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Knightmare is a British children's adventure game show, created by Tim Child, and broadcast over eight series on CITV from 7 September 1987 to 11 November 1994. The general format of the show is of a team of four children – one who takes on the game, and three acting as their guide and advisers – attempting to complete a quest within a fantasy medieval environment, traversing a large dungeon and using their wits to overcome puzzles, obstacles and the unusual characters they meet along the journey.
|Created by||Tim Child|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||8|
|No. of episodes||112|
|Running time||25 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Anglia Television|
|Original network||CITV block of ITV|
|Original release||7 September 1987 –|
11 November 1994
The show is most notable for its use of blue screen chroma key, an idea Child utilised upon seeing it being put to use in weather forecasts at the time the programme began, as well as its use of 'virtual reality' interactive gameplay on television and the high level of difficulty faced by every team. Broadcast to high viewing figures throughout its original run, it garnered a cult status amongst fans since its final television episode in 1994. It was revived for a one off special by YouTube in August 2013.
Each run of the game involves a team of four children, aged around 11–16, and focuses on the same format. One member takes on the game in person, referred to as the "Dungeoneer", but are made blind to their surroundings by the "Helmet of Justice" – a headpiece that blocks their field of vision to just around their feet. The other three act as their advisers, guiding them around, giving them advice to solving puzzles, and making notes on information received. Once the Dungeoneer is ready, they are sent off on their quest, which in most series requires the team to choose which one they will undertake, whereupon the action takes place within a blue screen chroma key studio that is used to display a partly computer-generated, partly hand-drawn fantasy dungeon – only the viewers and the Dungeoneer's advisers can see this. In some cases, filming of a run takes place in real locations, in which the viewpoint of these scenes is done to appear to be from that of the Dungeoneer's. The rest of the team remains in the main studio fashioned as an antechamber of "Knightmare Castle", and provide instructions and descriptions of a location to the Dungeoneer, much in the same fashion of text-based computer games which rely on description and commands rather than any visuals. An example of this could be that a room has a key for a locked door within, so the advisers would describe the room to the Dungeoneer and then instruct them to move towards the key, pick it up, and use it on the door to exit the room.
The objective of the game is for the team to complete three levels of a specially made dungeon designed for them; each team faces a new dungeon of a different design, but with similar features recurring during a series. Each level consists of a number of rooms – some with puzzles, obstacles and challenges that have to be overcome – and a selection of inhabitants – some will help out, while others will either hinder the player unless they give them something they require, or attempt to stop them and end their game. In some cases, the team faces more than one exit, and usually must make a choice about which way to go. Every dungeon has a selection of objects, some of which will help to solve puzzles or get past certain inhabitants, while others are decoys, as well as magic spells – a single word that can be used to solve puzzles, get around hazards and dangerous inhabitants, which require an adviser to spell out the word correctly (i.e. if the spell is Light, then the adviser needs to say L-I-G-H-T).
Each team is required to complete their game within a time-limit, which is represented by an on-screen animated life force meter for the Dungeoneer that depletes over time; the meter is only ever seen by the viewers, but the advisers receive clear hints about its status when they need to take care. Because the amount of time given is not enough, the team must get the Dungeoneer to checkpoints within the dungeon and have them pick up a food item and place it within a knapsack given to them before they begin their run, which restores the Dungeoneer's life-force to full upon doing so. If the team make mistakes that allow the Dungeoneer to take "damage" from minor monsters or hazards, they incur a time penalty, that reduces the amount of time they have to complete the game. If the Dungeoneer runs out of life-force, the game is over; the game is also over if the team makes a bad decision and take a wrong route into a dead end, or the Dungeoneer is "killed" by an enemy character, monster or trap or "falls" into a pit. The appearance of the life-force meter varied during the course of the show's history:
- Up until the end of the fifth series, the meter was a computer animated image of an adventurer wearing a helmet. As life-force depletes, pieces of the helmet disappears from the meter, then the skin of the adventurer, and then the skull, until finally the eyes roll past the camera. The background of the image also changes – green when healthy, amber when it moderate, and red when life-force is low. This meter was used again in the one-off YouTube remake.
- In the sixth and seventh series, the meter was represented by an animated picture of a walking knight, which loses pieces of its armour over time to reveal a skeleton, which eventually crumbles to bits.
