In the 1980s, Nickelodeon didn’t have a lot of animated content. That’s probably surprising for today’s adolescents, but that’s how the network was in the old days. That was due in large part to the network first prioritizing educational content, and then wanting to make sure whatever it aired couldn’t be found on another channel. And if you’re going to produce original content, live action is often far cheaper than animation.
Things would obviously change, and one of the first animated shows Nick would air was Danger Mouse. The British import satisfied the network’s desire to have something that couldn’t be found on broadcast, but it didn’t really satisfy the desire to have an actual, good, show. Sorry Danger Mouse fans, but I don’t like your show. Danger Mouse eventually got the boot, but network president Geraldine Laybourne was still interested in working with Cosgrove Hall Films on a new show. That show would be Count Duckula.
The character Count Duckula first debuted as a villain in Danger Mouse. That character had a fun design, but would not be suitable as a lead for a children’s show. In order to lead his own show, Duckula would have to be toned down a bit. As the lore goes, the Count Duckula from Danger Mouse was basically killed off somewhere. His servant, Igor, then needed to create a new Count Duckula through an elaborate reincarnation process requiring blood. He ended up being a vampire created not by blood, but by ketchup as the opening song covers leading to him being a vegetarian vampire who shuns his teeth by literally tossing them out. Since he doesn’t have a thirst for blood, Duckula is instead motivated by a relatable item: money. As well as fame. Despite living in a castle with servants, he’s apparently broke and is forced to travel the world in his teleporting castle seeking out get rich quick schemes and such. His adversary, Dr. Von Goosewing, is basically a vampire hunter that either doesn’t believe that Duckula is harmless or he doesn’t care: a vampire is a vampire. He’s out to destroy him, but frequently is thwarted.
Count Duckula would last about six years from 1988-1993 and totaled a syndication-friendly 65 episodes. Despite it actually overlapping with the original Nicktoons, I can’t remember actually watching Count Duckula past 1989 or so, nor can I recall what timeslot it occupied. And even though it was co-produced by Nick, it’s not a Nicktoon and I assume that’s because it preceded the Nicktoons concept. There was no need to grandfather it in since Nickelodeon didn’t own the rights to the show or character as once their broadcasting rights expired at the end of 1993, Count Duckula was gone from the network. Apparently, despite being gung-ho for the show initially, Laybourne ended up not liking the cartoon. It ended up being a testing ground of sorts for Nick when it came to original animation and I presume had the network president liked the show then the network probably does more to keep it around. Maybe then it would have been a true Nicktoon. As far as I’m concerned, it basically is the first Nicktoon which makes it a rather important piece of cartoon history.
As part of the broadcast third season, Count Duckula celebrated Christmas. Even though a show starring a vampire duck that also incorporates other famous monsters into it feels more like a Halloween thing, there’s still room for Christmas. And since the inhabitants of Count Duckula’s world all appear to be birds, we get to see what Santa would like if he had feathers and a beak.
The episode begins with a festive title card that dissolves into an actual moving picture. “The Nutcracker Suite” is played as narrator Barry Clayton does his best Vincent Price impression to welcome us in. We look at the cold castle home of Duckula and find Santa Claus (Jack May, I think, only the main cast is credited to their main characters) getting ready to go down the chimney. He mostly looks the part, but he has a crooked beak extended from his face and over his beard. At first glance I thought it was a nose and that Santa was actually human. He’s accompanied by one, lone, reindeer who appears to be Rudolf given that he has a round, red, nose. He kind of looks like Brain from Inspector Gadget, only brown and with antlers.
Inside the castle, Duckula (David Jason) is excited about Christmas and is roaming the halls as Santa. His faithful servant, Igor (May), is doing the same though with much less enthusiasm as he lets us know he much prefers Halloween. Igor is basically the show’s killjoy as he intended to resurrect Duckula as a bonafide vampire and resents this vegetarian lord he got instead. In the bowels of the castle, Santa is seen crawling around. He remarks that every year he spends a few hours delivering presents to the whole world, then the remainder of the night trying to navigate Castle Duckula in order to deliver presents here.
