Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
Regulars: The setting has moved to a different historical era, but the three leads are still in place. Edmund, Lord Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) is a Machiavellian nobleman who lives in Elizabethan London and knows the queen. Like his 15th-century ancestor, he has a retinue of two: faithful dogsbody Baldrick (Tony Robinson) and fellow peer Lord Percy Percy (Tim McInnerny). Unlike the earlier Edmund, this one’s clever as well as conniving. The action often moves to Richmond Palace, where we see three new regular characters. Queen Elizabeth (Miranda Richardson) is a spoilt, petulant, child-like woman with violent mood swings. She’s always accompanied by her former nanny Nursie (Patsy Byrne) and the Lord Chamberlain, the toadying Lord Melchett (Stephen Fry).
Notable guests: In the opening episode, Gabrielle Glaister appears in the show for the first time – she plays Kate, a peasant woman who masquerades as a boy called Bob to get a job working for Blackadder. The same episode also features Rik Mayall in a swashbuckling cameo. His Lord Flashheart – a mixture of Errol Flynn, Captain Jack Sparrow and Alan B’Stard – is on screen for just 161 seconds, yet Mayall steals the episode lock, stock and barrel. Episode two features Bill Wallis as Ploppy the Jailor and Holly De Jong as Lady Farrow. The third episode has Simon Jones as an effete Sir Walter Raleigh and a barnstorming Tom Baker as useless – and legless – sea captain Redbeard Rum. Ronald Lacey is unrecognisable from Raiders of the Lost Ark as episode four’s odious Bishop of Bath and Wells. In the same story, Downton Abbey’s Lesley Nicol is in one scene as potential house-buyer Mrs Pants, while Philip Pope appears very briefly as renowned painter Leonardo Acropolis. Miriam Margolyes appears again, as episode five’s uptight Lady Whiteadder. And finally, Hugh Laurie plays two characters in this series: he’s an innuendo-obsessed boozer in episode five, then a speech-impaired master of disguise, Prince Ludwig the Indestructable, in episode six.
Episode one: Bells (9 January 1986). A destitute woman called Kate poses as a boy and starts working for Lord Blackadder. And he falls in love with her new persona, ‘Bob’…
* Needing money, Kate’s father suggests she becomes a prostitute. “Please go on the game! It’s a steady job and you’ll be working from home!”
* Blackadder asks if Percy’s new girlfriend is Jane ‘Bury Me In a Y-shaped Coffin’ Harrington.
* Every single time Rowan Atkinson says the word Bob.
* Nursie’s anecdote about a boy with no winkle.
* The doctor misunderstanding what Blackadder means by “my manservant”.
* “‘Yes, it is,’ not ‘That it be’. You don’t have to talk in that stupid voice to me. I’m not a tourist.”
* Nursie reveals that her real name is Bernard.
* Baldrick dressed as a bridesmaid – beard and all. Percy doesn’t recognise him and starts flirting.
* Rik Mayall. Everything Rik Mayall does. Smirks to camera, maniacal laughter, vulgarity, violence… He *owns* it.
Episode two: Head (16 January 1986). After the Lord High Executioner dies, Blackadder is given the job – but soon kills the wrong person…
* Blackadder tries to teach Baldrick how to count, which is a struggle. “To you, Baldrick,” he says at one point, “the Renaissance was just something that happened to other people…”
* Melchett’s shortlist of potential new executioners: just Lord Blackadder.* Blackadder meets his two new subordinates: Mr Ploppy and Mrs Ploppy – no relation.
* Baldrick reiterates that they’re “not at home to Mr Cock-up.”
* Blackadder has to impersonate Farrow. He puts a bag on his head, deepens his voice and pretends to have lost an arm so Farrow’s widow won’t twig. When he thinks she’s about to rumble him, Blackadder calls for Baldrick to come and help – and he arrives *just* as Lady Farrow is about to give her ‘husband’ a blowjob.
Episode three: Potato (23 January 1986). Sir Walter Raleigh has returned triumphant from a fortune-making voyage, so Blackadder resolves to out-do him…
* Percy says Mrs Miggins from the local pie shop is bedridden from the nose down.
* Melchett offers Blackadder a potato as if it were a cigarette.
* The Queen’s wandering monologue about her dreams: “And then I dreamt once I was a sausage roll…”
* “You have a woman’s hand, my lord!”, etc, etc.
