Network has come up trumps again with another lost 70s gem making its debut on DVD – Ace of Wands.
And it’s…very strange. Ace of Wands was actually a children’s TV show, but you wouldn’t know watching it now. In fact, if I’d been around at the time, I’m pretty sure this would have given me nightmares. The Ace Of Wands is a mysterious magician/illusionist called Tarot (played by Michael MacKenzie), a man oozing style, always in a sports car and kitted out in the latest Biba fashions. As a sideline to his job as a stage entertainer, he’s also fighting evil and solving the odd crime, assisted by photographer Chas (Roy Holder) and psychic researcher Mickee (Petra Markham – best remembered as Jack’s niece in Get Carter). Oh yes – and an owl called Ozymandias.
If you think that’s weird, just wait until you see the plotlines.
The first one features a gang of vagrants chasing market traders out of a London market, overseen by a mysterious man in a tower block with a dust allergy. After that, we have the return of an ancient Egyptian spirit, an evil psychic turned bank robber, a doll’s hospital full of real people, cross-dressing pensioners and evil hippies with super powers.
None of that would mean anything if the scripts weren’t up to scratch – but they are, courtesy of two TV stalwarts – P.J. Hammond (who moved onto Sapphire and Steel) and Doctor Who writer Victor Pemberton. The plots take plenty of twists, there’s a good few cliffhanging endings and the ‘villains’ are all quirky and larger than life – not unlike the characterisation in The Avengers. The downsides? Well, some of the magic tricks and illusions are a bit ropey – let’s be honest, TV special effects weren’t of the level we expect today. And the budget was obviously a bit thin – a trip to Egypt was quite obviously a studio sand pit with a hired camel. But in a way, that just adds to the period charm.
More significant are two other negatives – and neither is the fault of cast or crew. Firstly, this is series three – the first two series of the show were wiped many years ago, when tape was more important than old TV archives. Sad, because those shows were apparently every bit as good, if not better. Secondly, the ending to this series and to the episode The Beautiful People (the one with the evil hippies) comes to an abrupt end. That’s because the show didn’t get re-commissioned for a fourth series, leaving us all to work out what happened at the end of the best episode by far.
That does take some off the gloss off this reissue, but none of it is reason to avoid this four disc DVD set. It’s yet another fantastic period piece from Network – nostalgia if you remember it from the first time around, wonderful and bizarre entertainment if you didn’t. Well recommended.
Extras on the DVD:
A Story With No End – three-part documentary about the show
Two related dramas from show creator Trevor Preston – Shadows: Dutch Schlitz’s Shoes and Mr Stabs