Blackadder: Back & Forth (1999, Paul Welland)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Cast: Rowan Atkinson plays a modern-day Lord Blackadder (later King Edmund III), while Tony Robinson plays his manservant, Baldrick. They also appear as Roman equivalents: Centurion Blaccadius and Legionary Baldricus. Blackadder’s dinner-party guests are played by former regulars Tim McInnerny (as Archdeacon Darling), Miranda Richardson (Lady Elizabeth), Stephen Fry (Archbishop Melchett) and Hugh Laurie (Major George). The four actors also appear as various historical ancestors – McInnerny is always said to be a member of the Darling dynasty rather than a relative of the Lord Percys from earlier episodes. Patsy Byrne is in the Elizabethan segment, reprising Nursie from series two. Colin Firth shows up playing William Shakespeare, Simon Russell Beale as Napoleon. Rik Mayall appears as a very Lord Flashheart-like Robin Hood, while Kate Moss pushes the definition of acting to cameo as both Maid Marian and the Queen in an alternative 1999. Jennie Bond, then the BBC’s royal correspondent, plays herself in voiceover.

Best gags:

On 31 December 1999, Lord Blackadder plans on conning his friends into thinking he can travel through time. However, manservant Baldrick has built the time-machine prop so convincingly, they actually get sent into the past…
* Blackadder meets Shakespeare, gets his autograph, and then punches him to the ground as revenge for 400 years’ worth of bored school kids.
* Robin Hood: “Well, well, what have we here, my tough band of freedom fighters who have good muscle tone and aren’t gay?”

Cunning: When all looks desperate and it seems he and Blackadder are fated to be lost in time, Baldrick declares he has a cunning plan: deliberately drown himself so his life will flash before his eyes and he can recall where the time machine’s setting need to be. Later, Blackadder says he has a very, very cunning plan: change history for his own selfish benefit.

History: The sketch-show format sees Blackadder and Baldrick briskly visit the time of the dinosaurs, the Elizabethan court (ie, the setting of Blackadder II), the far future, the Sherwood Forest of the 12th century, the Battle of Waterloo (1815) and Roman Britain (AD 43-410). The time machine is built to specifications written by Leonardo di Vinci (1452-1519). The Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) is in the Waterloo sequence – he’s played by Stephen Fry, who sadly goes for a blander characterisation than in series three. Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821) and Emperor Hadrian (AD 76-138) also crop up.

Review: Sigh. What a flat ending. This 45-minute special has a strange providence. It was commissioned to be shown in the then-new Millennium Dome from 6 December 1999 and throughout the year 2000, and only later shown on television (on Sky in 2001, on BBC1 on 21 April 2002). Perhaps this explains why it feels so designed-by-committee. Not so much a comedy, more an exercise in box-ticking. All the big regulars pop up, there’s puerile humour and fancy location filming. But being shot single-camera with no studio audience gives it a very strange tone. It’s superficially similar to a comedy, but gags about Baldrick’s smelly underpants are played to stony silence.

Five large orange hedges out of 10

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