambitious production for the time, which is one reason I’m looking forward to seeing more, but unfortunately I think it’s asking a lot of most modern audiences.
This first episode’s ending was quite a surprise. I enjoyed the way the build-up was directed and edited, with the cuts between Kay and the chasing wolves providing exciting tension, despite us never seeing both on screen at the same time. I thought it an excellent cliffhanger because I’m still uncertain where this story is going and the action at the castle completely threw me.
The wolves are running and I’ll be sitting down to an episode of The Box of Delights each week before Christmas.