* Rum accuses Blackadder of being a “lapdog to a slip of a girl.” Blackadder: “Better a lapdog to a slip of a girl than a… git.”
* The Queen’s self-written poem: “When the night is dark/And the dogs go bark. When the clouds are black/And the ducks go quack…”
* Melchett gives Blackadder a map for his voyage: it’s blank, so Blackadder will have to fill it in as he goes.
* “Oh, Sir Walter, really!”
* Speaking of a girlfriend, Percy says he’d “even touched her once.” Blackadder: “Touched her what?”
* “So… You don’t know the way to France either?”
* In a scene of Blackdder, Baldrick, Percy and Rum all arguing, Tom Baker is audibly just saying, “Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb.”
* Upon returning from the cannibal-infested south seas, Blackadder says the late Captain Rum was a third-rate sailor but a first-rate second course.
* Nursie wears Rum’s beard.
* When Melchett says he likes the wine Blackadder’s brought back to England – which is actually Baldrick’s piss – Blackadder assures him there’s an inexhaustible supply.
Episode four: Money (6 February 1986). Edmund must pay off a debt to the baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells…
* Blackadder says his father blew the family fortune on “wine, women and amateur dramatics.”
* Because his friend is in financial difficulties, Percy says he has some money hidden away. However, Blackadder admits he’s “seen it, pinched it, spent it.”
* In the midst of all his stress over cash, Blackadder has to keep travelling all the way to Richmond when summoned by the Queen. She’s only called for him to amuse herself. (Blackadder deadpans that he’s glad he’s wearing a corset because he thinks his sides have split.)
* Baldrick suggests that Blackadder go on the game to raise some money. Blackadder makes a tiny adjustment to the plan – cut to Baldrick down the docks and holding a sign that reads ‘Get it here’.
* Baldrick’s first punter wants to be talked to like a child, but then asks, “Now then, how much do you charge for a good, hard shag?”
* Nursie warns the Queen that Mr and Mrs Spank may pay a visit to Bottyland.
* Percy uses alchemy to create gold. Then Blackadder points out that it’s green, whereas the colour of gold is traditionally gold.
* Mr and Mrs Pants come to view Blackadder’s house when he wants to sell it. “You’ve really worked out your banter, haven’t you?” says the husband, impressed. “No, not really,” replies Blackadder. “This is a different thing. It’s more spontaneous and it’s called wit.” He then tells Mrs Pants that the house has “the very latest in front-wall, fresh-air orifice combined with a wide-capacity gutter installation below.” She asks, “You mean you crap out of the window?”
* Percy wears a broach made of “pure green”. Blackadder says it looks like he’s sneezed.
* The sight of Percy in his sadomasochism gear when Blackadder stages a scene to compromise the Bishop.
Episode five: Beer (13 February 1986). Blackadder’s puritanical and rich relatives, the Whiteadders, invite themselves round – on the same night that Blackadder’s hosting a drinking party…
* “Get the door,” orders Blackadder. Baldrick returns with it in his arms. “Baldrick, I would advise you to make the explanation you are about to give… phenomenally good.”
* When Blackadder fires him, Baldrick says he’s been in the family since 1532. “So’s syphilis,” says Blackadder.
* Nursie complains about the hungover Melchett’s “great and fruitsome flappy woof-woofs”.
* Blackadder needs some of Baldrick’s blood. Baldrick offers to cut off an arm. “No, a little prick should do,” says Blackadder.
* Baldrick and Percy get the giggles after finding a turnip shaped like a thingy. Baldrick says it’s ironic because he has a thingy shaped like a turnip.
* Lady Whiteadder slaps people if she doesn’t like what they say. Or if they have luxuries such as chairs.
* The fake breasts Blackadder and co wear while drinking. When he later forgets to remove his pair of what Lady Whiteadder calls “the devil’s dumplings”, he pretends they’re earmuffs.
* The Queen turns up to the party – but she’s in disguise, so Blackadder hides her in a cupboard.
* Lady Whiteadder says cold is God’s way of telling you to burn more Catholics.
* One of the revellers tells Blackadder it’s a “great booze-up” and Lady Whiteadder demands to know what he means. Blackadder has a think, which lasts a tantalising 16 seconds, then explains slowly: “My friend is a missionary, and on his last visit abroad he brought back with him the chief of a famous tribe. His name is Great Boo. He’s been suffering from sleeping sickness, and he’s obviously just woken. Because as you heard: Great Boo’s up.”
