Network DVD

It's a sin that Ace Of Wands has been gathering dust on the TV archive shelves since its demise in 1974 whilst other less interesting series have gathered a cult following through repeats and commercial releases. Thankfully, Ace Of Wands this will now hopefully be corrected with Network's release of the surviving episodes of season three as a four-disc set given an impressive selection of supporting materials.

The third season introduced two new sidekicks for the central character Tarot, a crime-busting magician / illusionist with telepathic powers and owl familiar, so serves as a good place to start for this charmingly strange series. However, the by all accounts the best stories had featured in the previous two seasons, sadly junked, but what is left is still fabulous groovy stuff. Enjoyment of the series is greatly enhanced by the quality of acting on show - the regulars and guest stars treat the most wild storyline with conviction and avoid putting their collective tongues in their cheeks that blighted later programmes such as The Tomorrow People.

The Meddlers kicks things off with a script by P J Hammond (creator of Sapphire and Steel) that details not only Tarot's meeting with new companions Chas and Mikki but also mysterious events at a London street market. The next adventure is the ambitious The Power of Atep written by Victor Pemberton that introduces the supporting character of Mr Sweet (an entomologist and antiquarian) and sees Tarot travel to Egypt to stop the evil influence of the ancient Egyptian.

Story three, Peacock Pie, guest stars a chilling Brian (Last of the Summer Wine) Wilde as the mesmerist mastermind behind a daring bank robbery that Tarot investigates. Mama Doc sees strange happenings at a doll's hospital run by an eccentric woman. Story five, Sisters Deadly, features a plot disrupt at NATO training exercise by old age pensioners. The final story, The Beautiful People, sees Tarot combat aliens at a country fete. Absolute bonkers!

The whole series has much debt to The Avengers with its offbeat villains, characters and set ups and this only adds to the charm of the production. With an excellent title sequence, a theme tune you will be humming for weeks (and the lyrics are not Tarot banana man - check out the extras) and stoned storylines this more than lives up to its reputation. Episodes are presented complete and uncut with ad breaks and bumpers all present.

Charming, eerie, weird and hugely entertaining slice of psychedelic 70s archive TV with an array of extras to shame a major film release that will enthral both original and new viewers.

EXTRAS: A thorough eighty-eight-page collector's booklet penned by Andrew Pixley that details not only the genesis and making of the entire series, but also the two Mr Stabs spin-offs included in the release. The spin-offs included are an episode of Shadows (Dutch Schitz's Shoes) and Dramarama (Mr. Stabs) that featured the Ace of Wands villain Mr Stabs in bids for solo series. These are excellent additions that help tell the full story of the series as the episodes featuring Stabs are missing.

The main extra is the retrospective featurette A Story With No End that sees all the main cast and crew looking back on the series. This documentary demonstrates the great fondness bestowed on the series by those involved and is as good as anything similar featured on the Doctor Who DVD releases. There is a commentary on all three episodes of the story Sisters Deadly featuring Tarot himself, Michael Mackenzie, Petra (Mikki) Markham and director Darrol Blake that repeats a few of the details on the documentary, but again has a great fondness for the series.

Also included is a treasure chest of pdf materials viewable on computers that contain the original scripts for all of season three as well some episodes from seasons one and two, scripts for both the Stabs spin-offs, the original series outlines, original theme lyrics, TV Times / Look In listings and articles and much more.

FILM: 5/5