Spellbinder (Polish: Dwa światy "Two worlds") is a 1995 English-language fantasy adventure science fiction children's television series, co-produced between Australia and Poland, and filmed in both countries. The series follows the adventures of Sydney high-schooler Paul Reynolds (Zbych Trofimiuk) as he is accidentally stranded in a parallel world where the industrial revolution never happened. Only a small number of people there have technology – the "Spellbinders" – and they pretend it is magic and use it to rule over everyone else, manipulating people's fear and ignorance. Paul, with the help of a local girl called Riana (Gosia Piotrowska), uses his wits and his own knowledge of science to survive, whilst his high-school friends try to rescue him.
The series has 26 episodes of 30 minutes each, and was produced by Film Australia and Telewizja Polska, in association with the Australian Children's Television Foundation (ACTF), who provide accompanying educational material for the series.
Spellbinder was shot on location in Australia (Sydney, and the Blue Mountains), and in Poland where most scenes of the parallel world were filmed (in Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, Ogrodzieniec, Zawiercie, Czocha Castle, and Książ). Czocha Castle was used as the Spellbinder's castle with Książ Castle serving for certain interior shots. The ruins of Ogrodzieniec Castle were used as the ruins of the Old Spellbinder's castle.
Spellbinder won the Australian Film Institute's Award for Best Children's Television Drama in 1996. The series was also novelised by the creators, Mark Shirrefs and John Thomson, as Spellbinder Book 1: Riana's World and Spellbinder Book 2: Paul's World.
Spellbinder was followed by a second series, called Spellbinder: Land of the Dragon Lord, in which Heather Mitchell and Rafał Zwierz reprised their roles as the Spellbinder Ashka and her apprentice Gryvon respectively.
A group of teenagers go on a school camp in the Blue Mountains in Australia. While at the camp, Paul Reynolds accidentally goes into a parallel universe. This other world is inhabited by a more hierarchical and technologically different society, ruled by a group of people known as Spellbinders. Paul meets a girl there named Riana, and they become friends.
The Spellbinders have discovered the power to create and manipulate static electricity. They fly in gigantic copper-coloured machines that utilise large rotating orange crystals, presumably creating some form of magnetic levitation. The Spellbinders often use their power for good, but some abuse this power and use their discoveries for malevolence. One such malevolent Spellbinder is Ashka, who often manages to hide her true nature. Common people are often "banished" for their misdeeds, and sometimes Spellbinders are banished, also, if they are proven to have done wrong.
There is tension from Paul's forays into the land of the Spellbinders and his attempts to return to his own universe, and also from conversations Paul has with his friends across the barrier between the two universes. Paul and Riana's escapes also add tension, as do the interactions between Spellbinders.
Paul is eventually able to travel back home, but he is forced to take Riana with him in order to save her. Later, when Paul is able to take Riana back home, the Spellbinder Ashka follows Paul as he later returns home. Ashka seeks the unwitting help of Paul's father in making her a new high-tech 'flying suit' to replace her power suit in order to make her more powerful than the other Spellbinders.
However, Paul manages to expose her scheme and defeat Ashka, who is returned as an outcast to the Spellbinder world, while Riana becomes the new apprentice to Correon. In order to keep the Spellbinder world safe from the more advanced people from "modern" world, the gateway between the two universes is closed permanently.
The Spellbinder World was conceptualized as a speculative exercise of what might occur if a teenager was transported to a world in which the Industrial Revolution did not happen. To create a sense of mystery, series creators Mark Shirrefs and John Thomson, "came up with the idea of the Spellbinders who kept control of their world by controlling knowledge". They decided that the Spellbinder world was undergoing a partially self-inflicted dark age following a civilizational collapse triggered by a man made ecological disaster. Series creators specify that the
Spellbinders decision to control knowledge was because this world had almost been destroyed hundreds of years earlier by massive experiments with electromagnetism - like the dangers we face with nuclear power, and they feared that if knowledge got out of control, it would happen again. Of course, this also meant that they led privileged lives and privilege is hard to give up.
The people Paul encounters in this world belong to a medieval-like society ruled by a group of magician-knights known as Spellbinders, who use ancient high-technology to rule over an ignorant serf population on the remaining inhabitable territory.
