Here’s one that’s been doing the rounds lately – a full, decent-quality (in technical terms at least) episode of Cyberzone has recently been uploaded to YouTube by Red Dwarf fan Chris Toone. The short-lived virtual reality game show was notable for several reasons. It was a new format from the brain of Tim Child and his production company Broadsword, in the same vein as their technologically-groundbreaking and hugely entertaining Knightmare. Cyberzone only duplicated that success in one regard, but it will always have its place in fandom folklore thanks to the presenting style of one Craig Charles, who adopted Hattie’s cry of “awooga” from Marooned as a catchphrase, which was in turn “borrowed” by footballer-turned-presenter John Fashanu – a guest on the first episode of the series – as his own catchphrase on the much more popular Gladiators.
The show saw Craig as the “Zone Warden”, guiding two competing teams of two through a series of virtual reality challenges set by arch-villain Thesp, a hybrid of the GamesMaster and Knightmare‘s Lord Fear, played by James Grout. One team comprised two members of the public, taking on a pair of sportspeople, in this case world rally champions Louise Aitken-Walker and Tina Thorner, in the second episode of the series, aired 11th January 1993:
Yeah, it’s not very good, is it? Craig does the best he can to add a little oomph with a presenting style not too different from his later Robot Wars stint, only with added awoogas that soon became irritating. The games are extremely repetitive; each round consists of distinctly themed but fundamentally similar environments (calling the urban one “Cyberswindon” made me chuckle), with teams navigating from room-to-room, solving puzzles to win points as they go. The first two rounds give the teams a go each at racking up as many points as they can, while their opponents also navigate the level in a big virtual vehicle, attempting to block and hinder their progress, although in practice this adds very little, as there’s minimal impact on the gameplay. The big finale adds the exciting twist of having both teams competing for points simultaneously, at the cost of making it even more difficult to follow.
It’s fair to say that the admirable ambition of the series was not matched by the technology of the time, with the blocky, textureless graphics and painfully slow frame-rate resulting in a frustrating watch. The games were dreadfully limited by the players only being able to walk or interact, not both at the same time. As a result, most of the “puzzles” weren’t particularly puzzling, just a series of straight-forward but time-consuming actions to complete. Although there is a brief round of Play Your Cards Right at one point, which perks things up a bit.
On the plus side, this particular episode does manage to conjure up a fairly exciting finale, and the Red Dwarf influence is just about enough to hold the interest. As well as Craig, the lighting and set design were by John Pomphrey and Mel Bibby respectively, giving the studio sections a cosily familiar style. As indeed does this particular outfit choice by a random member of the audience, as glimpsed just before the 17-minute mark:
Sadly, this show was just too far ahead of its time, but maybe there’s a place for it on TV in 2019, now that the technology has caught up with the concept. After all, there are clear parallels to be drawn with this recent Crystal Maze game. Just imagine how angry Gemma Collins would have been if she’d have had to deal with Craig Charles shouting “awooga” every two minutes as well.