Tuesday 28 June 2022


It’s easy to name iconic British sci-fi shows from 1980s; almost instantly, your average TV fan can pluck titles such as Doctor Who, The Day of the Triffids and The Tripods from the air. Readers of this blog, meanwhile, can also name programmes such as Captain Zed – Space Detective, Kinvig, Star Cops and Galloping Galaxies. But Whizz? What on earth, you may ask, is that? Well, it may not be iconic, but it’s British, it’s sci-fi, it's from bang in the middle of the 1980s and it has a cracking theme tune to boot.

C-3PO may be one of the most eye-catching droids in history, but Whizz (Kate Copstick) certainly comes a close second. With her neon pink electronic mohawk, matching body plates and sparkly black bodysuit, Whizz is one of a kind. Blessed with a Cockney accent, despite hailing from the galactic home-base, Whizz’s raison d’etre appears to be playing games and, uh, whizzing about (thanks to mid-1980s BBC video effects). These games take place on the space-place, where Whizz is joined by Voice (Robin Stevens), a sentient computer who can boast a BBC Micro keyboard as part of his high-tech specs. Shortly after Whizz’s first visit to the space-place, a package is delivered which contains Bug, a worm-styled puppet with a similar thirst to Whizz for solving puzzles.

The games contained within Whizz may not be as fiendish as The Times crossword, but there’s plenty to challenge younger minds. The very first game to be put before Whizz is a relatively simple memory game: Voice challenges Whizz to note where pieces of the space-place equipment have been moved to between two scenes. Memory puzzles are a common occurrence, with Whizz having to remember the patterns in which a series of ‘space shapes’ flash up and recalling a ‘space scene’ by filling in blank spaces in a grid. A more curious game finds Whizz ordering a gyrating puppet crater to move around the floor and catch meteors. Finally, each episode ends with an Earth Search puzzle for Whizz to ponder between each episode.

The 13 episodes of Whizz were broadcast in 1985, when my earliest memories of children’s television were being consolidated, but it’s not one I remember in any way, shape or form. Nonetheless, three decades on, it made its way onto my radar and I managed to watch a couple of episodes just before Covid-19 shut everything down. Later on, I also found an episode lurking on YouTube, so I had enough of an inkling of the show’s essence to write a short piece on it.

First things first, it looks fantastic. Well, at least, it looks as fantastic as it could for the era and the budgetary confines of children’s television. Whizz, herself, wouldn’t look out of place as a minor character in a Colin Baker-era Doctor Who serial, and this is meant as a compliment – quiet, you at the back. The space-place, too, is blessed with fine aesthetics, benefitting from a minimalist black backdrop which is gently accented by flashing lights, all very Tron. Voice, meanwhile, is a refined take on Chock-a-Block, but hasn’t dated well and screams 1980s supercomputer on a budget.

The games served up in Whizz are a decent mixture, all keeping to a space theme, but a problem does arise through a number of them being far from interactive. The bizarre ‘gyrating crater’ game, for example, moves the young viewers to the sidelines as Whizz enjoys the frenetic action. It’s a small sticking point, with the majority of the games avoiding this, but it’s something which always gets my goat up. Moving on, and back into visual territory, the graphics used in the games of Whizz are a mixture of typical-of-the-era 8-bit graphics alongside some nicely rendered 16-bit graphics, which feels a little futuristic for the BBC in 1985. Challenge wise, the games are far from taxing, and they’re a little too simple for a 3.55pm audience, so the scheduling feels a little off in that respect.

Despite any shortcomings in the intellectual stimulation stakes, Whizz powers through its episodes thanks to the charm of Kate Copstick. One of the lesser known stalwarts of children’s television in the 1980s and 1990s, Copstick inhabits Whizz with a wonderful cockney verve which prevents any lulls in energy between the games. It’s also important to point out that Copstick performs the remarkable theme tune. So remarkable, in fact, that it managed to receive a BBC Records release, not a surprise when you discover that the composer was Peter Gosling (see Chock-a-Block).

In terms of what Whizz adds to the overflowing riches of 1980s British sci-fi, there’s not too much aside from some nice visuals and the marvellous theme tune. It clearly struggled to connect with the audience at the time, hence the lack of recall from so many, but I put this down to the scheduling. It feels like a programme for younger viewers, and would have been received better in the lunchtime SeeSaw slot. A little variety, too, wouldn’t have gone amiss. The focus is almost primarily on playing games when Whizz, as a character, has plenty to add – as evidenced by the delightfully trippy ‘crystal quartz time coder’ segment where she travels through time and meets a toy Ewok.

However, regardless of any mild criticisms, it’s a bite-sized slice of sci-fi fun and represents yet another curiosity we can tick off our extensive lists.

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