Out: 4th May / 1988 / 158 mins / PG rating / Second Sight / Dir. Colin Cant
When 13-year-old Minty (Siri Neal) goes to stay with her Aunt Mary (Valerie Lush) she discovers a magical secret within the grounds of the local old mansion. When nighttime comes and the light of the moon falls on a sundial, Minty is transported back in time where she discovers two children at the mercy of evil forces.
Originally broadcast on CBBC in in February 1988, Moondial was a supernatural/time travel drama that had some big names of that field involved. It’s director was Colin Cant, a man at that time more known for the successful Grange Hill. The story for Moondial was created by Helen Cresswell, a writer known for her novels such as Lizzie Dripping (which she adapted for TV) and The Secret World of Polly Flint. With such names attached, who had a proven record in children’s television, it was hoped Moondial would be just as good. Unfortunately it is lacking for the most.
The main plot device, young girl Minty (Siri Neal) discovers she can travel in time via a sundial, is interesting yet the logic behind it is never fully explained. The sundial is apparently a ‘moondial’, the light of the moon shining on it having some special ability to transport Minty and other characters through time. But how this is possible is never fully explained, with a cack handed answer coming towards the end of the series as to how this is possible. It still leaves a lot to be explained.
As a result there are some large plot holes throughout the series, which furthers the confusion of what is meant to be happening. But this having been an eighties kids show it is apparent that continuity or logic is not what matters. It clearly aims to get into the thick of things and have plot twists or character developments that would have impressed the 10-13 year old demographic that this seems to have been aiming for.
It is quite dark and serious at times in fairness, a break from the norm from the rather dull interactions Minty has with her old biddy of an aunt (Valerie Lush). In one episode the character of Tom (Tony Sands) is beaten then locked in a cupboard. Another sees ‘girl in the past’ Sarah (Helena Avellano, in her only acting role) being told the devil will get her if she looks in a mirror.
Jacqueline Pearce crops up as Miss Raven, ghost hunter, in episode four. The former Blakes 7 star is her usual oddball best. She crops up as another character, once Minty travels into the past, that implies that Miss Raven is somehow responsible for the plight of the terrified Sarah.
The theme music, which is also used as background music throughout the series, is very good and will stay in the viewers head. It has the most impact during the opening credits, which is quite a brooding and cinematic piece of footage compared to the rest of the series.
Perhaps analysing the show now is somewhat unfair, children’s TV often ages badly. But at the time Moondial was a hit, with the novel of the same name enjoying good sales plus the location of Belton House attracting more visitors. Siri Neal received a lot of fan mail and claims in the interview that is an extra on the disc that people still recognise her as Minty all these years later. Those that viewed the series upon original broadcast (or even during it’s 1990 rerun) will no doubt have enjoyed it and will be very pleased with this DVD.
Episodes one and six have commentaries by Cant.
Interview with Colin Cant (13 mins) – Filmed in 2015, the director explains the background history to Moondial. He reveals he cast Neal as the lead role from a stage school, although she originally had been kept back from auditions for being ‘naughty’.
Interview with Siri Neal (15 mins) – The long retired actress that played Minty reflects on Moondial. She has aged very well in the last 27 years. The interview is very entertaining, Siri reveals how she ruffled the feathers of Cresswell and Pearce on location. Siri also shares with the viewer photos she took on the set of Moondial as well as reading from her diary that she kept during the time. Siri then explains why she left acting once she turned 30. She does not divulge what she is doing nowadays for a living.
Both interviews were shot by Severin Films.
Hit and miss at times, the series does have its moments and the extras are very rewarding.