The Trap Door Complete Collection
Somewhere in the dark and nasty regions, blah blah blah, you know the drill. All forty episodes of The Trap Door, on one DVD. How can you go wrong? The answer follows.
The front cover pleases me greatly. I was going to say it was because it looks like the cover of the first video release I owned - but on closer inspection, that's because it actually uses the same picture! Far superior to the later video release, which is so hideous it looks like it was the first release back in the 80s, rather than in futuristic 2000.
The back cover isn't so nice, sadly, with some not-very-well-drawn representations of Berk, Boni, and Drutt, with Boni being particularly poor. Open it up, and there's a little slip of paper inside - one side with similar drawings of the main characters (but slightly better in some instances - Rogg is very nicely done), and the other side gving a list of episode titles. This was a good idea, but (as Wikipedia points out) it's a pity some of the episode titles are wrong - Yechh! spelt as "Yecch!", Flyin' Wotsit Fingy is "The Flyin Fingy", and Boo! is missing its exclamation mark. Small things to be sure, but if you're going to bother giving a list of episodes, it does help if they're actually correct.
Nonetheless, at this point I was excited - a nice cover, and the trouble taken to proving a nice little insert... hopefully this would continue onto the actual DVDs.
I am possibly the only person in the world who actually reviews the idents at the start of DVDs - but honestly, the quality of an ident more often than not tells you a lot about the quality of the output that company produces. The Right Entertainment ident did not bode well - it looks cheap and tacky, and has no style whatsoever. The old Channel 5 idents on the original Trap Door VHSes were miles better (nothing to do with five - this was just a video company). Not good.
Then we get a short introductory sequence, taken from the titles - and then on to the main menu. It's quite nicely done - ambient sounds from the series fill the room, various characters from the series appear, and if you leave things too long without making a selection, you go down the Trap Door and get lots of eyes in the dark as in the title sequence! The only slightly irritating thing about the menu is the zooming into the Trap Door itself - the floor becomes rather blurry.
There are only three options - 'Play All' is obvious. More about 'Drive The Thing Upstairs Mad' later. 'Episode Selection' brings you to another menu - and the first major disappointment. Instead of being able to select episodes by name, we have to select them by number instead. I can remember individual episode titles, but not their bleedin' number. Ah, so that's what the insert was for...
It's a very weird experience watching the episodes for me. I only had two out of the four original video releases when I was younger - I rented the other two out at one point, but it effectively means I know half the episodes off by heart, and the others hardly at all. As you can imagine, this mades for an incredibly odd viewing experience.
But what a delightful one. You're sitting there enjoying the episodes, and suddenly one hits you that you don't think you ever saw. One of these eps for me revolves around a funked-up version of the theme song playing on the radio - yes, that's the plot - with all the creatures coming out of the Trap Door and dancing to it - a pop video, in effect. (Did they try and release the song, and so prepared this episode in case it got airplay and they needed a video?) I suspect the same thing will happen to many people who buy the DVD.
As for the series itself - well, that tirade is worth an entire article. Suffice to say that it's one of the best children's TV shows ever made, and more than stands up today in every way - writing, performances (by Rushton, and the animators) and production values. Just occasionally you'll come across an episode that doesn't seem to go anywhere at all, or seems to be missing a climax - but these are pretty rare. And the show really is laugh-out-loud funny to this day - to children or adults. And the sheer craftsmanship displayed on the show deserves to be treated with respect - there's a reason why Steve Box who worked on the series ended up co-directing The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit...
Which is why I can't quite believe they've done what I'm about to tell you.
Remember the bad old days, in the mid 80s? Where TV series, like Doctor Who, were released in "special, feature-length versions!" - in other words, all stuck together with the opening and closing titles cut out? Indeed, the first Trap Door VHS I owned was exactly like this - opening credits, 13 eps stuck together, and then the closing credits. By the third volume they'd kept in all the opening and closing title sequences - although I wonder how much of that was to do with programme integrity, and how much was just bumping up the running time of the video.