Very little is revealed about the history of the Spellbinder's world. At some point in the distant past, a disaster befell the planet, leaving their land surrounded by a wasteland where nothing can survive. They refer to this disaster as "the Darkness," and the ancestors of a group called the Marauders (raiders who live on the outskirts of their society, bordering on the wastelands) are blamed for the past catastrophe. Ancient Spellbinders were the ones actually responsible for the disaster, brought about by their own intellectual arrogance and desire for increasingly powerful weapons. Paul, the visitor from our world, speculates that "the Darkness" may have been the result of a nuclear winter, although this is not further elaborated upon. Regent Correon, with Paul's help, discovers an ancient book that describes an experiment of the ancient Spellbinders that went horribly wrong, but this book is destroyed by Ashka before more can be learned.
The Spellbinder world appears to have entered technological stagnation following the disaster. The spellbinders rely and appear to understand some of their ancient technology, however their everyday lives were relatively simple by the standards of Paul's world.
Paul's visit may have changed the balance of power in the Spellbinder world. Regent Correon invites Riana to be his new apprentice, and Ashka and Gryvon are punished by being sent to a labour camp (as seen in Spellbinder: Land of the Dragon Lord) for their abuse of power. Although Correon was previously only interested in rediscovering the secrets of the Ancient Spellbinders, he now seems sympathetic to the problems of the people outside his castle, even deciding to share the Spellbinder's knowledge with everyone outside the castle. The rigid hierarchy that defines the Spellbinder society may therefore be weakening, as Correon believes that 'things must change around here'. However, Paul decides that future contact between the two worlds should be avoided in order to prevent Riana's world from being exploited by his own. The Spellbinder's control least 10 settlements like Clayhill. They have two castles, one ruined in "the Darkness."
There is limited information about the geography of the broader Spellbinder World. The country overseen by the spellbinders is relatively small, comprising an approximate area of 20,000 kilometres bordered by a vast, desert called the wasteland. The territory seems to have a largely continental climate, mostly forested with some mountains with some land dedicated to agriculture.
The Spellbinder World is a feudalistic, authoritarian oligarchic technocracy, in which an elite group of technical experts, known as spellbinders rule over a technologically illiterate peasant population. The Spellbinders are, in turn, overseen by a committee of three Regents who reside in the Spellbinder castle. The regents appear to have absolute power, though they are subject to a Spellbinder Code and some rule of law.
The Regents are indifferent to the plight of the people outside their castle, enforce a very rigid code of laws designed to protect their hegemony. They banish anyone who discovers or applies the principles of science. The basis of their power over the people is their technology, and they are ruthless in their desire to prevent anyone else from understanding it.
The Spellbinders are beset with internal conflict due to the deterioration of their technology. Because there are only a limited number of power suits and flying ships still in operation, only a select few can be Spellbinders at any given time. At one point, a major dispute is legally settled by a ritualised duel in which Spellbinders fire power bolts at each other; such duels were noted to be somewhat archaic, however. The loser of such a match is stripped of their Spellbinder status and exiled to the wastelands to die. The same punishment is also given to anyone who violates the law against engineering.
The period following "the Darkness" appears to have been a period of extended peace. There do not seem to be any other political entities in competition with the Spellbinders for authority. In fact, conflict was so uncommon that people in the spellbinder world considered the concept of war completely alien, with one person asking Paul "what is a war?"
There are two known factions in the Spellbinder world. In addition to the Spellbinders and their subjects, there is a group of raiders known as the Marauders. People who are banished to the wastelands are sometimes saved by, and then join the Marauders. It is unclear what the Spellbinders knew about the Marauders, prior to the events of Spellbinder. It seems that the Spellbinders considered the Marauders a powerful faction, with unknown technology, operating out of the wasteland. The Spellbinders also believed the Marauders were responsible for the events that lead to the "Darkness." In reality, the Marauders were a collection of banished subjects who settled in a complex rock formation known as the Labyrinth.
The Spellbinder World has a different class system than medieval societies in Paul's Dimension. The Spellbinder world appears to operate according to a largely manorialistic system of land ownership. Pesants work the land and pay tribute to the Spellbinders.
