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CliqueClack FlashBack – Dungeons & Dragons (1983-1985)

Remember ‘Dungeons & Dragons’? The 1983 CBS cartoon surrounded a disparate group of teenaged friends pulled into an alternate universe through a Dungeons & Dragons ride. It was definitely my favorite. How about you?

Last month, I purchased the entire 3-DVD Dungeons & Dragons collection from Amazon for around eight bucks and re-watched it for back-to-back weekends.

Throughout the ’80s, I loved watching D & D’s well-plotted, well-crafted and well-voiced animation every Saturday morning, especially its intricately detailed backgrounds and eerily distant storylines. Each episode surrounded the heroes fighting a weekly evil culminating with their decision to protect that week’s victim or taking the portal home. Considering the series contained 27 episodes, you can guess how each episode ended.

Of course, while attempting to uncover their return portal, the kids battled their ongoing nemesis, Venger, while assisted by the seemingly benevolent Dungeon Master. Despite the episodic nature, each story proved dark and slightly disturbing and grew moreso during the second and third seasons. In “The Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn,” the kids invoke a diabolical force from a Pandora-esque box. Chased by evil, they journey to save a de-powered Dungeon Master while individually sacrificing themselves. In the season two finale, Diana becomes a Stargazer goddess, fulfilling a realm prophecy, to save her dying lover yet still loses him to the stars. In the “Dragon’s Graveyard,” Hank urges the group to destroy Venger, but he drops the final kill shot for the group’s collective soul. Finally, in “Zandora’s Box,” the kids return to an eerily empty carnival ground (only to discover that Venger followed them to earth), creeped (and still creeps) me out.

I enjoyed the writing as a child and equally enjoyed it as an adult, because the show didn’t create static, two-dimensional  characters. Presto’s magic typically worked, but not the way he wanted. Hank occasionally lapsed in his leadership. Eric, although a jerk, correctly questioned Dungeon Master’s motives. Despite his abilities, Bobby remained  a young boy. In silent moments he displayed his age through his tears for himself,  his sister’s safety or his security blanket, Uni. And, the show allowed its characters to grow. Presto didn’t remain the blunderer nor Eric the jerk.

Admittedly, the male characters including Presto (the Magician and school nerd), Eric (the rich Cavalier), 10-year-old Bobby the Barbarian, and Hank (the Ranger and team leader) all stood out more personality-wise than Diana (the Acrobat and world-class gymnast) or  Sheila (the invisible Mage and Bobby’s older sister). Then again, CBS impressively cast known TV actors as the male voices with Willie Aames (Buddy from Charles in Charge) as Hank, Don Most (Ralph Malph from Happy Days), and Adam Rich (Nicholas from Eight is Enough) as Presto.

Although the  writers didn’t highlight the female personality quirks, they still had them. Diana became the default leader in Hank’s absence and was the most adventurous, eagerly taming giant worms and taking death-defying risks. Like her invisibility cloak, Sheila was covertly non-confrontational. While she rarely hesitated to save a friend, she hated isolation and, at one point, her reluctance almost cost the team.

Re-watching as an adult, the series definitely withstood the test of time concerning animation and plot. On occasion, the heroes’ faces appeared distorted and the initial episodes seemed formulaic, but everything else remained top notch. The same things that intrigued me as a child, intrigued me as an adult. Hank frequently alternated between cuddling with and saving Diana or cuddling with and saving Sheila. Although the show never took the romantic route with either, we never see the girls sleep beside any other guy save him (excluding Sheila’s brother). As a child, I trusted Dungeon Master entirely. As an adult, I questioned his priorities. Every week he seemingly identified a “new” portal, but they always had to rescue a friend of his first, forcing them to chose between saving that week’s powerful victim or returning home. I wondered if Dungeon Master deliberately held them there. While I never questioned Venger’s evil, as an adult I realized that if Venger truly hated those meddling kids so much, why did he consistently thwart their attempts to return home?

As a child, I secretly hoped a local Dungeons & Dragons roller coaster would suck me into a magical fantasy land and give me the abular ability to wear a fur bikini. But, as an adult, I viewed their scenarios with increasing horror. This wasn’t exactly a magical mystery land. And, the writers acknowledged the challenges the children faced by calling them “children.” Overall, I’m glad I purchased the set, which proved a good flashback on my cartoon past.

Photo Credit: BCI Studio

8 Responses to “CliqueClack FlashBack – Dungeons & Dragons (1983-1985)”

February 7, 2012 at 11:53 AM

One of my favorite cartoons growing up, even though I never played D&D. I did some searching around some time ago and found there’s a script out there for how the series was planned to end. Dig around a bit and you’ll find it or at least a synopsis. I still wish they’d make it even after all these years.

February 7, 2012 at 1:40 PM

Me too — and to think we didn’t even know each other then! ;-)

February 7, 2012 at 8:12 PM

I tried to find the original script before I posted. However, Michael Reaves took his site down, although I encountered synposes and the radio play.

I wonder if I really want to see the final episode. All 27 episodes proved amazing, so I wonder if the ending (or pseudo-ending) would live up to my expectations. I’m almost glad they didn’t do the spin-off series, because what if it wasn’t as strong as the original?

However, I temporarily thought it’d be great if Cartoon Network did a two hour D&D cartoon. The first half hour could show the group’s initial arrival, the second half hour surround a standard episode, and the final hour cover ground attached to Requieum.

February 7, 2012 at 7:52 PM

Star Blazers was my favorite, but D&D was definitely top five.

Hey, you didn’t mention my favorite character, Tiamat! Whenever I’ve used that as a logon or ID over the years, it’s been because of this show. Five breath weapons! Although you did include Uni above, which is almost as good.

You described Sheila as a Mage, but I believe she was always a Thief. I can still hear Dungeon Master’s opening narration in my mind: “Ranger… Barbarian… Magician, Thief… Cavalier… and… Acrobat.”

I had no idea that Venger and Optimus Prime were both voiced by Peter Cullen.

It always seemed pretty obvious to me that DM was the one that brought the children to the realm in the first place. I suppose since I knew that in the game the DM controlled the world, all encounters, NPCs and monsters, I had an advantage there.

February 7, 2012 at 8:08 PM

In international versions, they called Sheila a ‘Mage.’ As an adult, I like that the most fearsome creature was a hideous female dragon.

In the cartoon, it’s pretty obvious DM controls everything. But, as a child I always viewed the group’s arrival as accidental. As an adult, I wondered if DM brought over and discarded other humans, before deciding on this group.

It always seemed odd that whenever they rejected the return trip to save someone, DM told them they were one step closer to going home (especially when they didn’t kill Venger). So, did that mean, DM would’ve yanked them back if they ignored his friends and ran home? If so, would he really want to yank them back?

February 7, 2012 at 8:25 PM

Oh, did you watch the show overseas? Was it still in English or dubbed into another language?

Tiamat wasn’t hideous! Fearsome, certainly, and I’d also use terms like majestic, powerful, and awesome, but not ugly.

DM was pretty benevolent and mostly non-interventional. I think he would have just sent any rejected humans straight home and told them they were dreaming. I like to think that his first choice of groups was the correct one, though.

No, each task was a test. If they didn’t help those in need and selfishly ran home, he wouldn’t have wanted them back. Of course, then he would have had to start with a new batch of fresh Level 1 humans, but if they can’t stick to the Good alignment, what choice would he have had? You can’t really depend on Chaotic Neutrals to enact your grand design.

February 8, 2012 at 2:07 AM

Thundarr the Barbarian

February 8, 2012 at 2:09 AM

One of my favorites growing up was “battle of the planets”

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