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Simon Says Something…About The Blackadder Pilot

What’s up, Sevenettes. Before we get started on the final part of Blackadder month, I wanted to remind you that CraftyKiz is playing host to a raffle. Tickets are available on her website, which you can get to by clicking on this image right here.

Go check it out now. I’ll still be here when you get back.

That aside, welcome back to Sy’s Seven. Well, it’s not actually Sy’s Seven this week. As it’s the end of Blackadder month, I thought we would do something a little different. I thought it would be a good idea to take a closer look at a part of Blackadder that not many people would have seen. I’ve managed to get my geeky little mitts on a copy of the unaired pilot so, this week, I’m going to go through it piece by piece and review it just for you dudes because I love you all so much. So let’s get down to business.

Simon Says Something…About The Unaired Blackadder Pilot

Our tale begins…

So we open with the familiar sounds of the Blackadder theme tune, a slightly different arrangement than the one we hear in the first series. We’re also treated with a text crawl that gives us the back story. To sum it up, it’s 400 years ago in the midst of the war against the Turks. It also happens to be the Queen’s birthday. In addition to this, the court is eagerly awaiting the return of a Scottish hero. So there’s lots going on.

Pay close attention to that apple.

Fade in to Prince Harry Henry painting an apple while King Richard, played by not-Brian-Blessed John Savident, laments that they’re spending so much time fighting the Spanish they have no time to fight the French. This is the beginning of a long running gag in the series where most of the main characters hate the French. But I want to address something else at this point. I’ve criticised John Savident’s portrayal as the King as being inferior to Brian Blessed’s version. In fairness, John Savident is a very competent and talented actor in his own right.

He also has fiercely awesome taste in hats.

Moving on, we also have our first familiar face (in this pilot, King Richard and Prince Henry are played by different actors than in the first series) in Elspet Gray, who plays the Queen. The conversation turns to her birthday celebrations, with talk of morris dancers and eunuchs. Henry asks his father if he enjoyed the morris dancers at the celebrations the previous year and he responds in the affirmative while looking guilty, which draws a laugh from the audience for some kind of reason, I don’t know. The King leaves and Henry takes this time to ask his mother about her birthday present. He guesses it’s gold, jewellery or horses or something. Turns out she’s getting the county of Shropshire, which she describes as a lovely county. I’ve been there, she isn’t wrong.

Possibly Shropshire, I dunno. All these English hills start to look alike so we need to trust Google on this one.

The conversation is interrupted by a messenger bringing news for Prince Edmund, who is currently off planning the celebrations, as well as a message for Henry from one Lord Thomas saying that the problem he (Henry) spoke of earlier has now been solved. What problem this is exactly is a mystery. Even Henry is unsure of what it could be. I can only assume this will be revealed later in the episode.

Is it the drains?

Next scene sees the messenger ascending the stairs to the castle to Prince Edmund’s quarters. There we see Lord Percy Percy, still played by Tim McInnerny, and a different Baldrick, looking a lot less peasant-like at this point. The scroll with the message on it is snatched from the hands of the messenger and handed to Edmund, who is sat with his back to the audience as he reads the message. He stands, casts aside the scroll and speaks his first line of the pilot, “The eunuchs have cancelled.” Straight away, we can tell by the delivery that this version of Edmund is a lot closer to his descendants than the version we see in the Main Series. Quite why they changed this only to change it back is still something of a mystery to me.

This version is pretty far removed from Prince Edmund from the first series.

For those familiar with the second episode of the main series, you’ll be seeing a lot of similarities at this point. The second episode was largely based on this pilot. As in the second episode, Edmund responds to the eunuchs cancelling their performance with an execution order, threatening to remove any extraneous parts of their body that still remain, and then continues to plan the rest of the festivities. The list includes Gerry Merryweather And His Four Chickens, The Jumping Jesuits (who just come on stage and jump a lot) and the aforementioned morris dancers, whom Edmund straight up refuses to put on the bill at all. Clearly he shares my distaste for the craft hehehe. The observant among you may spot that the rest of the family had said they enjoyed the morris dancers in the previous scene so we can see this decision is going to get Edmund in trouble somewhere down the line.

A retired morris dancer shows up in the main series though.

