Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Crystal Maze

The word 'epic' would aptly describe The Crystal Maze, one of the greatest game shows to have ever graced our television screens. Requiring a £250,000 investment to build Europe's largest ever set, it was an incredibly ambitious project for Channel 4 that paid off as millions of viewers tuned in every week.

The story goes that producers wanted to make a UK version of Fort Boyard but, with the fort not being available in time for the pilot, a new show had to be conceived. Originally presented by Richard O'Brian, the show involved 4 zones (initially called Aztec, Industrial, Futuristic and Medieval) and the presenter would take a team through each of these in an order that changed from show to show.

Whilst in a particular zone, the team captain would nominate themselves or another one of their team to participate in a 'mental', 'physical' or 'skill' game. The participant would go in to a room and everyone else would have to wait outside with a varying ability to communicate with and see the person playing the game. The object of the game was to complete it in the allotted time - with the duration dependent on game's difficulty - so a 'Time Crystal' could be obtained. However, if they didn't choose to come out or complete the game before the time was up, they would be "locked in" by the presenter and the team would have to decide if they wanted to "buy them out" immediately or later on with one of the 'Time Crystals' they had already won.

All of this would continue around all four lavishly designed zones before they moved to 'The Crystal Dome'. Here the presenter would lay out all the 'Time Crystals' they had won and explain that each one represented 5 seconds in 'The Crystal Dome'. The team would then enter the Dome via a draw bridge that emerged out of a little moat that surrounded the construction. The door of the Dome would close behind them and the presenter would turn on fans sending gold and silver tickets in the air before blowing his whistle to signal the team to start collecting. The time would count down as the team collected tickets and tried to maximise the amount of gold ones they collected and minimise the number of silver ones. After the time was up, they would exit the Dome and the presenter would announce their overall gold ticket score - any silver tickets collected were subtracted from this total. If the score was 100 or more the team won special prizes they had selected off-camera before entering the Dome; if their score was 50-99 then they received a runner-up prize; and, in all cases, they got a "I cracked the Crystal Maze" memento. Running from 1990-1995 the show had 6 series, Richard O'Brian was replaced by Ed Tudor-Pole in series 4 and, in the same series, the 'Industrial' zone was changed to the 'Ocean' zone.

There were a number of things really brought the show alive. Firstly, whilst Ed Tudor-Pole was alright, Richard O'Brian was a perfect presenter for the show with his colourful personality (and clothes!) and an undercurrent of madness that was so engaging. Secondly, the sets were imaginatively designed and visually stimulating. Thirdly, the show was kept at a high pace and, as a result, burst with energy as the presenter and team ran from Zone-to-Zone. Fourthly, the type of game always varied so you never got bored. And, finally, it was hysterical to watch teams often displaying a level of idiocy not thought humanly possible - search on YouTube and you'll find plenty of clips for this type of thing.

All in all, this show was top draw and, looking at the way television has gone since, I am sad to say that we'll probably not see the likes of this again...though I always like to be proven wrong.