Outside the castle, the crow brothers are shown scaling the wall dressed as little Santas as well. These guys are often shown trying to break into the castle, only to rarely succeed. They think there is treasure inside and are apparently unaware that the castle’s owner is broke. Or Duckula is ignorant of actual treasure somewhere inside. They’re singing “Jingle Bells” until one crow brother (Burt, I think) remarks to the lead crow (Ruffles?) about this bringing about warm, fuzzy, feelings inside. It would seem our dim-witted bird thinks they’re bringing presents to Duckula, while the lead brother has to remind him they’re just dressed as Santa to sneak in and steal everything. Once the dimmer brother understands, they resume their scaling and their song.
Flying nearby is Dr. Von Goosewing (Jimmy Hibbert). He’s flying a blimp and also dressed like Santa (everyone is just so festive) and butchering “Jingle Bells.” Most of the lyrics he makes up are borderline unintelligible. He’s in a festive mood though because he has a present for the “wampire” inside and he’s pretty proud of himself for coming up with some ingenious plan. He doesn’t explain it for our benefit, but obviously this isn’t a sincere Christmas gift. He exits the blimp and decides to enter the building as Santa would. In the background, we see the lone reindeer working on a snowman while he waits for his master’s return.
Elsewhere in the castle, Duckula is marching along and singing “Jingle Bells” as well. We then see Nanny (Brian Trueman), Duckula’s massive, hen, caretaker, also dressed as Santa and also singing along. We then pivot back to Igor and he’s just muttering “Bah, humbug.” All three characters collide at an intersection and Duckula is confused to see they too are dressed as Santa. It would seem one of them plays Santa every year, and all thought it was their turn this year. Nanny confirms for Duckula that Santa is expected soon while the crow brothers outside pause at a window thinking they had been spotted. They weren’t, but Santa opens the window the lead crow was beside which knocks all of them from the castle wall. Santa, thinking he had finally found the exit, sees that he was wrong and resumes his journey oblivious that he just murdered a murder of crows. Inside, Duckula asks Igor what that sound was as the crows crash down to Earth, but soon decides he doesn’t really care.
In the living room, Duckula is bored waiting for Santa so he proposes to Igor they exchange gifts now. Igor is happy to oblige, strangely, and Duckula is happy to receive a present. Until he opens it, that is, and discovers Igor got him new vampire teeth. He’s disappointed, but Igor requests he oblige him this one time since it is Christmas and Duckula tries them on. Immediately he starts talking like a normal person would with those cheap, vampire, teeth found at stores around Halloween and he’s none too pleased. He does wish Igor “Happy Christmas,” and makes the old buzzard quite happy. He hands over Igor’s gift as well, an obviously wrapped axe, which Igor seems pleased to receive or he’s just still beaming about the teeth.
Duckula then picks up another gift that’s intended for Nanny. When he calls for her to enter she comes crashing through the wall, which is kind of her thing. She then scolds Duckula for speaking with his mouth full, on account of the teeth, so he spits them out and ends that little piece of amusement. She’s elated though to receive a gift from Duckula, making it seem like this isn’t a regular thing, and is so excited she almost forgets to open it. Duckula has to encourage her a bit, but when she does she seems disappointed. It’s a book, and she declares she already has a book (she’s not very bright), but Duckula tells her this is a great one and tells her to read the title. It’s actually a comic book about a character named Tremendous Terence. It’s actually The Very Big Tremendous Terence Adventure Book and Duckula tells her she’s very lucky. It soon becomes apparent that this isn’t really a gift for Nanny, as Duckula takes the book from her hands and enthusiastically declares he’s Tremendous Terrence’s number one fan. He then declares she’s too busy to read it now on account of having to prepare Christmas dinner so he’ll just borrow it for a bit. What a jerk? We then get a quick glimpse at Von Goosewing as he tries to navigate the same tunnels as Santa. He remarks to himself that his Christmas gift is at risk of becoming an Easter Egg if he can’t find his way out of this place soon.