They’re not gonna leave us to wait and find out though as Henry walks in to check on his brother’s progress and mentions he’s especially looking forward to the morris dancers. Edmund simply nods along and mumbles the word “bastard” under his breath once Henry has left. Baldrick chimes in with the line “If only he were” which sets up nicely what’s to come once our Scottish hero turns up.

McAngus looks a lot less bedraggled in this pilot.

Edmund laments how every woman in the Kingdom has bastard sons except his own mother. It’s worth noting that, while still funny, Rowan Atkinson’s delivery would seriously not be out of place on stage in Stratford, proving once again that Blackadder took so much inspiration from Shakespeare in the early days. The conversation turns to our Scottish hero, now revealed to be Mcangus (though those of us who saw the first series would know this by now), which instigates the whole “what sounds like Greek but isn’t Greek” joke from the main series. Edmund eventually loses his temper with Percy’s moronic blatherings and kicks him and Baldrick out of his quarters while he finishes planning the birthday celebrations.

Not before threatening to disembowel him.

Next scene brings us to the court where the Royal family are awaiting the arrival of McAngus. Upon his arrival, he is introduced to the King’s two sons. It’s at this point that we discover that, unlike the main series, Edmund is not the Duke of Edinburgh. Instead, he is the Duke of York, although he does still own many lands in Scotland. This quickly changes as the King grants McAngus these lands in recompense for his great deeds in battle. Unlike in the main series, however, Edmund does not roll over and let this happen. He actually calls the King out on this with several sarcastic comments directly to his face, something the Edmund from the main series would have been too cowardly to do. Unfortunately for this Edmund, however, the King appears to be sarcasm blind and takes his comments as him consenting to this. Edmund, in a blind huff, storms from the court.

Then he talks about stabbing McAngus. He’s a lot more violent than most Blackadders, isn’t he?

Edmund returns to his quarters and, in a fit of rage, begins planning the murder of McAngus. Baldrick, being the voice of reason here, tells Edmund that the King is liable to cut him off without a penny should he suspect that Edmund was in any way involved in the death of McAngus. We then get to hear the immortal words, just over ten and a half minutes in, “I have a cunning plan.” It just doesn’t seem the same when it’s not said by Tony Robinson though. After a brief debate between Edmund and Baldrick about whose plan is the most cunning (Baldrick’s plan being the one from the main series involving blowing off McAngus’s head with a cannon), which ends with Edmund stuffing one of Percy’s gloves into Baldrick’s mouth, the scene fades out.

Brings a whole new meaning to “put a sock in it” amiright?

Next up, we have Edmund entering McAngus’s quarters. After nosing around his belongings, he tries on a helmet, only for it to get stuck. This one part reminded me of something else Rowan Atkinson did. The video below shows it better than I could ever explain it.

But I digress. Eventually, McAngus walks in, causing Edmund to hide behind the door. The Queen follows shortly, unknowingly pushing the door into Edmund. It’s at this point that McAngus reveals to the Queen that his father, Third Duke of Argyll, was an old “friend” of her majesty. The Queen makes a hasty retreat and McAngus, who finally realises there is someone behind the door, confronts Edmund. Edmund informs McAngus he was actually there to ask for his assistance with part of the celebrations. He wants McAngus to appear in a play, written as a tribute to Edmund’s mother, entitled “The Death Of The Scotsman.” After McAngus says he’s not much of an actor but acting dead should be doable, Edmund replies “Like I said, there may not be much acting required.”

The Jumping Jesuits. Least said about this one the better.

The next scene takes place in the midst of the party. The Jumping Jesuits are on stage doing their thing and, in my opinion, it’s every bit as lame as it sounds. Backstage, McAngus has got passing-out-drunk before his performance. I guess even four centuries ago, there was still a Charlie Sheen expy around somewhere hehehe. Anyway, Edmund sends Percy and Baldrick out on stage to start the play while he tries to get McAngus awake and vertical enough to actually carry out his role in the play, such as it is. He barely manages it as, when McAngus’s lines are up, McAngus barely even knows what county he’s in at this point. When the fight scene rolls up, where the Prince gets killed by the Scotsman and he is sentenced to death by hanging, it’s not so much a swordfight but more of a Scotsman-casually-runs-through-Prince-with-trick-sword-while-staggering-about-blind-drunk kind of thing. McAngus is hastily bundled off stage mumbling while they prepare for the second act.

This cannot be the first time the star of a play showed up drunk to opening night.