* A drunk Blackadder says he has an ostrich feather up his bottom because “Mr Ostrich put it there to keep in the little pixies.”
Episode six: Chains (20 February 1986). Blackadder and Melchett are kidnapped and held for ransom by a sadistic German prince called Ludwig…
* Baldrick says he heard an amusing story the other day. Blackadder says, “Oh, good,” then walks off.
* Blackadder is kidnapped in exactly the manner he’d just been ridiculing as being an obvious kidnap attempt.
* Held prisoner, Blackadder gets frustrated that the guard can’t understand him. “All right,” he says, defeated. “Let’s start with the basics. English is a non-inflected, Indo-European language derived from…”
* The Queen laments that Blackadder has vanished. “Like an old table,” agrees Percy. “Vanished, Lord Percy. Not varnished.”
* The prison guard and Blackadder play charades so the former can call the latter a “bastard son of a bitch.”
* “Oh, it’s a scythe!”
* Ludwig’s odd emphasis on certain words: “Please accept my apol-ogg-ees,” and so on.
* Ludwig reveals he used to pose as a waitress that Blackadder knew, Big Sally. “But I went to bed with you, didn’t I?” says Blackadder.
* While chained up, Melchett suggest a word game to kill the time. Blackadder challenges him to rearrange the words ‘face’, ‘sodding’, ‘your’ and ‘shut’.
* The Queen has a fancy-dress party and attends as her own father, Henry VIII.
* Ludwig claims he will wreak his “re-veng-ee”.
* Blackadder tells the Queen that life without her would be like a blunt pencil: pointless.
Best episode: Tough call. Maybe Beer, but all are hilarious.
Cunning: When Blackadder visits a wise woman in episode one, she says there are three cunning plans to solve his problem: kill Bob, kill himself or kill everyone. In episode four, Blackadder tells Baldrick he has a plan so cunning you could clean your teeth with it.
History: In reality, Elizabeth I reigned from 1558 to 1603. The series also namechecks explorers Christopher Columbus (c1450-1506) and Sir Francis Drake (c1540-1596), Lord High Chancellor Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), Queen Mary I (1516-1558), revolutionary Watt Tyler (died 1381), priest Martin Luther (1483-1546), Anne of Cleaves (1515-1557) and Cardinal Thomas Woolsey (1473-1530). Sir Walter Raleigh (c1554-1618) appears in Potato. The final episode is spoofing the Spanish Inquisition. In the opening ep, cross-dressing gags suggest Shakespearean conventions, and the Bard himself is mentioned by name a couple of times. In Beer, the Queen paraphrases the troop-rousing speech the real Elizabeth I gave on 9 August 1588 at Tilbury (“I have the body of a weak and feeble woman,” etc).
Review: After series one, the team made some huge changes. The setting was shifted up by a century or so; the lead character was made cleverer and more rakishly sexy; and out went the expensive location filming. (Other than the credit sequences, only one scene in the whole series was shot outside BBC Television Centre.) Perhaps most significantly, Rowan Atkinson stepped down from the role of co-writer and was replaced by Ben Elton, who was hot from The Young Ones and other key comedy shows of the era. It’s maybe a shame the studio sets have gone from spectacularly impressive to spectacularly pokey – seriously, Queen Elizabeth’s throne room is *tiny* – but most of these alterations help the show a great deal. Blackadder’s actions and dialogue are significantly funnier, and that’s because he’s both smarter and crueller – and Rowan Atkinson is world-class at razor-sharp sarcasm. Baldrick’s character has been shifted less. He’s not quite an imbecile, rather a man who’s had all his dignity and drive removed, but the master-and-servant dynamic is better now. Meanwhile, new regular Miranda Richardson is just knockout as the Queen. It’s a stunning performance: bonkers, deranged and amazingly inventive. In fact, all the ‘second level’ characters are much better than their series-one counterparts. (Percy continues to feel unnecessary, sadly.) There’s also notably less plotting than in The Black Adder – most episodes are set-up, gag, gag, gag, climax. Comedy rules. And there are more flashes of Young Ones-style cartoon violence, which can only be a good thing.
Nine tongues like an electric eel out of 10