- In the final series, the meter was represented by an animated picture of a pie, in which each slice of it slowly dissolves over time.
If the team manages to complete all three levels, they are awarded with their prize, which changed over the years of the show's history. Unlike most other children's shows, Knightmare had no qualms over having a very high difficulty level, and as a result, only eight teams managed to win the game over its eight series. Regardless of whether a team wins or fails, they leave the show once their game is over, and a new team takes their place. This continues until the final episode of the series, whereupon the last team playing in that episode will often always be given an impossible situation that they will fail, in order to allow the series to end. Because each episode is designed to be twenty-five minutes long, should a team's run exceed beyond an episode, editing is done to freeze the action towards the end, and then unfreeze at the beginning of the next episode (referred to in the series context as "temporal disruption").
A Saxon Knight named Treguard, or Treguard of Dunshelm, was the dungeon master and was played by Hugo Myatt for the show's eight series. Information about his supposed background can be found in the related literature (see merchandise section). During the show, it was Treguard's job to assist the dungeoneer and his team of helpers wherever possible, also explaining a team's cause of death whenever they died.
At first, Treguard directed the contestants on his own. However, from Series 4, Treguard had an assistant: Pickle the elf, played by David Learner, and (from Series 7) after Pickle had "gone back to the forest", Majida, a princess and genie of Arabian descent played by Jackie Sawiris. (Majida originally claimed her name was "Daughter of the Setting Moon Whose Eyes are Like Daggers in the Hearts of Men Who Ride the Great Caravan of the Sultan".)
During the early series Treguard was portrayed as a neutral character, most notably between Series 1 and 3. During the start of Episode 14 of Series 3 (when no team had yet completed that series' dungeon) he went as far as to say "we're celebrating an unbeaten record", apparently siding against the dungeoneers. However, from Series 5 onwards there was a clear distinction made between 'The Powers that Be' and 'The Opposition', against which Treguard became less neutral, and more inclined to aid the dungeoneers to complete their quest.
Over the course of the series Treguard became known for his catchphrase "Ooh, nasty!", regularly used just after a team had died. Intended only as a passing remark, this was originally an ad lib by Myatt.
In its early series, Knightmare lacked a single major antagonist or 'baddie'. Indeed, originally Treguard was specifically a neutral character, neither on the side of good nor evil. The closest there was to a main villain was Mogdred (portrayed by John Woodnutt), but his main duty was (according to wizard Merlin in the penultimate episode of Series 2) to "scare you into making a mistake", though he did kill two dungeoneers, one in Series 2 and another early in Series 4. In Series 5 (1991), however, changes were made. The majority of the characters were split into two sides: the righteous "Powers that Be", and the villainous "Opposition", the leader of which was Lord Fear played by Mark Knight. By this time, Treguard's stance had now fully evolved into that of a strictly good character.
In 2014 Hugo Myatt lent his "Treguard" voice to the heavy metal band Evil Scarecrow's album Galactic Hunt for the track Enter the Knightmare, whose lyrics are based on the 1980s TV show.
Knightmare was conceived by Tim Child in 1985, inspired by the two ZX Spectrum games Atic Atac and Dragontorc. Realising that if a ZX Spectrum could do these types of adventure game, then a television programme could revolutionise the genre, he enlisted the help of artist David Rowe to design realistic looking backgrounds with an airbrush. Borrowing the technique used in weather forecasts, Child devised a large blue room, which was set up in Studio A of Anglia Studios. The advanced computer graphic environments were created by the Travelling Matte Company using a Spaceward SuperNova computer. Travelling Matte was owned by set designer Robert Harris, who had trained at Central Saint Martin's in stage design and had been working with John Peyre at BBC TV when The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy started to blend digital images with real world studio scenery. Harris had a background in CGI, having trained in 3D animation at Middlesex Polytechnic under Dr John Vince, and experience in playing out "live" graphics for current affairs programmes like Newsnight and Panorama. Knightmare required real time CGI inserts and virtual lighting changes, door reveals and animated monsters in real time, within live action against blue screen using Ultimatte.
