Children of the Stones
3: Serpent in the Circle
The third episode is as replete with discussion as before, but there’s a shift in balance too. If the opening duo laid the groundwork and built the mystery, the third and fourth make clear that there is a very real threat. Accordingly, it’s a bit of an embarrassment (but a common trait of such fare; see Dana Scully) that for all his general acceptance of strangeness Adam continues to show reticence in certain areas (I’ll come onto this more next episode); when Matthew relates his experiences, he is inclined to dismiss it with “What you saw is probably part of some traditional local ceremony”. If there’s a fault here, it’s that his disposition varies according to the requirements of a scene (if it needs an argument for or a counterpoint).
Sandra: Some of us are normal, but the rest are happy ones.
The threat is straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the sense of the uncanny plays somewhere between the 1956 original and the remake that would follow a year after Stones’ first screening. A sense of full-on claustrophobia has not yet taken hold, but the whittling down of the non-happy-day residents of Milbury is brought sharply in focus. First there is Jimmo (Gary Lock), one of Matthew’s classmates, who shows his true pod colours when he correctly solves an equation on the blackboard. Then, the cliffhanger reveals that Jimmo’s father, Tom Browning (Hubert Tucker) has also been happified. Previously dismissive of village traditions, he is seen fully integrated as he indulges in some May Pole dancing. Doctor Who also suggested a sinister side to such innocuous behaviour in The Daemons, but the glassy-eyed possession theme gives it added import here.
It appears that Dai led Matthew to the rite as a form of shock treatment, to waken him to the seriousness of the situation. And it’s Dai who brought him home also. The kid and dad fleeing in the picture now takes on the dimensions of Adam and his son, particularly as Matthew compares his experience to the painting coming to life. The immediate aftermath finds Adam afraid of Mrs Crabtree, who was out there chanting (the chant is the same as the ominous babbling soundtrack we hear on the credits, which is a nice cost saving), and ups the idea that there is danger at every turn (as per the body snatchers, just a slightly less imminent threat). This is emphasised later when she takes the letter from America to Adam, having delivered it to Hendrick first.
Margaret, ever the Mulder, instantly sees the potential in the painting as a depiction of Milbury (“It’s like some terrible nightmare”). But again, the needs of conversation make Adam open this time (“Oh, I don’t know. There’s a lot we don’t understand” he says in response to a comment on how they are lucky to live in the twentieth century). It becomes clear that the fewer stones depicted are because those chanting are in the process of being calcified.
There are also, like The Daemons, stirrings of a pagan/Christian debate. The church has been deconsecrated, and gifted to the Manor, so Hendrick is effectively the Mr Magister (the Master) of this tale; he minds the gate of Christian worship. The symbolism of the serpent is discussed, in reference to Dai’s amulet, and the presence of a serpent on the font in the church. Margaret (a font of knowledge) informs Adam that it was intended as a warning to be constantly on guard against the power of the serpent: a battle between the pagan and the Christian.
So it seems that the series is setting up the pagan as a negative force, rather than a misunderstood one (although one could argue that this applies only to its misapplication in Milbury, which the final episode will moot). Earlier, she notes of the “Clipping the Church” ceremony that it was an old custom relating to renewing one’s faith by binding minds and souls together (but as the church is deconsecrated and the ceremony occurred by the stones, it makes no sense).
The best bit of pseudo-science to sound good this time out occurs when a horseshoe flies through the air and attaches itself to one of the stones. Adam explains that, in contrast to the expected response from the stones which would have remained in alignment to the magnetic field of the Earth as it was when they were formed, they are aligned with its present magnetic field; “Some tremendous energy has passed through these stones very recently”.
Perhaps the highpoint is the discussion between Adam and Hendrick. It gives Hendrick a chance to show his more sinister dimensions and we also get to see just how imaginative the writers’ concept is. Adam discusses the contents of his telegram (Hendrick feigns ignorance), revealing that the stones are aligned to a super nova that exploded two centuries before Christ lived, leaving only a black hole. Further revelations follow, as Hendrick reveals he knows full well that a black hole is a mass of imploding energy; he is an ex-astronomer who resigned his Cambridge chair five years earlier, on coming into possession of some papers that revealed someone living in the village at the time had witnessed the star explode. “It was like coming home” is his eerie comment. The intimation that Hendrick may be reliving, re-encapsulating or reincarnating a previous form of himself is touched upon as Adam casually dismisses this witness as a primitive cave dweller. This gets Hendrick’s goat because he was that primitive cave dweller, or as he puts it, “a visionary, spiritual leader, a man of destiny”.
Adam: I beg his pardon.
Hendrick: I think you might be well advised to do so.
Adam takes him half seriously, and one area Thomas is good at is being faintly sarcastic. Just as Cuthbertson is skilled at suggesting steel behind his pomposity.
Dai: I’ve got feelings. That’s quite different from understanding. Something happened here in the past, and it’s happening here again today.
Dai’s presence in the episode runs in tandem with Hendrick’s; both are reincarnated/repeated forms of past loops, but Dai is less conscious of his past and less able to martial his thoughts. If the kids interacting together for more than a minute exposes their limitations, when they are deflected off Jones’ consummate madness they are made to look slightly more capable. Dai refers to his serpent-adorned amulet as a treasure, but more importantly as a key. It is suggested that the amulet is designed to keep the owner from harm, so how that factors in to the events of the following episode is worthy of consideration.