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Sunday 27th January 2013
When I was in Thailand in 2011 I suddenly remembered the 1970s kids TV show, "The Lost Islands" and became a bit obsessed with the theme tune. I then pretty much forgot about it again. Again on my recent holiday the boat trips brought the song to mind and I've been singing it a lot. And this time it has prompted me to actually watch the bloody programme (which is nowhere near as good as the song) on YouTube. I think it might be my new Goodnight Sweetheart, in that it's a flawed TV programme but is close to being utter genius. Also, like Goodnight Sweetheart I am obsessed with it and would like a chance to write a new version of it. (You can read my thoughts on Goodnight Sweetheart here.)
The Lost Islands (in case you are unaware of this obscure programme, which was nonetheless a big hit in Israel) is about five children who have been sailing around the world in an Operation Raleigh style adventure, though their ship is called "The United World" as it has children from every nation (though the five heroes are predominantly of white European extract). There is a hurricane and in the rush to get the kids to the lifeboats these five children are left behind. All this action is conveniently got through in the opening song by the way so the producers saved themselves some money. This oversight is covered by the lines "They didn't count them, there wasn't time. Five children were left behind." As there were forty kids on board this constitutes an eighth of the crew which is some error on the behalf of the responsible adult. I'd quite like to write a drama detailing his or her life thereafter and the reaction of the parents of the presumed dead kids. The characters are so boringly drawn that even after watching 12 episodes I am unclear as to which one is which, but I think that Tony is the loveable Australian who was brought up in an orphanage and thus doesn't mind so much that he can't get home, David is, I think, supposed to be American (though there's little giving that away in his voice) and he is super clever, sometimes arrogantly so, Anna is German and a girl one and doesn't really have any character beyond that and Su-Ying is Chinese and a girl one. They mainly do the sewing and stuff whilst the boys do adventures. I would have thought the application process to get on the United World would have been pretty tough and am surprised that such quiet and pliant girls got in, but this was the 70s and things were different then. The final teenager is from England and called Mark. He seems mainly quite happy-go-lucky and yet in the first dozen episodes there have been a couple of times when a dark side has come out. But more of that later.
The Lost Islands have not been visited by outsiders for 200 years as they are protected by a reef that is only passable in storm conditions. It is inhabited by the Q people (all their names begin with Q) who have lived there since their ancestors were shipwrecked there on the way to New Holland (David informs the rest that this is Australia). They are lost in time and still live in the old ways. Except that their original hooded leader, the Q, has discovered some blue seaweed that makes him immortal and rules his people in a tyrannical fashion. He is obviously trying to kill the outsiders whose modern knowledge might defeat him. But he is also really shit at finding them on the tiny island and they always get away easily if they are caught and it's hard to see how he exerts any control over his people. Even his manservant Jeremiah Quizzle is completely disloyal, helping the strangers from the word go.
Yes, it's for kids and I suspect the writers didn't work too hard on any of the episodes (the plot resolutions are often ropey), but I think this is a fantastic premise for a kids TV show and I'd love to have seen it done with a bit more care and love.
I haven't seen the whole thing yet and maybe they are working things up slowly, but they are missing some tricks. Firstly the Lost Islands aren't very lost at all. In the first couple of episodes rescue planes fly overhead, but discount the islands because they're too far away (why are they flying over them then?) and don't notice the buildings and people bowing to them (the reef is all very well but it doesn't stop being seen from the air). A commercial airliner also flies by (very low giving the passengers a look at the volcano) and in another episode a pilot crash lands in the sea nearby so the islands are clearly on a major flight path. Also one episode ends oddly with a tanker turning up and the kids readying to go home (though this might have been bolted on for the film version that was released). It doesn't seem likely this community would be unknown to the modern world. It wouldn't take much to create some natural phenomenon or magical reason why the islands remained undiscovered (like the island in the US rip-off Lost). After all there is blue seaweed that can make you immortal on there so why not some kind of Bermuda Triangle effect or magnetic field?
The enemy is not at all threatening. I am happy that they play the Prime Minister and his men as bumbling idiots, but there needs to be some sense of threat and the Q is barely in the show (at the moment) and not very impressive when he is. Again it's close to being right and close to being scary, but it isn't.
The kids all get along in a boy scout way, though there have been some interesting hints about Mark being not all that he seems. In one episode he is captured and avoids being killed by saying he will reveal where the others are hiding. He will share his knowledge if he can rule alongside the enemy. "These people aren't my friends, they're just some kids I was ship-wrecked with." You assume he's playing for time and wouldn't do any such thing, but when he gets close to the hideout his friends appear with a flare gun to rescue him. He then make the astonishingly out of character (but rather exciting) choice to tell the bad men that the gun can do them no harm. He has defected. Imagine what scenarios that would lead to.
The Prime Minister makes the stupid decision to now capture all the kids, including Mark (perhaps forgetting the pact they had made). Mark has now properly demonstrated that he is a turn-coat, but the Prime Minister throws away the ally and makes him a prisoner. The kids easily escape and Mark apologises saying that they'd never have got away with the flare gun thing.
And the others just accept that and he's their friend again. What the fuck? This could have been dramatic dynamite. What were you thinking Lost Islands writers? It's like you only had 30 minutes to write the script and then got a chimp to help you.
I haven't got to the end yet, but I believe the series ends with the children still on the island, doubtless everyone involved hoping for a recommission that never came. But I think this idea is ripe for reinvention. The theme tune is still great so you wouldn't even need to change that, but it wouldn't take much to make something fantastic out of this idea.
And on top of that, if the children were never rescued then they might well still be on the island. Wouldn't it be amazing to commission a new series, featuring the same actors, now in their fifties, still trapped amongst the Q People? With Mark now having overthrown and replaced the Q? You know you want to see it. And if you don't then watch all the episodes on Youtube and then you'll want to see it. I think most of the kids in it gave up acting, but if I gave them enough money then I am sure they'd return. If I win the Euro Lottery the New Lost Islands and the New Goodnight Sweetheart will be the first things I make. And if there's enough money I will then make the New New Shmoo.
You might think that I think too much about rubbish old TV programmes and that maybe I should just get on with trying to make some rubbish new TV programmes of my own. And you're right. But maybe it's because I am a nearly man myself, I can't help this fascination, bordering on obsession with the nearly shows of the past.
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