Eventually, in early 1986, a 15-minute pilot under the name of Dungeon Doom was recorded. Even at this stage it featured Hugo Myatt, the husband of Christine Webber who was a presenter of Anglia's regional news programme About Anglia. A second 20-minute pilot was filmed on 27 and 28 January 1987, with the name changed to Knightmare, and 'life force' added, an idea borrowed from the computer game Atic Atac, which also influenced the show in other ways. He recruited Robert Harris, who used a Spaceward computer to design an animation of a knight's head that could indicate varying degrees of damage. Child sent this second pilot to the ITV Children's Committee in February, who commissioned a series of eight half-hour episodes.
The show was an instant hit, and a second series twice as long as the first was commissioned the next year, closely followed by a third the year after that. By the time this third series finished, Child felt the dungeon format was getting too restrictive, and he needed something new. Because of this, the fourth series saw the introduction of many 'outdoor' scenes, filmed around places such as medieval castles across the UK, and composited into the blue room using the usual chromakey technique. This series also saw the introduction of the "Eye Shield", which acted as an 'eye' for the dungeoneer. Using pre-recorded footage filmed on location, it followed the progress of the dungeoneers as they explored the dungeon. A new onscreen status bar was also introduced, generated by a Commodore Amiga 2000 computer.
At its peak in 1991/1992, Knightmare attracted approximately 4–5 million viewers per episode with many episodes being directed by Martin Cairns (at that time a very high figure for a children's TV series). By 1993, the year which saw the programme's seventh series, it was the most popular non-animated show on CITV. However, changes had recently occurred. Late the previous year, the ITV Children's Committee was replaced by a single Controller of CITV, Dawn Airey. Although she thought well of Knightmare, the average audience age of CITV was now 6–10, down from 6–15 in 1985. It was believed that the older audience was moving to satellite television and video games, and that programmes for a younger audience were needed. After two meetings, it was agreed that an 8th series of Knightmare would go ahead in 1994, but that it would be a shorter run (ten episodes instead of fifteen or sixteen) and that the remainder of the season's timeslot would be taken by Virtually Impossible, a new virtual reality show from Broadsword, the same production company as Knightmare, and aimed at this younger audience. Shortly after this decision was made, Airey left for Channel 4, and was replaced as Controller by Vanessa Chapman.
Despite the diminishing older audience, Knightmare's eighth series performed well, and gained a higher audience than Virtually Impossible did later that autumn. Changes introduced in this series saw a return to the dungeon format of Series 1–3, albeit now completely computer-generated, and a new piece of dungeoneering equipment was added: the wand "Reach". This allowed dungeoneers to push, touch, and open things from a distance. At this point, there was still hope that Knightmare would return for a ninth series in 1995: a postal address for future contestants was displayed on screen after the end of the final episode. The chances of the eighth series being the last were also strong, however, and so the series ended on an ambiguous note.
In the event, Knightmare was 'rested' for the foreseeable future, partly due to the declining older audience, and partly because Tim Child felt that while Knightmare should employ high-quality virtual reality in order to remain a cutting-edge show, such technology was not affordable at that time.
Two other versions of Knightmare were also made: one in France (Le Chevalier Du Labyrinthe), which ran from 19 September 1990 to 31 August 1991, and the other in Spain (El Rescate Del Talisman) which ran from 29 May 1991 to 1994. Both versions were sponsored by Sega.
- Knightmare: Can you beat the challenge? (ISBN 0-552-52540-5, 1988)
- The Labyrinths of Fear (ISBN 0-552-52608-8, 1989)
- Fortress of Assassins (ISBN 0-552-52638-X, 1990)
- The Sorcerer's Isle (ISBN 0-552-52714-9, 1991)
- The Forbidden Gate (ISBN 0-440-86317-1, 1992)
- The Dragon's Lair (ISBN 0-440-86328-7, 1993)
- Lord Fear's Domain (ISBN 0-440-86336-8, 1994)
The first of these, Knightmare, told the story of how Treguard came to inhabit Knightmare Castle, revealed once to have been Dunshelm Castle, which Treguard owned by birthright. The next four books were intended for older readers, and took the format of half-fiction, half-interactive story. In these, the first half of the book was a novelette about one of Treguard's adventures, serving as a lead-in to the second half which comprised numbered sections where the reader directed the narrative, similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure books. The next two books retained the interactive format, but were aimed at a younger audience. Throughout the interactive portions of the books the reader had to keep track of Life Force and objects collected, and some books had additional statistics or special skills to monitor. Finally, Lord Fear's Domain was a puzzle book.
