Children of the Dog Star LogoA six-part science fiction thriller for children by Television New Zealand which screened at 6.00pm on Sunday evening.

On holiday at her uncle's farm in New Zealand, Gretchen befriends Ronny, a Maori boy with a troubled city past, and Bevis the birdwatching son of a loathed developer. Tension is already high as the developer wants to buy and drain a local swamp for a housing estate, but Ronny's uncle is the guardian of a traditional Maori tapu (taboo/curse) upon the swamp. The swamp must not be touched—something sleeps there that must not be awakened. Something unnatural.

Gradually, the children discover the pieces of an ancient alien space probe named Kolob. During the series they assemble the missing parts and strange things start to happen. The probe was one of three sent to earth to educate the human race in science.

Sarah Dunn as Gretchen Kierney
Jason Wallace as Ronny Kepa
Hamish Bartle as Bevis Elliott
Roy Billing as Donald Kierney
Susan Wilson as Kathleen Kierney
Catherine Wilkin as Helen Elliott
Raymond Hawthorne as Herbert Mitchell

Writer: Ken Catran
Producer: Caterina De Nave
Director: Chris Bailey

Episodes

(1) ThChildren of the Dog Star aliene Brass Daisy (8 Sep. 1984): Twelve-year-old Gretchen comes to stay on her uncle's farm for the holidays, but shortly after her arrival strange things start happening.

(2) Power Stop: (15 Sep. 1984) Gretchen knows there's something very mysterious about the brass daisy on top of the barn and she's determined to find out what it is.

(3) Swamp Light (22 Sep. 1984). Unexplained events are affecting the whole community of Wakaatua, and Ronny starts to get scared.

(4) Alien Summons (29 Sep. 1984): Bevis has gone missing and both Gretchen and Ronny realise the danger they are all in.

(5) Kolob (6 Oct. 1984) Gretchen has reached the source of the strange power and starts to learn it's secrets.

(6 - Final) Alien Contact (13 Oct. 1984): Ronny and Gretchen are forced to act when the alien power threatens to overwhelm them.

It came from the swamp

The new sci-fi thriller Children of the Dog Star brings by the kidult audience tales from another star.

by Diana Alpers

From the NZ Listener, September 8, 1984

Gretchen and Ronny: Called by strange whisperings
Gretchen and Ronny: Called by strange whisperings.

NOT SUCH a long time ago, in a swamp not so far away (say somewhere near Patumahoe), three children met by chance, didn't much like each other, solved a mystery and became friends.

If this sounds a little like Five on Finniston Farm, don't panic. Television New Zealand's latest assault on the "kidult" audience has its feet in the mud and its head firmly in the stars - in particular Sirius the Dog Star, and its faint white companion Sirius B.

To the ancient Greeks, Sirius was Orion's dog; to the Maori it was a navigational aid and the Watchdog of the Forest. In Children of the Dog Star, TVNZ's new six-part serial, it's the home of some very powerful personalities with a strong interest in the planet Earth.

Writer Ken Catran and director Chris Bailey, who brought you those other local aliens in Under the Mountain, got together again for Children of the Dog Star. This time, instead of slimy monsters under a sleeping volcano we have strange whisperings from an odd weathervane on top of an old barn in South Auckland and, deep in the nearby swamp, something begins to stir . . . .

Local television is after an audience that cut its teeth on multi-million dollar fantasy extravaganzas, but producer Caterina De Nave wasn't out to compete. Dog Star is a thriller that happens to be science fiction. It's about the discovery of things, the trouble the three kids get into when they discover them, put them back together and the final, cliff-hanging result of all that.

Limited resources can breed elegant solutions to the problems or, as Bailey valiantly puts it, the challenges of creatmg high adventure on a (relatively) small budget. De Nave has no illusions: The famous shots of the big starship coming overhead in the cinema look really stupid on the small screen.

But in this production, less is more. A very close-knit production team came up with a concept as original as the storyline. The special effects team analysed Star Wars for techniques but applied them to effects that get their impact from the intrusion of the awesome upon the very ordinary. Graphics designer Daryll White decided to avoid that Christmas tree, video arcade look so prevalent in sci-fi movies and TV shows. He went for a consistent use of blue and white to achieve a cooler, more classic look. Composer Matthew Brown was_ brought in early to capture the moody blue atmosphere in an eerie unforgettable theme.

This is very classy stuff That, thats what it takes these days to court an increaslingly important and discerning youth audience. making "kidult" programmes is no easy option, says Baile. You should never underestimate kids, They's very very hard critics - probably bigger critics than adults. De Navy agrees. The kid-in-the-street is more sophisticated these days They want to know everthing everything about everythin today thank you!

De Nave knows the audience she is after. Her work has covered the field, from Play School and Spot On to Close to Home and Pioneer Women. The characters she has to work with in Children of the Dog Star reflect the diversity and complexity of computer-age kids and the bemusement of their parents. The "baddies" in this production are adults who spend their time doing What adults do best - squabbling over money and bits of land. Even the benign grownups are never quite up with the play. For Gretchen's Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Donald, it could well be the kids who are the aliens.

