The beauty of forgotten classics are that they feel personal to you, and the BBC really do specialise in them. They’ve probably been a part of everyone’s childhood in one way or another, and have had more than its fair share of lost gems, not least because they used to discard some recordings after they’d been aired.
Finding a bygone BBC series feels particularly like unearthing a treasure that means something to someone, and so it’s easy to get excited about a show such as Moondial.
It’s fitting really that Moondial should centre around lost discoveries of its own. Minty, played by Siri Neal, is a teenager staying with her aunt when her mother falls into a coma. She spends her days brooding around the grounds of a nearby mansion, when one day she notices a Moondial that enables her to travel back in time. The story revolves around Minty trying to save a young girl called Sarah from an evil scheme, with the help of a servant boy, Tom.
The series takes on an effortlessly Gothic feel, from the ageless manor house setting and midnight magic of the titular moondial, to the show’s poetic fascination with ghosts, whether Minty’s discussing them in the present-day gardens, making friends with them in the past or even wondering what might happen to her mother in the future.
It’s a show that presents mature questions through the format of a children’s story, and Minty’s travels between now and then help keep the excitement fresh for a young audience.
As well as standing the test of time story-wise and employing engaging child actors – particularly Tony Sands, who plays Tom – Moondial also thrives on the nostalgia front. It’s certainly a product of its time, from the synthesiser-led score to the soap opera-esque direction of some scenes, but that’s the joy of watching Moondial with hindsight.
It only lasted six episodes – some would point to the BBC’s rumoured hatred of science fiction in those days – and that’s probably what makes it more of a forgotten classic than most. Moondial is good enough to watch a first time around 25 years later, but it’s better if you remember early Nineties children’s TV.