There were also two Knightmare computer games released: the first was in 1987, released on the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, and Commodore 64; and the second Knightmare game in 1991, released on the Amiga and Atari ST. A PC version was proposed for 1995, but the plan was abandoned when the series finished. The latter game was an RPG similar to the Dungeon Master and Eye Of The Beholder games which, whilst well received at the time, had very little to do with the TV series besides the fantasy setting.
|Series||Start date||End date||Episodes|
|1||7 September 1987||26 October 1987||8|
|2||5 September 1988||19 December 1988||16|
|3||8 September 1989||22 December 1989||16|
|4||7 September 1990||21 December 1990||16|
|5||6 September 1991||20 December 1991||16|
|6||11 September 1992||18 December 1992||15|
|7||10 September 1993||17 December 1993||15|
|8||9 September 1994||11 November 1994||10|
After Knightmare ended on ITV, it was quickly picked up by The Sci-Fi Channel, which broadcast all eight series starting from the channel's launch in November 1995. However, ratings were low, perhaps exacerbated by the satellite sharing that meant UK fans were unable to receive the Sci Fi Channel at the times when the show was being broadcast. (Cable television was also relatively uncommon in the UK at this time, and completely unavailable in some areas, further limiting the show's existing fanbase.) Sci-Fi's contract ran out on 31 October 1998. Knightmare's only appearances on television after that were as clips in "40 Years of Anglia" in 1999, and Channel 4's 100 Greatest Kids' TV Shows in 2001, where it came 16th, the highest position on the list for a game show.
In December 2002, the UK satellite channel Challenge held a group of programmes called the "Christmas Cult Selection", featuring a group of classic game shows from the 1960s (The Golden Shot) right through to the 1980s. Knightmare was included in this, and the repeats started on 23 December 2002, with Series 3, Episode 1 preceded by a short 2.5-minute documentary featuring Tim Child and Hugo Myatt. Just over a week later, Knightmare went on to reach first place in an Internet poll held by Challenge, asking viewers to decide the best show out of the Cult Selection.
Reasonable ratings, combined with the high fanbase, ensured that the other seven series went on to be bought and shown over the next two years. It took until 8 July 2004 for all the episodes to be shown, when Episode 16 of Series 2 was broadcast 563 days after the repeats started. Knightmare continued to run on Challenge until 31 March 2007, when the rights to the series expired. By this time only five of the eight series were still being repeated, as the rights to Series 3 expired at the end of 2004, Series 4 on 31 May 2006, and Series 5 on 30 September 2006, the latter two following a final showing of those series.
On 5 and 6 January 2013, the final two episodes from Series 7 were shown on the CITV channel as part of its 'Old Skool Weekend', which celebrated 30 years of ITV's programming block for children. According to Radio Times, Knightmare was the second most watched programme during the 'Old Skool Weekend', only being beaten by Fun House.
On 22 April 2013, Challenge announced that they have re-acquired the first two series of Knightmare. The re-run began its transmission on 10 May 2013 at 10:30pm, shown as part of their 'Late Zone' strand. These repeats now have the ITV Studios logo at the end rather than the Anglia logo.
Activision released a videogame adaptation.
On 25 November 2002, only 6 days after the Challenge repeats were confirmed, it was announced that a reformat of Knightmare was to be undertaken by Televirtual, founded by Tim Child. Known as Knightmare VR, this would use avatar technology to place the dungeoneer in a full 3D computer generated world. A £40,000 National Lottery grant for the programme was awarded in July 2003.
In 2004 test images and clips continued to appear on the Televirtual website and finally on 17 August 2004, the full 13-minute pilot was posted on the Internet.
The VR pilot kept a lot of the original elements that appeared in the original show such as Wall Monsters, Clue Rooms and the dark and grimy dungeon setting. Original Knightmare actors Hugo Myatt and Mark Knight reprised their roles as Treguard and Lord Fear respectively, while several additional actors (including Nick Collett and Tim Child himself) were introduced, playing new additions to the cast.