Gretchen, played by 12-year-old Sarah Dunn, lugs a $2000 telescope towards her dream of becoming an astrophysicist and woman-in-space. Jason Wallace plays street-wise Ronny, who's on his 10-speed when he's not defying the laws of probability on the town's one and only video game. Bevis, played by Hamish Bartle, is heavily into bird calls.

He trails around after his distracted, land speculating mum festooned with high-tech? recording equipment.

Catran's screenplay has far-reaching designs on its audience. I'd like to think that some children will watch Children of the Dog Star and then go away and be interested in the heavens after that.

Dog Star will give the dreamy-eyes a lot to go on, for at the heart of the story is a stranger-than-fiction legend. The Dogon tribe of Africa apparently knew the density and orbit of Sirius B hundreds of Years before Western technology caught up with it in 1950. And Dogon legands tell of visits from extraterrestrial "fishermen in shining eggs"... the farm in little Wakaatua becomes the site for some powerful forces, old and new, and no ammount of cool can help the children with the awful decision they have to make....

A very experienced cast of adults including Susan Wilson (Gliding On), Roy Billing. Catherinee Wilkin and Zac Wallace (Utu), took mosquitoes, mud and the young scene-stealers in their stride. But working with children highlighted, for the crew, different kinds of relationships and responsibilities. There were some real family relationships on the set: Sarah Dunn's mother, actress Shirley Duke, was dialogue-coach and chaperone. Zac and Jason Wallace - in real life father and son - play uncle and nephew. Did Zac Wallace find the uncle/nephew relationship realistic? We made it real. We switched off our life roles but deep down we were still father and son.

The family feeling carried over between the children and the core of the production team. They went through a lot together, including some flashy stunts: all three kids end up at one stage in the mud. Hamish Bartle found himself propelled into a swamp at 3am;

The crew took their responsibilities seriously. Safety was paramount, but there were other considerations. I wouldn't like to be thrown into a swamp at any time of the day. You've got to provide a really secure environment at a time like that, says De Nave.

The children still pop in for a chat and all agree that the crew was just lovely and neat. The feelings are mutual, says Bailey. The kids, I really miss them now- They were almost family in a way.

Other aspects of Dog Star should also be ongoing. The English company Thames Television co-produced, so there should be overseas sales. Hodder & Stoughton, in association with TVNZ Enterprises, is bringing out the book-of-the-film, by children's author Marie Stuttard, who with Ken Catran devised the ideas for the series.

The almost unbelievably harmonious atmosphere surrounding this production may owe something to the story. Catran was out to avoid a knock 'em down, drag 'em out adventure story. He wanted to write about modern children and three very separate individuals as well. It takes all three children, with their very different points of view, to put together the pieces of the puzzle and to deal with the situation they help to create. And he's in no doubt that his audience will be able to handle the issues his story raises: They know more about the world than I do.

But modern issues and modern audience aside, Catran is also aware that he's dealing with an old, old fable. Gretchen the astronomer and the computer expert is presented with her dream - a machine with inexhaustible knowledge. You'll have to see what happens to Gretchen, Ronny and Bevis to find out the cost of such a dream.

For the young audience the show is after - and their folks - Children of The Dog Star should stretch more than Just imaginations. It makes of its "old, old fable" something challenging and new.

Novelization

Children of the Dog Star bookPublished 1984 121 pages with some colour pictures
Twelve-year-old Gretchen has a passion for science and a talent for all things mechanical, which is why the strange old brass 'weathervane' on her uncle's farm fascinates her. But the brass daisyrod has a complex and terrifying significance, and Gretchen and her new friend Ronny discover its links with the far-distant Sirius, the Dog Star. This exciting science fiction story tells how in primeval times three remote-controlled probes were sent to earth from the Dog Star. When Gretchen, Ronny and young Bevis the bird-watcher uncover the evidence of one of these probes, they put a whole town in peril in their daring search for knowledge.
An eerie and enthralling tale for children from 8 years old, based on the six-part series released by Television New Zealand

 

DVD

Hidden away in a unreadable frame on the TVNZ dvd page at the time of release:

DVD Cover
Buy now from Real Groovy

A second release from TVNZ Classics - Children of the Dog Star. If you enjoyed Under the Mountain, then you will want to see this 1984 science fiction thriller for children.

The adventure starts with 12 year old Gretchen who comes to stay on her uncle's farm for the holidays, but shortly after her arrival strange things start to happen.

Gretchen has a passion for science and a talent for all things mechanical, which is why the old brass weathervane ("the daisy rod") fascinates her. But the brass daisy rod has a complex and terrifying significance, and Gretchen and her new friend Ronny discover its links with the far distant Sirius, the Dog Star.

This much loved classic TVNZ series is now available for the first time and will be out in time for the holidays in July 09. Written by Ken Catran, the programme won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival as well as the New Zealand Feltex 1984 Best Drama Award. (Releasing July 09)

 Agents listing - So you can tell your local TV station who to contact when you suggest they screen it.

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