Maid Marian and Her Merry Men
The Complete Series Two

Starring: Kate Lonergan, Wayne Morris, Tony Robinson and Danny John-Jules
RRP: 16.99
Certificate: U
Available 24 July 2006

Who steals from the rich to give to the poor? Who is the last bastion of truth, freedom and goodness for the peasants? Who really gets up the Sheriff of Nottingham's nose?. Robin of Sherwood? No, contrary to popular belief, it was Marian who led the merry men. In the continuing saga of Tony Robinson's
Maid Marian series, we find the forest dwelling troupe getting into more scrapes and blunders to do good for the people of Worksop. Backed up by 'thick-as-a-brick' Rabies, aptly named Little Ron, and Rastafarian Barrington, (oh, and Robin), Marian tackles the might of Evil King John and the mischief of the Sheriff of Nottingham...

Following on from the release of The Complete Series One, Eureka Entertainment now present us with 1990's second series of Tony Robinson's historical(ish) comedy. These six episodes (and indeed all subsequent series) were, almost unbelievably, never previously released on any format, and so this 2-disc DVD set is long, long overdue. The second series sees the welcome return of all the regular cast, as Marian's gang of freedom-fighting misfits continue to help the peasants of Worksop fight the tyranny of King John and his right-hand man, the Sheriff of Nottingham, played to greasy perfection by Robinson himself.

The cast ensemble has grown somewhat since the first series though, and we have new characters embroiled within the comedy conflicts such as Rose Scargill (Marian's treacherous former best friend and now Robin Hood's biggest fan) and Guy of Gisbourne (King John's utterly useless and wet-behind-the-ears nephew, who is forced to stay with the very reluctant King).

Whilst it's nice to see such a large and lively cast of characters, this season's cast growth does have a small detrimental effect on some of the original regulars. In particular, the introduction of the incredibly silly Guy of Gisbourne into the King John household seems to reduce the roles of the undisputed stars of the show, Gary and Graeme, the King's brilliantly bumbling guards.

The sheer wetness of Guy does begin to grate after a short while, and it's a shame that the character couldn't have been a little more 'semi-regular', allowing the superb comic timing of the Guards a bit more room to breathe. Another noticeable difference between this series and the first is the increasingly frequent use of anachronisms and satire. Whilst the first series remained pretty faithful to its historical setting, the second series begins to veer into the modern world with plenty of contemporary references and clear political satire. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as many of the cultural allusions are so sharply written and downright funny (as well as being a strong pointer to the show's future direction) although it does detract a little from the deep-rooted wholesome magic that embodied the first series.

Nevertheless, these discs contain six more charming, witty and captivating episodes of one of the best children's series ever made, and it's great to finally have them on DVD. The Worksop Egg Fairy is a classic example of the show, as the ignorant villagers struggle to come to terms with the concept of a chicken, much to Marian's increasing frustration. The Beast Of Bolsover (a clear reference to Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover) sees a rival gang of outlaws attempt a take-over of Sherwood Forest, whilst the series is rounded off with something of an 'epic' - Rotten Rose is, uniquely, a two-part Maid Marian story and sees the gang in real trouble, as both Marian and Robin are finally captured by the Sheriff and face imminent execution.

It's good to see a marked improvement on the special features too. The Complete Series One was let down slightly by having Tony Robinson provide a solo commentary for just one episode. This time round, not only do we have commentaries for two whole episodes, but we even have some new participants - Robinson is joined by the director, the costume designer and the make-up artist (stop yawning at the back) for The Beast Of Bolsover, whilst Little Brown Noses features a much more banterous and heart-warming commentary with director David Bell, Howard Lew Lewis (Rabies), David Lloyd (Graeme) and Mike Edmonds (Little Ron).

Also included in this package is another fun mini-comic, a simple but quite slick Hunt The Chicken interactive game and a rare chance to view an Internal Trailer in which Robinson and the gang try to convince the BBC sales team to get behind a new range of Maid Marian books - it's actually quite intriguing to watch this special material, originally intended for BBC eyes only.

This step up in the presentation is worthy of such a truly vintage children's comedy classic and bodes well for future releases of the later seasons. Roll on Series Three.

Danny Salter

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