The Spellbinders play an analogous roles to knights. Spellbinders take on squires, known as apprentices, who are given more privilege and respect than non-spellbinders. Apprentices learn all the secrets of the Spellbinder world and have to swear an oath to secrecy. If they break the oath, they are banished. However, they appear not to be given the hidden knowledge or access to a power suit until they are elevated to the rank of spellbinder, or if a spellbinder dies. Spellbinders and Apprentices are differentiated from the rest of society by their red and white tunics.
Villages appear to be administered by a local bailiff known as a Summoner. Summoners were permitted to use some spellbinder technology apparently to communicate with the Spellbinders. They were the only people, aside from Spellbinders, permitted to use eyestones or to approach summoning towers. This seemed to be a highly esteemed role, with Summoners taking on a somewhat higher social status than other non-spellbinders. Summoners are also responsible for recommending candidates for apprenticing. While exceptionally bright non-spellbinders are taken on as apprentices there is some degree of nepotism involved in the process though, as Gryvon is clearly only chosen to be an apprentice because his father is the Summoner of Clayhill.
Non-spellbinders who work in the castle as servants and guards are also distinguished by their uniforms. While it is said that working in the castle is a high honour, it is unclear whether servants get any additional privileges and based on Ashka's behaviour with them, it is acceptable for Spellbinders to abuse them.
The economy of the spellbinder world appears to be largely agrarian. The Spellbinders actively discourage innovation of any kind, forbidding even rudimentary engineering. Consequently, there is no industry to speak of. They do not seem to have any monetary system and operate a barter economy, called “swapping”. Members of the different villages meet regularly at a market in Rivertown.
The Spellbinder society appears to have diverged from Paul’s world, for two reasons. Firstly, the Spellbinders strictly control any knowledge they consider dangerous and forbid engineering and technology use by non-spellbinders. Second, the Spellbinder world has a unique resource known as power stones. Power stones are a kind of naturally occurring capacitor that are able of holding a large electrical charge. Experimentation with these stones seems to have allowed Spellbinders to develop sophisticated knowledge of electromagnetism, without the energy generating infrastructure necessary in Paul’s world. Consequently, they do not seem to have undergone the same trajectory of technological development that occurred in Paul’s world. They do not seem to have any knowledge of steam power or combustion, though the existence of flying ships and summoning towers would suggest they have some facility with industrial metallurgy.
As a result, the Spellbinder world seems to have developed high-technology without undergoing the same Industrial Revolution that occurred in Paul’s world. These had widespread effects on the Spellbinder World. Without combustion and with the aid of early flight, the Spellbinder world did not develop roads or other travel infrastructure. There do not seem to be any roads in the Spellbinder world and Riana considers roads a completely foreign concept. The Spellbinders also appear to have no knowledge of indoor plumbing, with their baths being filled manually, and Ashka asking Paul's father "where's the outhouse." The Spellbinders also have no knowledge of gunpowder.
By contrast, the Spellbinders have sophisticated knowledge of electrical engineering and electromagnetism. Spellbinders developed electromagnetic power suits, long-distance radio communication, and metallic ships that used powerful magnetic fields in order to fly. The Spellbinders also have an advanced understanding of astronomy; Regent Coreon both knew about and had a Heliocentric model of the solar system in his rooms. It is unclear, however, what knowledge contemporary Spellbinders have about their own technology, with Regent Coreon noting that much of his activities are dedicated to re-learning lost Spellbinder knowledge. He notes most of their knowledge, particularly of power suits and flying machines was lost after a civilizational collapse. Their flying ships and power suits are falling into disarray as they frantically search to rediscover the knowledge lost to them.
The people of the Spellbinder world are ignorant of the true nature of the Spellbinders' technology. To them, their power suits and flying ships are magic. The Spellbinders exploit this belief in order to maintain control over the people and use them for labour.
The power suit is the central piece of Spellbinder technology. It is powered by a set of power stones, which can be recharged in the castle complex. By rubbing the cuffs of the suit together, a Spellbinder can generate and discharge a power bolt. In combat, the power suit can be worn with a small shield capable of deflecting power bolts. Although the technology is never fully explained, it is implied that the power suit increases the voltage of energy stored within the power stones and releases it in the form of static electricity. Curiously, while usually capable of immobilising or causing injury to anyone on the receiving end of a bolt, Paul survived a bolt impact unscathed at one point; a feat he put down to the rubber soles of his footwear insulating him and preventing the bolt from grounding through him.
