In what seems to be the year for the land of endless remakes, prequels or revivals, Channel 4 in the UK has confirmed that the great Stephen Merchant will present a special celebrity edition of the 1990s game show, The Crystal Maze. A special one-off episode will be broadcast as part of Channel 4‘s Stand Up To Cancer night later this year. This is huge. I loved this series when it ran on Channel 4 from 1990-1995 mainly due to the craziness and series host, Richard O’Brien, Riff Raff from Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The one-off revival will have Merchant guiding his guests around the Aztec, Futuristic, Medieval and Industrial Zones before taking them to the Crystal Dome and will air on Friday, 21 October on Channel 4. Merchant said in a statement: “As a huge fan of the original series, I’m honored to support Stand Up To Cancer by hosting this one-off edition of The Crystal Maze. Richard O’Brien and Ed Tudor-Pole leave big shoes to fill, but I have size 14 feet, so I’ll do my best.”
Initially, the show was intended to be a British remake of the French program, Fort Boyard, whose set was actually a real fort in the middle of the sea. Realizing that this would make it impossible to import, British producer Malcolm Heyworth decided to reinvent the show using four themed zones, representing various periods of time and space, all designed to weave contestants through a myriad of physical and mental challenges in the categories of Physical, Skill, Mental and Mystery.
For those that remember the first go-round of the series, I bet you can still picture the immense ‘Crystal Maze’ set, which featured four different zones, Aztec (ancient village amidst ruins), Futuristic (a space station environment), Medieval (a castle set where the host purportedly lived), and Industrial (a present day chemical plant). Each week, the team of six contestants took part in a selection of challenges in order to win ‘time crystals’, which were actually, golf ball-sized Swarovski glass crystals.
If the contestant failed to complete the stated challenge and exit the chamber in the allotted time, they would be locked in until the team captain opted to buy their teammates freedom at the cost of a previously-earned crystal, which could be done at any time after the lock-in. With a stated overall goal to collect ‘crystals’, each of which would give the team five seconds of time in the Crystal Dome, the heart of the maze, teams would then enter the dome to take part in their final challenge and, hopefully, win prizes.
While the weekly challenges were ‘challenging’, the set was brilliant. With every television show ever produced subject to remakes and reboots, I always wondered why, in this day and age of endless game and reality television shows, a series like The Crystal Maze was never remade (until now). One obvious reason was the gi-normous size of the set. The maze, itself, cost £250,000 ($350,000) to build and was the size of two football fields. The second reason, to me, was you wouldn’t have a host anywhere near the genius that is Richard O’Brien. That said, with Stephen Merchant, they’ve gotten pretty darn close!