While the not-so-dynamic duo of Percy and Baldrick (Perdrick?) are sent back out to the stage to keep the crowd entertained, McAngus reveals to Edmund that he has letters that cast doubt over the parentage of Henry. Intrigued, Edmund requests to see the letters. Before McAngus gets a chance to, he is called out to the stage to be hung by a very real noose until he is very really and most sincerely dead, which was Edmund’s plan to kill him all along. What follows is a somewhat ridiculous, but still incredibly funny, fight scene between Percy and Baldrick, playing the executioners, and Edmund, playing a literal sheet ghost of the Prince killed in the previous act of the play.

Seriously???

Once the play is brought to a pretty farcical conclusion, the scene switches to McAngus’s quarters with himself and Edmund reading the letters McAngus had swiped from his father’s desk. After establishing that the letters were penned by his mother the year that Henry was born, Edmund sends Baldrick to gather the members of the court so he can make an announcement regarding the son and heir to the throne.

Though Henry thinks it might be about the drains.

Once the court is assembled, Edmund strolls in to announce his news regarding these letters. Now, while the second episode of the main series was based largely on the pilot, this point is where the differences start to become even more apparent. Firstly, once it’s revealed the letters were dated nine months after Henry was born but nine months before Edmund’s birth, McAngus gets a sudden dawning look of realisation on his face. In the main series, Angus already knew and was actually setting Edmund up, which is not the case here.

Whoooops.

Secondly, once Edmund challenges McAngus to a duel, the two actually have a duel as opposed to what happened in the main series, which was McAngus slicing Edmund’s sword in half within seconds. Edmund also discreetly instructs Baldrick to switch out one of the swords Percy was instructed to get with the fake sword from the play. Unfortunately, because Percy is such an asinine imbecile, he gives Edmund the fake sword by mistake. They were still able to Errol Flynn their way around the court for a good while though, with Edmund gaining the upper hand on more than a few occasions, proving Edmund was indeed the superior swordsman.

He would have actually won, too.

The fight ends with Edmund failing to kill McAngus due to the trick sword and McAngus forcing Edmund to beg for his life after the King himself requests that McAngus spare his son. This is another notable difference. I can honestly not see the Brian Blessed incarnation of the King doing this for Edmund. I mean, the Brian Blessed version barely even knows Edmund’s name, often calling him Edna or Osmond or some such variant.

I told you to keep an eye on that apple.

The final scene is split over two locations. The first is the King, Queen and Prince Henry discussing affairs of state and the recent events in the same manner as the start of the episode right down to Henry painting an apple, which has now had a bite taken out of it. The other location is atop one of the castle towers with Edmund showing off the view to McAngus. He then shows off one of his own personal cannons that arms the tower.

Yeah, this is going to end well(!)

The two locations alternate before the scene and the episode ends with a loud explosion, which Henry thinks might be the drains (a running gag I probably should have already mentioned by now), and Edmund rushing in announcing that there’s been a terrible accident. Everyone rushes out to find out what happened. Cue Edmund looking triumphant and roll credits. Although this whole time it was never revealed what the “problem” Lord Thomas was referring to earlier in the episode actually was.

Maybe it was the drains.

What do I say about the episode though. The only two characters who were accurate when compared to their main series counterparts were the Queen and Lord Percy Percy. Edmund himself was a lot more sinister and was certainly closer to the subsequent Blackadders. Which raises a valid point. Aside from a black snake in the crest during the opening credits, there was nothing alluding to the name Blackadder at all. Whether or not they truly intended this pilot to not be the first episode is up for debate at this point.

Is that even an adder though?

The King was definitely more subdued than in the main series too and he definitely had a lot more affection for Edmund. Baldrick, while not played by Tony Robinson, still came off as Baldrick-esque, only a lot cleaner, obviously. All in all, the pilot was a solid piece of work. The humour is a little darker than the main series but there are still a lot of recognisable tropes that appear in subsequent incarnations of Blackadder. I would definitely recommend tracking it down if you’re a fan.

I give the pilot a solid six out of seven.

But this concludes Blackadder month. Normality has been restored. I’ll be back on Tuesday with some non Blackadder related trivia. If you wanna help out the blog, click the Loot Crate below and get yourself some nice geek merch. I’ll see you all next Tuesday, dudes. Party Hearty.

Click this image and subscribe. It’ll really help me out.

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