Dah dah dah daaaah, dada! Dah dah dah daaaah dah dah dah dah daaaaah! Name that tune! Even written in that shoddy fashion I bet you can guess. Has there ever been a more exciting quiz show theme? I don’t think so.
It’s a welcome return to The Crystal Maze last seen in 1995. This was one-off celebrity special of the much-loved 1990s game show with the aim of getting you to part with your cash for the Stand Up to Cancer charity. Special programmes are on Channel 4 all week, which culminates in a Comic Relief-style live show on Friday night.
David Tennant was mentioned in contention for the host duties, but quickly after that story leaked Stephen Merchant was confirmed. He looked fabulous in his Richard O’Brien outfit, holding hands and running around with the contestants, but just looked plain silly with a shaved head. (However, if he raised extra dosh for SU2C with a sponsored head shave then good on him.) Happily the orignal (and best) host Richard O’Brien popped up on screen at the start to give them a riddle to unlock the maze.
“What are you doing?” O’Brien asks (looking like he hasn’t aged a day in 20 years, the fabulous queen). “Trying not to ruin people’s fond memories of the original” says Merchant.
“How’s that going?” teased O’Brien. “Well it sounds like a no win situation to me.”
I thought, when it was announced, that Merchant was an odd choice, stepping into the boots of O’Brien and Ed Tudor-Pole but Stephen’s cheeky little knowing asides to camera were spot on. Joking about dumbing down the maths questions for celebrities was an easy audience pleasing laugh. Other stand-up classics included poking fun at home towns of Sara Cox and Josh Widdicombe (Bolton and Devon respectively) and digs at current events (the contestants flinging themselves around the dome like Sam Allerdyce grabbing fivers). Not to be totally undermined, Josh reminded Stephen who it was who really won the BAFTAS in his comedy partnership.
Unusually for these things, the celebs were fairly recognisable ( Rio Ferdinand, Michelle Keegan, Jonnie Peacock, Sara Cox and Josh Widdicombe) and a good mix of talent.You’d hope it wouldn’t be bottom of the barrel reality stars as the full weight of SU2C and Channel 4 is behind this. Sports and entertainment were represented. Some clever person on the production had selected a group who could have a good attempt at each of the games categories – skill, physical, mental and mystery.
None of them really embarrassed themselves and seemed to work together well. It reminded me that there was a very good reason why all the teams from the 90’s were a mix of software engineers, chess champions and TA soldiers.
Good to see Ed Tudor-Pole’s portrait and Mumsy (Maureen Lipman) mucking around with bashful Josh. And I’d forgotten how edge-of-the-seat exciting an automatic lock in game was! Poor Sara Cox getting stuck in Mission Impossible.
We wanted nostalgia and we got it in spades. The games were classic, no tweaking needed. The sets were great – not slick, a little wobbly but good-looking. Sadly there was no moat around the crystal dome (maybe they weren’t allowed any water hazards!), and it looked much smaller to me, but maybe that’s another symptom of growing up, in the same way Creme Eggs are smaller in my great big grown-up hands. And most pleasingly of all Merchant managed to make “start the fans please!” sound epic, as it should.
I think the response was pretty unanimous, and I know I’d be very happy for it to be a returning series. Digital Spy say they ‘smashed it‘ in the ratings, so I hope Channel 4 are paying close attention and will make a good business decision…