Given the potency of his performance, it’s remarkable how small Patrick Troughton’s screen-time in The Box of Delights actually is. The majority of his scenes are in the first episode, whilst in episode two he only has one scene of importance before disappearing. He returns at the end of the sixth episode but does little of note.
Basically though, once Cole Hawlings passes the Box to Kay in episode two, his function in the story is over. And whilst he’s still vague about what’s actually happening, he does share one important piece of information – the Box isn’t his, it belongs to Master Arnold who appears to be stranded somewhere in the past.
After Kay and Peter witness the old man being scrobbled by Abner’s men, they report it to the Inspector (James Grout). The Inspector, of course, doesn’t believe a word of it, preferring to think that Hawlings was spirited away by some of his friends who were playing a prank on him. James Grout is lovely in this scene, as he is throughout the story. There’s a real warmth to his conversation with the children – he may disbelieve everything they say, but he’s never abrupt or unkind. It’s a staple of children’s literature that adults tend to not to believe anything the children say, forcing them to solve the mystery by themselves and the Inspector falls nicely into this pattern.
There’s a major sequence with the Box in this episode – Kay ventures into the wood to meet Herne the Hunter and both of them are transformed firstly into deer, then into birds and finally into fish. It’s a gorgeous example of animation that is enhanced by Roger Limb’s fine score. This sort of animation was never cheap, but it’s immeasurably to the series’ benefit that they spent the money – even if it does look a little the worse for wear on the 2004 DVD release. If the original elements still exist, it would be nice to think they could be restored one day for a special edition re-release.
The reason for this scene is obliquely explained to us by Herne. “Did you see the wolves in the wood? That is why we became wild duck. Did you see the hawks in the air? That is why we became fish in the pool. Now do you see the pike in the weeds?” Which seems to imply that there is danger everywhere, even in the Box – it’s not a safe haven.
One thing that the second episode has lacked is an appearance from Robert Stephens. We have to wait until the final scene before we see him – but even though he has only a brief moment of screen-time he still oozes villainy, which leads us nicely into episode three.
Where is that Rat? And where is the Box? As for the boy … that interfering, overreaching boy … reporting to the police, talking on telephones. What I won’t do to that boy!
Next up – Episode Three – In Darkest Cellars Underneath