The Crystal Maze (Channel 4, 1990-1995)
This is one of the all-time great game shows, and it’s one of the best things that Channel 4 have ever done. It doesn’t need much explanation from me what it was all about, but I’d still like to share my memories because it was a classic.
Every week six people who didn’t know one another beforehand combined to take on the challenges of The Crystal Maze by going through the various timezones and playing a variety of games. In the earliest series these were Aztec, Futuristic, Medieval and Industrial (which was later replaced by Ocean). They all had their own distinctive look and were very well designed, and entering the maze was a challenge in itself.
The team captain then nominates one of the contestants to play a game which is one of four categories, physical, skill, mental or mystery, where they have to solve the puzzle in a time limit of between two and three minute. Of course, this caused many memorable moments as the contestants struggled while time ticked away and they weren’t particularly helped by their teammates.
Like The Krypton Factor, all the contestants seemed to be computer programmers, seeingly because being good with words and numbers would mean they had impressive puzzle solving skills, but this wasn’t always clear with some of them. If they ran out of time they would be locked in, and rescuing them would cost a crystal, so it was always a difficult decision for the captain.
If they did complete the challenge though, they won the crystal which was worth five coveted seconds of time. After every timezone had been visited and three or four games had been played in each of them, it was then time to run to the Crystal Dome for the final challenge! The team had to use the time that they had accumulated to collect tokens. They had to get the gold ones because they were worth +1 point, and avoid the silver ones because they were worth -1 point.
This challenge was made even more difficult by all the tokens being blown around. If they had collected enough gold tokens and scored over 100 after the silver ones were deducted, they then won the superduper star prize, which was usually an adventure day out! If not, they took away a consolation crystal which is still something worth having.
25 years after it began, The Crystal Maze is still very fondly remembered by many people, and here’s why. First of all the idea was very ambitious and realised very successfully, with the maze being very expensive and in one of the biggest TV studios in Europe. Also, lots of people wanted to take part and show off their skills, but they usually just fell in a pool of water instead.
And of course we can’t forget the first host of the show, Richard O’Brien. His style was wonderfully entertaining, including playing the harmonica at inappropriate moments, telling daft stories, and talking to his mumsie who lived in the Medieval zone. After he left at the end of the fourth series it just wasn’t the same for some people, but his replacement Ed Tudor-Pole hosted the final two series in a similarly eccentric style.
Another good thing was the Christmas specials, these featured child contestants, as far as I know there were never any celebrity specials. The Crystal Maze was a hour long and hugely popular for six series, winning some awards and being repeated frequently on Channel 4, and more recently on Challenge. There was also some merchandise released, including a VHS, a book, and a game. It is still a delight to watch and it has been often rumoured that there will be a revival, but it probably won’t be the same.