Raven: The Warrior's Collection Review
Remember Knightmare? Children sitting in front of a computer monitor shouting at their masked and blinded friend to step away from the giant spider in a virtual set inspired by Atic Atac? Or, indeed, The Crystal Maze, in which a group of thirtysomethings made their way through papier-mache fancies of ancient lands collecting crystals in the hope of staying longer in a giant wind-machine picking up pieces of tinfoil? If so, then Raven will take you back to those times.
Produced by BBC Scotland for the CBBC channel, Raven takes place in an adventure playground in the grounds of Castle Toward near Dunoon. It stars James Mackenzie as Raven, a warrior from the island of Alaunus who, each week, takes six warriors to his ruined homeland to fight the mysterious Nevar. Nevar has ruled Alaunus for years, destroying the land and enslaving the population as demons. Raven asks that these warriors join him to defeat Nevar to guide them through a series of quests to find the Ultimate Warrior, one that will see the victor closing the portal through which Nevar came and restore peace to Alaunus.
Each series - this DVD carries the last week of the sixth, which was shown earlier this year on CBBC - plays out over four weeks of five shows each. Each week, six warriors complete their quests. All six will survive the first day and camp in the forest but on the second, third and fourth days, one warrior will be sent home, leaving three to face Nevar. Of those, two will make it through to the third and final week, when the six best warriors will compete to find the Ultimate Warrior. The quests the children must complete are, for a pre-teen, fairly challenging. The Demon Square tests their general knowledge with the Wisdom Tree asking them questions. The Serpent's Eye tests their skills in archery, The Fire Demon their ability with a sword while blindfolded and The Stepping Stones their agility, jumping slippery stones to cross a river. They face demons in the Torture Chamber, race one another in Battle Of The Boats, fly through the air in Zip Line, charge a castle in Battering Ram, sneak through Spider's Wood and have to swim across the Deep Loch. One or two warriors will be lost in The Way Of The Warrior, the toughest test in the show, while those who make it to the final day will face The Last Stand in which they not only have to complete a series of challenges but must also avoid Nevar blasting them from his place above the portal.
As well as the quests, which come and go, there's a certain way to Raven that is repeated through all six series. The children's real names are never revealed. Instead, they are given noms de raven, these being, in this series, Kenat, Nejad, Rohak, Tezan, Tonesh and Kerud and this is how Raven refers to them throughout the series. This, though, never seems to put a dampener on proceedings as, over the month, they lark about on what is the biggest playground they could ever have thought possible. The BBC, mindful of the age of the children, ensure the health and safety of the warriors throughout, giving them Raven-shaped life jackets before they take to the water, cod-medieval helmets before they climb trees and leaving no square-inch of skin unprotected by a thick foam suit before entering The War Of The Warrior. However, a great big smile is never far from the children's faces - Kenat grins throughout this series even when she's just lost such is the fun she's having - and this is infectious, with the scary, gothic moments with the demons and spiders being offset by the sight of the warriors on a zip line spearing rings.
As such, children, whether in the show or sitting safely at home far away from the demons, will have great fun with Raven. Raven himself can be serious but offers words of encouragement throughout, even a smile as Kenat makes it across the The Stepping Stones in the rain and everyone leaves the Demon Square with a ring. This two-disc set disregards the first three weeks of series six of Raven in favour of just the final week, when the six best warriors vie for the title of Ultimate Warrior. It's hard to say if this series is any better than any of the others but it's good nonetheless, with a better structure than this summer's India-set Raven: The Secret Temple in which Raven was aided by Satyarani (Tara Sharma). And it's clear that its success continues with it being named the Best Children's Programme at the BAFTAs and the BBC planning a seventh series of the show, currently filming in Scotland for showing early next year.
There aren't many shows for children as exciting as Raven. It is one of the most deserved successes enjoyed by CBBC and while it's not as much of a cult thrill as Knightmare, it's much more fun to watch a twelve- or thirteen-year-old girl being chased by a hooded demon on a boat than to watch them creep around a virtual spider. Personally, there's a very pleasing sense of the gothic about Raven, it's exciting and there's a touch of Fighting Fantasy about it with its invented names, invented land and so very obvious an invention of a name for its villain in a turning about of the name of its hero. For that alone I'd rate the show but that it's such an enjoyable watch for children, it's a gem within the CBBC schedules.
Raven has looked fine when shown on television but has been aided by a a fairly still series of scenes that, while never revealing much of the detail in the background, still looks very reasonable when broadcast. However, come the end credits, which zip across the screen, the quality of the image falls apart. Even pausing the picture, it's hard to pick out the names of the cast and crew and almost impossible when playing at normal speed. As such, this doesn't really look very much better on DVD than it did when broadcast by CBBC earlier this year. The soundtrack, in DD2.0, is, again, no improvement over the BBC broadcast of it. Some of the dialogue can be a little muddled - Raven, in spite of the power to blast away at the demons in The Secret Temple, tends to speak in hushed tones when surrounded by them here, which doesn't make him any the clearer - but if not doing anything particularly special, it does at least present the show no worse than one would expect of it. Finally, there are English subtitles throughout.
Unfortunately, we were not forwarded both discs from this two-disc set, only the first. What we don't get, then, are the eleven Interactive Challenges on the second disc but we do get the first disc of five episodes as well as Raven's take on Scene Selection, being a jump to some but not all of the challenges. However, this first disc does include a DVD ROM, a very simple-looking but actually quite taxing platform game that sees a player taking on the kind of dangerous challenges that would never make it into the show. As such, I have avoided giving a score for the bonus material on this disc.