Ever desperate to fill up the schedules in between Gladiators the folks at Britain's ITV, during the summer of 1997, broadcast this heap of outrageously bad cheeseball campness, albeit one with really rather high production values. It only lasted one series. It's not exactly difficult to see why, all things considered. But nevertheless, this brave noder, in his callow youth, sat through the entirety of every episode. Here is his belated account of this televisual aberration.
Let's start at the start, so to speak, with the exceedingly camp intro sequence. This consists of a man with an uncharacteristically deep voice performing a narration which would make those on Rhapsody albums seem like masterpieces of voice acting. "At the dawn of the third millennium, the Earth underwent a NEW ice age. ENTIRE CITIES were DESTROYED, but somehow, mankind survived..." Etc. etc. This was set to pictures of various landmarks being drenched in large amounts of snow in an unconvincing act of Chromakeying. Fade out, to reveal the host, the Ice Master, who, perched atop a large spiky snowmobile dressed sort of like the Kurgan from Highlander, would boom out something along the lines of, "WE COME NOT TO FIGHT, BUT TO EXCEL!!" And then the festivities would begin.
And what festivities. The premise was that teams of five pro ice skaters from various locations in the UK, including Slough, Nottingham, the Isle of Wight and Whitley Bay, would compete head to head against both another team of five from a different town and against the "Ice Warriors", who were a bunch of professional ice skaters clad in hilarious spiky costumes and huge flappy capes (though they sometimes removed these for the more contact-based events.) The Ice Warriors would have been scary, in the same way that black metallers might be a bit scary, and you wouldn't want to meet one in a dark alley (especially not the women), but they had sobriquets such as "Marax the Vixen," "Rax the Destroyer," "Krystor the Enchantress" and "Draygarr the Merciless" which detracted from the aura they attempted to project. Furthermore, when they were first introduced into the programme, the Warriors would hove into view against a frosty moonlit night, all shoulders and screen presence, while a spiky, ornate logo would appear beneath them and the voiceover bloke would say something about the Warrior in question: "Many come with dreams of conquest and victory. Many come to find that RAX has DESTROYED those dreams." Which further prevented people from taking the programme at all seriously.
Then there were the events. These were spectacular, but unimaginative, and all of them relied on ice-skating psychopaths charging into each other at high speed, or running around at high speed. After all, there's a limit to the amount of things one can do on ice skates. But here's a list, to the best of my recollection:
Zero Degrees. The contestant would zip round and round these markers, gaining points each time they successfully did so, while two Ice Warriors would spin a large log round at high speeds, capes flapping behind them, in an attempt to floor the contestant. It starts off amusing, but once you've seen the hapless competitor get thwacked to the floor for the 63,054,794,328th time it loses its shine.
Porcupine. Contestants work as a team to pass a yellow plastic frisbee between each other and dump it in the back of the Ice Master's snowmobile while the Warriors try to intercept it and chuck it back upfield.
Cresta Run. One person would sit inside a bobsled while the others would heave it down a ramp, propel it round a track, and then plunge it through a wall of polystyrene blocks. Scoring was something to do with how quickly one achieved this. They only played this one once, and it's not difficult to discern why.
Glacial Assault. A relay obstacle course on ice skates. Actually this was quite good, to be honest, even if they did it every week.
Chain Gang. A circuit race on ice skates. In a team. With everyone chained together. So if somebody fell over they brought the whole team with them.
Orbit. Erm... basketball... on ice skates... with a frisbee? They were obviously running out of creative steam.
Stretch. Tug of war. On ice skates. Are we seeing a pattern here?
Polar Pursuit. Ice warriors charge on ahead with red flags sticking out their backs. Contestants chase them and try to pluck the flags out. The winning team gets this as a "prize round" so to speak. In the final Rax the Destroyer had a gold flag sticking out his back and if it was plucked the team won the Mystery Star Prize.
Needless to say, the programme wasn't exactly easy to take seriously. Especially not the Ice Master. Here follows a transcript of part of any episode:
"THE NEXT CHALLENGE, IS PORCUPINE!"
"FIRST, THE TOWN OF NOTTINGHAM, FACING MY ICE WARRIORS, MORKA THE FIREBLADE, KRELL THE TORMENTOR, AND THORGON THE BEAST!!"
(Cue hoving-into-view sequence for any of those three worthies to which we've yet to be introduced.)
"LET THE CHALLENGE BEGIN!"
(Game is played.)
"I AWARD THE TOWN OF NOTTINGHAM - 70 CREDITS!!"
(Capitals are intentional. He spoke entirely in capitals, if you know what I mean.)
Bear in mind he said all this standing atop a sculpture of a sabre-toothed tiger wearing a costume that certain power metal bands would be unashamed to have as part of their stage show, and you'll see why he was so maligned. Neither he nor the host, Dani Behr, have really been seen that much since, actually. And after this, I cannot say I'm surprised.
So, what went wrong with it? It had a lovely set (which cost £1.5 million), an amusing premise, and a huge budget. Well, if you ask me, it's the fact that it's all on ice skates. Gladiators worked because the events were quirky and fun-looking, as well as full of people running into each other. And it was down-to-earth and wittily commentated (Note: this last comment does NOT apply to American Gladiators). Ice Warriors' events were limited by the fact that it was on an ice rink. You can't climb things wearing skates. Nor is there any point engaging in any combative events really either. So that limits one's options to charging around at high speed, or running into each other. At high speed. No wonder the viewers switched off in their droves.
In short, it made the same mistake as Scavengers before it - it blew most of its budget on flashy sets and eye-candy and spent not enough time thinking over the content of the programme.
Incidentally, brave souls who are interested may be able to catch repeats of this show on Challenge TV every so often.
Update - February 9, 2009 - Want to see some of this so-bad-it's-good programme? Dinner is served.