NumberJacks: Calling All Agents
Children may be protected from an awful lot these days by fretful parents but in the manner of the Ugly-Wuglys from The Enchanted Castle and Jigsaw's Noseybonk, there are still some very freaky things being presented to them via television. The most recent horror for very young children to deal with is The Numbertaker, a white suited man who never speaks, glides instead of walking and has a very mean stare but is as odd a spectre as anything that Sapphire And Steel ever faced. Using a number sucker upper, a number grabber and a giant hook, The Numbertaker steals numbers of things with even the poor old Numberjacks having to tread carefully in his presence. He's creepy, has a spooky theme song and, twenty years from now, is exactly the sort of thing that adults will talk about while remembering hiding behind cushions.
Numberjacks has been shown on CBeebies and BBC2 over the last year to assist children with their counting from one to ten, all with the help of ten colourful numbers who live within a sofa who, if they're old enough, are allowed to venture outside to battle The Meanies. A mix of boys (the even numbers) and girls (odd) and of a similar age to their numbers (0, 1 and 2 are too young to leave the sofa, 7, 8 and 9 usually have their own concerns leaving 3, 4, 5 and 6 as the main heroes), the Numberjacks solve shape- and number-related problems in the real world. With the likes of The Numbertaker appearing in the world to steal things away, The Shape Japer turning spheres into cubes and even the younger Numberjacks causing problems, the Numberjacks have a hard time educating, entertaining and keeping order in the worlds of mathematics and science.
To be entirely honest, I'm not that keen on Numberjacks but, as I'm ready to acknowledge, I'm not its likely audience. Numbertaker aside, it does look to be a show that, with a reasonably noble aim, hasn't found the means to describe science and maths to children in a particularly interesting way. It's no Johnny Ball and I can't say that my children have any more appreciation of maths than they did before Numberjacks appeared on the screen. What's more likely is that they just like the very bright colours, the sight of people falling and the Meanies, who are much more entertaining than the actual Numberjacks.
The six episodes included on this disc are Sphere Today, Gone Tomorrow (Shape Japer changing spheres into cubes), One More Time (1 causes problems when she goes out alone), Getting Heavy (Spooky Spoon messing about with weights), Nine Lives (The Puzzler traps 9 in a puzzle bubble), One Won (6 and 1 tussle with The Numbertaker) and Best Estimate (Problem Blob stops people guessing). However, each episode, though it follows a standard format, always looks to be something of a mess on the screen with the live action never being the thing that a CG Numberjack can settle into. Too often, there's some comedy that the Chuckle Brothers would well pass on with a brightly coloured number too small to do very much about the terrible things The Numbertaker, The Puzzler or Spooky Spoon are getting up to. And for their being the stars of the show, the Numberjacks are a poorly developed lot with it not seeming to matter a jot which one leaves the sofa. Perhaps that might be of little relevance to pre-school children who won't care but when there's some wonderful shows available on DVD, such as Charlie And Lola or Zombie Hotel, Numberjacks is very much an also-ran that might well serve to keep parents concerned about their child's education happier than the children left to watch the show.
Much like the BBC Children's DVD releases, this ITV DVD release of Numberjacks comes with an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer that looks very reasonable but which is much better in its live-action scenes than in the simple CG used to animate the Numberjacks. The colours are bright and rich, there's no signs of damage on the recordings used to source these episodes and there's some detail in the picture but it's very much of the kind of show produced for CBeebies and so tends to look flat and uninteresting. The DVD, though adequate, is much the same. Again, the DD2.0 audio track does exactly what is demanded of it but does so without flair. There are English subtitles and for those children old enough to use a DVD player but still unable to read - don't laugh, they do exist - the menus are accompanied by an audio description of what is available.
Unlike many of the BBC DVD releases this ITV DVD release includes a small number of bonus features on the disc, beginning with All About Number 3 (2m25s), a short introduction to the youngest of the active Numberjacks. This is followed by All About The Numbertaker (2m57s), which is narrated by 3, and All About The Brain Gain Machine (2m48s). If it's not already clear, the Brain Gain machine uses all the brain power available amongst the Numberjacks and their agents to solve a puzzle and save the day but which, thanks to a rather poor explanation in the show, might not have been obvious to pre-schoolers. These are followed by two versions of a Sing-a-long With The Brain Gain Song (22s), one with words, the other not, before ending with a Promo Trailer (18s).