The pilot introduced some new elements, including a new main host named Garstang, who was an orc. Treguard was now relegated to an avatar head who would occasionally appear to give the dungeoneer advice. The dungeoneer and all of the in-dungeon characters were now fully computer generated, along with the rooms themselves, which meant that the dungeoneer could now explore much larger and grander surroundings than previously seen. All of the rooms could now be seen more thoroughly from different camera angles, an element which the original programme could not do easily due to the limits of its technology.
The Helmet of Justice was no longer used, enabling the dungeoneer to now clearly see his surroundings. As a result of this, only one advisor was now needed, instead of three.
Reactions to the pilot were mixed, with some saying that the lack of a Helmet of Justice and the associated "guiding" element meant a lot of the essence of the original show was lost. The new theme tune was dismissed by some as being overly "cheesy" and unrelated to the dark sense of the programme. On 10 May 2005, it was announced that the project was to be shelved, with Child saying that he had decided that Knightmare would work best under a mixture of virtual reality and the original format.
In an interview with The Guardian in April 2013, Child said that although "(t)here will always be hardcore fans clamouring for (Knightmare΄s) return; I think it's best to let it languish in its own deep, dark dungeon".
In December 2012, lifelong Knightmare fan James Aukett commemorated 25 years since the first ever episode was shown with a documentary which featured interviews with Hugo Myatt, Tim Child, artist David Rowe (who illustrated the dungeon backgrounds for the earlier series) and various other actors and contestants who participated in Knightmare during the course of the show's eight series.
In August 2013, a one-off special edition of Knightmare was produced for YouTube's "Geek Week" event, directed and produced by Tim Child and featuring three original cast members – Hugo Myatt (Treguard), Mark Knight (Lord Fear) and Cliff Barry (Lissard), plus Knightmare VR actor Nick Collett and actresses Isy Suttie and Jessie Cave playing new roles. The team of dungeoneers were YouTube content creators Dan Howell, Phil Lester, Emma Blackery and Stuart Ashen. Filming took place in Norwich at the original Anglia television studios.
A theatrical version of Knightmare was performed at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 23 July – 15 August 2013. It opened to rave reviews and was performed in London in 2013 and 2016. The show is produced by Objective Talent Management and stars Paul Flannery, Tom Bell and Amee Smith.
In March 2014, a group comprising the cast and crew of Knightmare and the website knightmare.com launched a successful crowd funding campaign to raise money to run a Knightmare convention in the studios in Norwich where Knightmare was filmed. The convention took place at EPIC Studios in Norwich (where the original series was filmed) on 9–11 May 2014.
The convention allowed visitors to play a room of the Knightmare dungeon using the same technology used in the show, as well as to meet with some of the original cast.
|Treguard, the Dungeon Master||Hugo Myatt||1–8, VR, YouTube|
|Aesandre the Ice Queen||Juliet Henry-Massy||5|
|Ah Wok the Chinese Merchant (character uncredited)||Mark Knight||6|
|Bhal-Shebah the Red Dragon||Bill Cashmore (voice)||8|
|Brangwen the Wall Monster||Natasha Pope (voice)||3|
|Brollachan||Anthony Donovan (voice)||7|
|Brother Mace the Tavern Monk||Michael Cule||4–5|
|Brother Strange the Proverbial Monk||Cliff Barry||7–8|
|Bumptious the Dwarf||Tom Karol||2|
|Captain Nemanor the Sailor||Adrian Neil||6|
|Casper the Key||Lawrence Werber (voice)||1–2|
|Cedric the Mad Monk||Lawrence Werber||1–2|
