To­tal Re­call

SFX - - Contents - Jayne Nel­son, SFX writer

Jayne nel­son and Mr Mer­lin.

Ah, the 1980s. For all that we look back on them with fond­ness to­day (and the younger gen­er­a­tion even wear the same clothes...), ac­tu­ally be­ing there was like liv­ing in the Dark Ages. I was 10 years old in 1982 and loved so many TV shows I couldn’t even count them, but didn’t ex­pe­ri­ence the joy of own­ing a VHS recorder un­til the start of 1983. Which meant that I would watch a show on TV and then... well, that was it. It was gone. There were only three chan­nels back then, af­ter all, and they shut down at mid­night, so it wasn’t as though shows were re­peated end­lessly as they are now.

So it was a sad day for me when a lit­tle se­ries named Mr Mer­lin stopped air­ing, be­cause I knew I might never see it again. It was a silly US sit­com about a teenage boy, Zachary Rogers (Clark Bran­don), who dis­cov­ered, af­ter pulling a crow­bar out of a block of ce­ment, that he was des­tined to be­come the new ap­pren­tice of grumpy old wiz­ard Mer­lin (Barnard Hughes) in mod­ern-day San Francisco. Mer­lin taught Zachary all his tricks and, in­evitably, Zachary got the spells wrong and caused no end of havoc.

It was the great­est show I’d ever seen (well, I was 10). I recorded the be­gin­ning cred­its onto cas­sette tape, but that was all I had to re­mem­ber it by when it ended. I missed it and as­sumed I would never see it again. And then one day I walked into a book­shop and found th­ese two Mr Mer­lin tie-in books. The joy!

The first book con­tained the show’s first episode, while the sec­ond was an orig­i­nal story. I read them again and again, keep­ing Mer­lin, Zachary and all their ad­ven­tures alive. Also, as the years passed, I re­alised that they weren’t sim­ply cheap and nasty tie-ins writ­ten by some­one who didn’t care – they were pro­duced by Wil­liam Rot­sler, a man well-known and beloved in sci-fi cir­cles, who’d won four Hu­gos for his art­work and writ­ten five Star Trek books.

It’s so hard to com­pre­hend to­day, but TV and film tie-in nov­els were a god­send back then. With­out ac­cess to video­tape, let alone video rental shops or the prospect of own­ing a film or show, the only way to re­live some­thing was to read it. Thanks to au­thors like Wil­liam Rot­sler, who slogged away in other peo­ple’s uni­verses to pay the rent, our fan­tasy worlds were kept alive. Thank you, sir.

Fit­tingly, Jayne now reg­u­larly works for a man named Mer­lin.

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