Demon Headmaster (The): Series 1 (TV)
R2 - United Kingdom - Simply Media
Review written by and copyright: Rob Hunt (21st May 2018).
The Show

Based on the popular book series of the same name, The Demon Headmaster is a collection of stories about a man (the titular character, wonderfully portrayed by the excellent Terrence Hardiman) with a thirst for power, who can induce a state of hypnosis in those who look directly into his eyes. The series follows his grasps for greater control and the brainy young girl, Dinah Glass (Frances Amey), who attempts to stop him. The first series aired on BBC One every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for three weeks in January 1996, in the popular 'after school' slot that was filled with programming aimed directly at children.

The first series adapts the stories of the first two books, The Demon Headmaster and The Prime Minister's Brain and introduces us to both the Demon Headmaster and Dinas Glass, a child who is fostered by the Hunter family - whose boys eventually get on with Dinah, after initially disliking her, and join her in fighting the Demon Headmaster's nefarious schemes. The first half of series one, based on the first book, introduces us to the school Dinah and her foster brothers attend and focuses on the effect the headmaster has over the pupls. The second half of series one, based on the second book, introduces us to to a new popular computer game at the school, named Octopus Dare, that is highly addictive but that has a sinister purpose.

All six episodes of the first series can be played individually (approximately 25 minutes each) or chained together into one using the "Play All" option (147:00). The exact runtimes of each episode are:
- Episode 1 (24:30)
- Episode 2 (24:32)
- Episode 3 (24:30)
- Episode 4 (24:34)
- Episode 5 (24:31)
- Episode 6 (24:23)

Video

Each episode is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio at the original broadcast (and quite possibly filmed) speed of 25fps PAL.

On start-up of the DVDs there's an ominous warning about the video quality, mentioning the age and alluding to the quality of the source materials, that I must admit had me a little anxious. I was excited to have all the episodes in one place on DVD, almost certainly the highest quality that could be achieved given some scenes have clearly been filmed on lower-budget equipment, but I wondered how rough the condition was in for such a warning to be presented to the viewer before anything else. I needn't have worried! The quality is better than I remember it on first broadcast and as good as (if not better than) any of the odd snippets I caught on the CBBC channel or on BBC's iPlayer service. Sure, the colours are more muted than newer TV series, and the show clearly shows its age in some places, but the detail is all I could have hoped for and represents a very decent PAL transfer. Even more to my surprise, given some of the more low-budget aspects of the show, were the special effects, which have not dated anywhere as much as I would have thought they would - for a children's TV series from the 1990s these effects have stood the test of time incredibly well, making a rewatch all the more delightful!

Audio

Audio is provided in an entirely sufficient Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, a likely faithful reproduction of what would have been heard on TV on original broadcast. Dialogue, effects and music are all clear and there are no apparent issues. Despite a couple of more major events within the series, there's nothing that would really benefit from a mix with more surround - and in any case it would seem out of place. What we have here does the job just fine.

As a very pleasant surprise, optional subtitles are included in English for the hard of hearing. For fans of the series, this is almost certainly the first time the series can be seen with less-intrusive subtitles, rather than the Teletext-type subtitles that were available on broadcast and subsequent CBBC repeats. A fantastic decision to include these!

Extras

There are no extras on this release.

Packaging

Available with the second and third series, this is presented in a 3-disc keep case, with all three discs on holders connected to the case (no swing tray). The inside cover contains a list of all of the episodes, and the outside cover has a nice hat-tip to the book origins of the show by using the same styled titles as the recent imprints of the books rather than the title within concentric rings (used in the show's credits).

Overall

A much-loved television series based on the young adult stories by Gillian Cross, The Demon Headmaster was one of the more intelligent kids' TV series to air in a regular post-school afternoon timeslot on BBC One in the late '90s and early 2000s, before a new channel was spun out for such content - CBBC. This release no doubt has come at the perfect time to appeal to adults who would have watched the series religiously after school each week in the late 1990s, eager to find out what happened next (this author very much counts himself amongst them). Simply Media have presented the episodes in the best possibly quality possible given the source of the materials, and I'm grateful for having a chance to reminisce on my childhood favourites! Even better for a catalogue TV release, Simply Media have provided the series with English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, a fantastic decision which I hope more companies would choose to replicate where possible.

There are no extras present, but considering this release seemed unlikely for many years - after the first series was released to subscribers of a magazine and promptly went out of print - it's wonderful to have a release with all the episodes. Highly recommended.

The Show: A- Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: F Overall: B+

 


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