|Despair the Gargoyle||Nick Collett (voice)||VR|
|Dooreen and Dooris the Door Monsters (characters uncredited)||Zoe Loftin (voices)||4|
|Doorkis the Door Monster (character uncredited)||Michael Cule (voice)||4|
|Dreadnort the Robotic Knight||Clifford Norgate (voice)||6|
|Elita the Cavern Elf||Stephanie Hesp||5–6|
|Ellisandre the Elf Maid||Louise Milford (voice)||VR|
|Fatilla the Hun (character uncredited)||Michael Cule||4|
|Fidjit the Lock Master||Paul Valentine||7|
|Folly the Jester||Alec Westwood||1–2|
|The Gatekeeper||Michael Cule||5|
|Garstang The Orc||Tim Child (Voice) / Ben Child (Body)||VR, YouTube|
|Gibbet the Guard||Alec Westwood||1|
|Golgarach the Wall Monster||David Verrey (voice)||3|
|Granitas the Wall Monster||Guy Standeven (voice)||1–2|
|Gretel the Maiden||Audrey Jenkinson||2|
|Greystagg the Witch Queen||Iona Kennedy||6–7|
|Grimaldine the Celtic Wizard||Anthony Donovan||7|
|Gumboil the Knight||Edmund Dehn||1–2|
|Gundrada the Sword Mistress (character uncredited)||Samantha Perkins||4|
|Gwendoline The Green Warden||Juliet Henry-Massy||5|
|Heggatty the Witch||Stephanie Hesp||6|
|Honesty Bartram the Potion-Dealer||Bill Cashmore||8|
|Hordriss the Confuser||Clifford Norgate||3–8|
|Igneous the Wall Monster (character uncredited)||Edmund Dehn (voice)||2|
|Julius Scaramonger the Merchant||Rayner Bourton||5–6|
|Lillith the Sorceress||Mary Miller||1–2|
|Lissard the Atlantian||Cliff Barry||7–8, YouTube|
|Lord Fear the Techno-Sorcerer||Mark Knight||5–8, VR, YouTube|
|Majida the Genie||Jackie Sawiris||7–8|
|Maldame the Rival Sorceress||Iona Kennedy||8|
|Malice the Evil Sorceress (character uncredited)||Samantha Perkins||4|
|Marta the Waitress||Jacquelin Joyce||7|
|McGrew the Scotsman||David Verrey||3|
|Mellisandre the Maiden||Zoe Loftin||3–4|
|Merlin the Wizard||John Woodnutt||1–4|
|Mistress Goody the Hag(character uncredited)||Érin Geraghty||4|
|Mildread the Witch||Mary Miller||2|
|Mogdred the Dark Wizard||John Woodnutt||2–4|
|Morghanna the Dark Sorcress||Natasha Pope||3|
|Motley the Jester||Paul Valentine||3–6, 8|
|Mr. Grimwold the Ogre (character uncredited)||Bryan McNerney||3|
|Mrs. Grimwold the Hag||Tom Karol||3|
|Mugg the Gargoyle (character uncredited)||Edmund Dehn (voice)||1–2|
|Oakley the Tree Troll||Clifford Norgate (voice)||4–5|
|Olaf the Viking||Tom Karol||2–3|
|Olgarth the Wall Monster||Guy Standeven (voice)||1–2|
|Owen the Dragon (character uncredited)||Clifford Norgate (voice)||3|
|Pickle The Wood Elf||David Learner||4–6|
|Pixel the Pixie||Stephanie Hesp (voice)||5|
|Raptor the Pirate||Cliff Barry||7–8|
|Ridolfo the Troubadour||Adrian Neil||6|
|Romahna the Dragon Warden||Jacquelin Joyce||7|
|Rothberry the Apothecary||Mark Knight||7–8|
|Skarkill the Goblin Master||Rayner Bourton||5–6|
|Sidriss the Confused||Iona Kennedy||6–8|
|Sir Hugh de Wittless the Knight||Mark Knight||5|
|Smirkenorff the Dragon||Clifford Norgate (voice)||5–8|
|Snapper-Jack the Fool-Taker||Bill Cashmore||8|
|Stiletta the Warrior Thief||Joanne Heywood||8|
|Sylvester Hands the Thief||Paul Valentine||5–8|
|Sylvester the Jester||Nick Collett||YouTube|
|Theodora Snitch||Jessie Cave||YouTube|
|The Automatum||Edmund Dehn||2|
|The Behemoth (character uncredited)||Bryan McNerney||3|
|The Boatman||Paul Valentine||4–5|
|The Giant (character uncredited)||Edmund Dehn||1|
|The Talking Bird (character uncredited)||Tom Karol (Voice)||3|
|Velda the Elf Warrior||Natasha Pope||3|
|Veruca (aka Daisy)||Isy Suttie||YouTube|
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Now the dungeoneer could see there was absolutely no point for an advisor anymore.
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The music was also rather odd, ranging from nice 'n' dark moody undertones to this insane funky 60s organ piece in the dwarf tunnels, the latter of which just not fitting the show at all.
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