Because the suit's copper circuitry is mounted outside the suit, it is easily disabled by splashing it with water, causing a short circuit. The new power suit (named 'Prototype KX4') created by Brian in Paul's world is able to repel the Earth's magnetic field, allowing it to fly. Its circuitry has also been sealed against being shorted out by exposure to water and power bolts are generated and discharged with the press of a button on the suit's gauntlet, rather than striking wrist plates together to generate the static electricity. The keypad on the suit's gauntlet can also control machines, such as a television and even an elevator. The new power suit however has a weakness of strong magnetic fields, just like the power suits in the Land of the Spellbinders.
Power stones are the primary power source for Spellbinder technology. Spellbinders mine power stones. They are used to generate the power bolts released by power suits, and they are also used to create the magnetic fields that power flying ships. They are generally small, rectangular stones with an amber-hue, although the power stones found in flying ships are much larger. Power stones can be recharged by infusing them with electricity, which is done in the lower levels of the Spellbinders' castle. There is no analogous substance in Paul’s world.
Summoning towers are large metal towers that resemble electrical transformers and radio towers. The primary purpose of the summoning tower is to contact the Spellbinders when they are needed. An eyestone is placed into a cradle at the base of the tower, which presumably amplifies the signal it generates. The summoning towers also produce a magnetic field used to give flying ships their 'lift' (as evidenced when Paul shorts the main power stone in the castle, causing all flying ships to crash) and can be used as a landing pad for the flying ships.
Spellbinders communicate with each other with a handheld device called an eyestone. The device has an outer lattice bearing the Spellbinder insignia, and opens to reveal a small circuit board. An eyestone creates a weak radio signal, similar to a walkie-talkie. For communicating over great distances, an eyestone must be connected to a summoning tower. Village summoners are the only people besides the Spellbinders who are permitted to use eyestones.
The Spellbinders travel large distances in their metal flying ships. Unlike aeroplanes, which operate on aerodynamic principles, flying ships generate lift through powerful magnetic fields. Each flying ship is equipped with a pair of large power stones on either side, which rotate slowly as the ship moves. This motion creates a magnetic field powerful enough to repel against another magnetic field created by the summoning towers. Flying ships can be used for transportation and also to dust crops with pesticide. Although the technology that powers them is impressive, flying ships generally move somewhat slowly. By the time of Paul's visit to the Spellbinder's world, only six remain in operation.
Spellbinders use a small magnetic compass to navigate when travelling on foot or horseback. The compass contains a gyro device that is pulled into motion with a piece of string. The arrow of the compass then moves to detect north.
The original Spellbinder series ran on the Australian Nine Network between January and July 1995. Internationally, the series was shown in the U.S. on The Disney Channel beginning on 5 February 1996, and the sequel appeared on Fox Family Channel beginning in 1998. Due to a license dispute, The Disney Channel airing used a different opening and closing sequence.
As of 2023, the show is now airing on Retro TV.
The series was screened in the United Kingdom and Ireland on ITV and Network 2's The Den respectively in 1996 (only episodes 1–13 aired on ITV). The series was aired in Pakistan by Pakistan Television. The series was aired in Sri Lanka by Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation as "Maya Bandana" "මායාා බන්ධන" (Series 1) and "Makara Rajadahana" "මකර රජදහන" (Series 2). Owing to its utmost popularity it was telecasted more than five times in Sri Lanka over the years. The most recent telecast was in April 2020. In Bangladesh, Spellbinder was broadcast in Bangladesh Television (BTV). The series received immense popularity from viewers. The second sequel Spellbinder, the Land of the Dragon Lord was also telecast on BTV.
The series is now available to stream on Netflix in Australia and Amazon Prime Video in the U.S. and Germany.
It was broadcast in France and Mauritius in the late 1990s and early 2000s under the title "Les Maîtres des Sortilèges" (The Masters of Spells)
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