Production wrapped two months ahead of schedule, so creator Roberta Leigh was able to contract a second series of 26 episodes. Director Gerry Anderson departed, leaving Leigh with sole ownership of the property. Fearing she would become furious and withhold payments due, Anderson secretly went to work on his own puppet show, Four Feather Falls (1960). "Torchy" had aired biweekly throughout 1959 in the Midlands, but it didn't air in London until February 1960, debuting mere days before "Four Feather Falls" hit the airwaves. See more »
I wish I had a little boy of my own that would help me. Oh, I've a wonderful idea. I'll make a toy-boy.
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Torchy is a little doll who runs on batteries, with a flashlight (or torch) on his hat, which provides him various magical insights. He spends his days rocketing back and forth from earth, visiting his Geppetto-like creator, and Topsy Turvy Land, a magical world on a nearby star where all of the toys who were abused by their owners reside. He occasionally returns to Topsy Turvy Land with naughty children in tow to teach them lessons about behaving.
One of the greatest strengths of the first series is that it's serialized, with one episode picking up right where the previous one left off. Despite some minor continuity errors, it flows well, picks up new characters along the way, and features genuine character development (which is an oddity in a kiddie show!). For example, the deliciously bratty Bossy Boots gets what's coming to her, and although she backslides into her selfish ways, she tries to be a better person. I began watching the show for yuks, but I gradually found myself charmed by the ongoing saga.
Frankly, I don't know that much about Gerry Anderson (I only saw the Thunderbirds movie once when I was a lad), and I was aware he left for series two, but I was unprepared for the immediate deterioration of quality - and it's not just the puppet work that I'm talking about either (although that's not nearly as good in the second series). I'm assuming that Anderson and company were able to reign in writer Roberta Leigh, but once she was left alone at the helm, the show degraded into a meandering mess.
Series two has no linear continuity, and a couple of the stories seem to be placed between events from the first. That would be okay if they were telling quality stories, but the tales consistently take a backseat to Leigh's songs (which weren't so hot to begin with) and rehashed material. There was a pervading sense of sadness and isolation throughout the first series, but it's amplified tenfold in the second.
And then there's the recycling. Following the obnoxious earworm of a theme song (which even got stuck in Paul McCartney's head during the recording sessions for the Beatles' "Get Back"), series two features a recap of the plot in every episode. This seemed mostly like a way to pad the already-short running time. The first series had one song per show, but the second often has numerous tunes. I eventually lost count of how many times they used the EXACT same footage of Flopsy singing "Topsy Turvy Land" on the beach, but by the fourth time, I was rooting for the tide to drag the shrill little dolly away her away to her death.
I'm guessing that these stories hold up much better on the written page, and I think it's a shame that Leigh's tie-in storybook adaptations have been out of print for more than half a century. The show does have its charms (even at times in series two), but it's a product of a much more innocent era, which isn't apt to have enormous appeal for youngsters of today.
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