Saturday, November 16, 2013

Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, etc.

During the time when Leonard Nimoy's series telecast, Arthur C. Clarke started another show that investigated the unknown and paranormal. The first of three seasons was called Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, debuting in 1980 and hosted by the famous author. A sizable portion of the narration was done by Gordon Honeycombe, with Yorkshire Television and ITV network producing. The Mysterious World 13 episodes ran through the year from September to November, covering a wide range of strange topics.

"Mysteries from the files of Arthur C. Clarke, scientist writer and visionary. The scientist who invented the communications satellite and the writer of 2010, and now in retreat in Sri Lanka; the visionary who ponders riddles of this and other worlds." Each week a similar introduction was attached to a title sequence that included the mysterious iconic glass skull. The author then pontificated about what the episode will discuss, and again ended with him pondering solutions to the mysteries presented.

Unlike the In Search Of that explored both the paranormal and more explainable, Arthur C. Clarke's investigations had more focus on the mysterious as the name implies. That still left plenty of room for each episode to present something new each week.  Another difference was complete reliance on investigative reporting style. There were virtually no reenactments to demonstrate stories and witness testimony. Each place was on location with what might have happened left to the imagination according to the words of those interviewed and the narrator. Very few paranormal documentary series leave out dramatizations; usually ghost hunting shows acting as the exceptions.

On the first show, Arthur C. Clarke introduces the idea that there are three levels of curiosity. Similar to hypothetical alien encounters, there are mysteries that were not understood at one time that are today, mysteries that are not understood while hinting at answers, and mysteries that cannot be explained even with rational consideration. Each episode that followed looks mostly at the last two categories with mixed results in value and plausible resolution.

A few years later, in 1985 a second season called Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers ran. Like the first, there were 13 episodes during the same year of the debut. Unlike the previous season, the focus was mostly on more human related subjects. The narrator was replaced by Anna Ford. There were discussions of telekinesis, telepathy, the occult, stigmata, the next life, and other oddities. Interspersed throughout the episodes were ghosts and poltergeists. Relatively speaking, there were no monsters or alien encounters explored. That would change years later when the show returned one more time.

The last incarnation of the series, Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious Universe, had a full 26 episodes starting in July of 1995. Carol Vorderman became the third person to take over the narration. This last season seemed to combine the topics of the first and second. It examined anything  from alien encounters to zombies, with a good smattering of historical mysteries in between. The production value also improved since the last decade the show telecast. A more eye catching beginning theme continued to include the iconic glass skull, while slightly more flashy titles popped onto the screen. The editing seemed less choppy during the shows than the previous seasons. Still, there continued the same open minded consideration laced with Arthur C. Clarke's subtle doubts.

At times the series could come off as stiff, but that wasn't entirely a negative. More than any other paranormal series before or since, it tried to be honest and journalistically sound without automatic dismissal. It did not seek to find an answer to everything such as the later National Geographic debunk shows. The famous host was equal parts open to possibilities and blunt when he thought there was nothing to the findings. Even today that is refreshing in otherwise overly produced either/or sensationalistic productions.

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