Luckily, people have stopped doing this now. (Their new game is to superimpose ugly needless episode titles across things, or cut out ad breaks to wreck the pace of a show.) Everyone apart from the people who put this DVD together, who - wait for it - cut off the opening titles of every episode, and the closing titles of every episode apart from the last one.
Half of you will currently be shaking your fists with rage, and muttering the words "want as broadcast" under your breath - the other half of you will be wondering why anyone would actually care. Well, there are a number of reasons - and yes, wanting the shows "as broadcast" is one of them. Programmes are obviously for entertainment, but they also have a historical context too, which is best to preserve if at all possible. (What harm does it do not to preserve it?) But by removing the titles, you're also disrupting the rhythm of the piece - each episode on the DVD starts and ends pretty awkwardly.
But most of all, you're also actually missing stuff. Usually, the Queensgate endcap appears on the screen to the sound of a ghostly moan - but in the episode with the birth of Drutt's babies, it appears to the sound of one of those cute little things instead. It doesn't sound much, but it's a lovely moment, and used to get a big laugh from me at the end of the episode - but that moment doesn't appear on the DVD. Bearing in mind I've not even seen half the eps that much, who knows what other little bits we're missing?
The worst thing is, it didn't even need to be done. Put in an extra chapter point just after the opening titles, and anyone can skip them if they want to - and let everyone else enjoy them. And I don't want to hear any complaints that there wasn't enough space on the disc for it - if that is the case, it should have been a 2-disc release. Nothing excuses butchering the actual episodes in this fashion, not in this day and age.
But, you may be asking, if the classic opening titles aren't actually attached to any of the episodes, then where are they? They must be on the disc somewhere. Well, go back to the main menu - select 'Drive the Thing Upstairs Mad', and you get the opening titles. Over and over again. I don't think that even needs me to deconstruct it - here, we've got a release that cuts off the opening titles to each episode, but makes you watch them standalone from the main menu. How stupid can you get?
Absolutely bugger all.
I would find this easier to take if the episodes had been intact - as it is, it just feels like yet another letdown. There are hugely opposing views to extras-less releases - from those people who DEMAND that EVERYTHING is added, including pictures of the main cast member's bowel movements, to those who will excuse the shoddiest releases imaginable. The truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle, of course, and very much depends on the specific situation of each release.
It does feel like they missed a trick here, though. Obviously extras are hard to come by for a show from the mid-eighties - but not always impossible. (Who knows what is lurking in the archives - or, indeed, in private collectors VHS tapes, when it comes to contemporary continuity, or trailers.) At least the Dangermouse releases made some effort with some new interviews with the creators. I can't help but feel with a combination of some rummaging, and a day hiking a camera around to various people, we might have felt we were getting a bit more value for our money. A shame, and another wasted opportunity.
The worst thing is, after all that... I recommend you buy it. In practical terms, the series isn't likely to get another release for a good few years - and, butchered or not, 40 eps of The Trap Door is something you want to own.
In effect, what they think they've put out is a kids DVD. But what they've not grasped, just like the people in CBBC presentation, is that kids love opening and closing credits. They can't get enough of them. A catchy tune, and endless repetiton - what more could a child want? I certainly watched and listened to TV themes over and over again when I was younger - the music to Palace Hill is permenantly etched into my brain, long after my memories of the rest of the show have departed.
This release could have been special. As it is, it's just a major disappointment. With the likes of Network putting together spendid packages, the quality of TV DVD releases has been going up and up - hell, even an Eastenders special managed outtakes, a deleted scene, and a documentary. But this kind of release just harks right back to the bad old days of "interactive menus" and "scene selection". Erm, without the scene selection. Which would be acceptable, if it wasn't for the episodes being decapitated as well.
But hey, I'm recommending you buy it. The evil men win. They did just enough to make you want it... and absolutely no more than that.