A Look Back At Blackadder Back and Forth

After recent rumours surrounding a Blackadder revival, some of the most bizarre including Russell Brand also starring, Ben Elton has set the record straight, telling The Sun: “There is never going to be another — I can tell you that now.”

Ben’s insistence over Blackadder’s fate is sparked by the reception of the one-off specials, aired around the time of the millennium, which he describes as “semi-half arsed revivals” that were “s***.”

This quote is indirectly referring to Blackadder Back and Forth, the time-travelling caper that saw a modern-day Blackadder and Baldrick travel back in time, where they end up wiping out the dinosaurs with Baldrick’s pants and squashing the Duke of Wellington by accidentally landing their time machine on him. But why has Ben described it as s**t?

This reunion saw the entire Blackadder cast reprise their roles (or different incarnations of their roles). The half-hour-long special has a confusing history, regarding who it was made for, and even when and where it was initially broadcast.

The BBC claimed the entire cast only agreed to make the special with the thought that it would premier on BBC1. However, Sky, who had been part of the deal to screen it at the Millennium Dome, claimed that they had exclusive rights and blocked the BBC from screening it. According to Wikipedia,

The film was shown at the 'SkyScape' cinema eight times a day throughout the celebratory year 2000, after which it was aired on television, first on Sky One in 2001[9] and then on BBC One, where it was scheduled to be shown on Easter Sunday in 2002, but was postponed until 21 April because of the death of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

I’m a little confused about this, because I have a strong memory of watching it premiere at Christmas. I guess I’m misremembering, or remembering a Christmas broadcast a few years later. Anyway, the original broadcast version apparently had a laughter track, whereas the DVD (released by Sky), doubtless the version we are all most familiar with, didn’t. I certainly haven’t been able to find a copy of Back and Forth with the laughter track.

That might have been part of the problem. In my opinion, there’s not much worse you can do for a beloved sitcom with an audience laughter track than strip it of one. We’ve seen it with Red Dwarf, Only Fools and Horses, Porridge and Dad’s Army – it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the films, it’s just that the lack of audience laughter on something that we are so familiar with having it feels really weird.

Much like Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, the structure of Back and Forth used a storytelling device to enable us to visit different time periods, and different Blackadder and Baldrick incarnations. This time, it was a literal time machine, rather than visions from a Christmas ghost to give us an excuse to view little skits in Blackadder’s past. But, with the exception of Blackadder II where the modern day Blackadder came face to face with Queen Elizabeth II, and tried to give her a Tesco Clubcard, we didn’t actually see any of the other Blackadder eras.

Rik Mayall made a much welcomed return, but this time he was Robin Hood, which seemed like a great idea, but, in retrospect, it may have been better to have had Flash back. Also, while not touching Blackadder Goes Forth was only right, it might have been nice to have seen the Prince Regent again, especially as Hugh Laurie was in this reunion - but maybe this would have muddled things up too much with Blackadder’s Christmas Carol.

The plot involves a present-day Blackadder and Baldrick who are hosting a New Year’s Eve party featuring some familiar faces (Stephen Fry, Miranda Richardson and Tim McInnerny playing modern day incarnations of their previous Blackadder characters). Blackadder decides to con his unsuspecting (and slightly dim witted) guests by pretending he has invented a time machine and offering to bring them back an historical artefact of their choosing.

This goes wrong when Blackadder and Baldrick discover that after following Leonardo da Vinci’s instructions to the letter, Baldrick has actually managed to build a working time machine. This leads to them actually trying to find the real historical artefacts, rather than passing off fakes (which was their original plan). They attempt to do all this, whilst trying to work out how to get home and prevent changing the course of history.

Whether it’s due to a simple case of confusing distribution rights, or just that people didn’t respond particularly well to this spin-off, I have never seen this special repeated (certainly not in recent years, after the initial broadcast confusion).

I asked around in the Blackadder fan groups for a bit of feedback on the special, as there’s a surprising lack of information or discussion about it online. A few of the comments that kept coming up were that it jumped around too much, and the humour felt more visual than wordy. I can see these issues, but as a reunion, and a Christmas special, I always thought that Blackadder Back and Forth was brilliant. Ultimately though, I can understand why people didn’t want Blackadder’s legacy damaged.

In a relatively recent documentary, the way in which Blackadder as a whole ended was focused around Blackadder Goes Forth's iconic ending, whilst only a line of narration mentioned Back and Forth. I suppose it’s only right and proper that Blackadder ended where it did – with the poppy fields.

Having said that, Back and Forth is by no means a disgrace to the Blackadder legacy, and there’s one thing I think we can all agree on: it had the best Blackadder theme song of all time…

Written by Rhianna Evans

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