Back in the den, Duckula is reading the book aloud to a very enraptured Igor. As he reads it, we see the pages of the comic as the camera pans over the panel and Duckula provides narration. He reads the characters in voices, which is a nice touch. It’s a generic story of a space ace thwarting evil aliens, but Duckula is entertained tremendously while Igor is most certainly not. Nanny then enters the room to share some pudding she’s made, only it falls off her plate and bounces across the floor striking Duckula in the head. It continues on and smashes through a window, which the crow brothers had reached and soon take another terrible tumble.
Following his little bump on the noggin, Duckula is apparently in a daze. He starts to imagine himself in the Tremendous Terence book where he needs to help his hero save Santa from some aliens. The visuals become a comic book with only Duckula partially animated. This must have really knocked down the cost of this episode. As the story moves along though, other characters start to animate. Either this is intentional or they just kind of lost track of the rules. The camera does shake a little as it pans across the page, which is a nice touch since it does make it feel like someone is just holding a book in front of it.
While Igor and Nanny argue over who is responsible for Duckula’s concussion, the story of Daring Duckula and Tremendous Terence is laid out. Duckula is a space pilot in this story as they go after some aliens who have abducted Santa. Daring Duckula navigates a swarm of pudding, the same that concussed him, and is quite modest when taking praise from Terence. Despite making himself a rather talented pilot, Duckula narrates that he crash lands on the home planet of the Dribulons, the evil aliens they’re pursuing. Once there they find themselves trapped in a net and are to be sent to the Igulon, the most feared being this side of Betelgeuse!
The heroes are taken to the Igulon, which is Igor in purple pajamas with yellow polka dots. Duckula remarks he looks familiar, but is apparently unable to make the connection in his present state. They then go into a schtick as Igulon states they’re just in time for dinner and Duckula is eager for some grub. When Igulon tells him that he is on the menu, Duckula is at first fine with that until he realizes what this means. The only thing missing is an incredulous, “WHAAAAT?!” Igulon recites a bunch of fancy dishes that are fun to hear and read (this is presented as a comic book, after all, complete with word bubbles) concluding with duck a la orange (he also intends to consume Santa and Terence). Duckula then tries to convince Igulon that he’d taste lousy, and Igulon surprisingly seems agreeable to this notion. He then suggests a pre-meal bit of entertainment, and Duckula whips out a banjo and starts seeing his own rendition of “Camptown Races.”
Igulon is not amused and corrects Duckula. He intends for the entertainment to be their battle with the Nannoxx! At this point, almost everything is fully animated as Igulon explains that if they survive the Nannoxx he’ll allow them to be cooked before he consumes them. What a generous guy? A gong is sounded summoning the horrible Nannoxx, which as you probably guessed is just Nanny only she’s all green and polka-dotted as well. She surprisingly enters through the door and immediately scolds Duckula for calling her horrible. Igulon orders her to kill the heroes and she marches over and places all three of them, Terence, Santa, and Daring Duckula, in a giant bear hug.
The bear hug is the catalyst for snapping Duckula out of his pudding-induced coma. He has apparently been reading the book, but in a concussed state, or something as he’s holding it and readying it frantically while Nanny squeezes him. Duckula soon notices he’s not in the story anymore and reacts with confusion. He rambles to Nanny and Igor about what had happened and thinks they saved him. Igor is thoroughly confused and as Duckula comes to realize it was all some weird hallucinatory episode he starts to laugh like a mad man. I mean, duck.
In the chimney system, or wherever they are, Santa is peering down another chasm unaware that Goosewing is right behind him. He bumps into Santa and both fall down the chute only to find it ends in the fireplace. At long last, they’ve located the exit! Their falling down the chimney stirs up quite a bit of dust and soot, and when the smoke clears Duckula is happy to see Santa, and surprised to see Goosewing. When they question what he’s doing there, he states he’s there to deliver goodwill since even a creature such as Duckula deserves something at Christmas. Santa seems to take this at face value as he laughs and declares that he’s happy to hear that from Goosewing. Goosewing hands over a present for Duckula and Santa declares he brought some too. Duckula is happy, because he’s like a child and loves getting presents, but Goosewing is frustrated when Duckula turns his attention to Santa instead of opening the gift he brought.
Santa then pulls out a gift for Igor, which is clearly another axe. The old bird doesn’t seem to mind. Nanny gets a big box, which she doesn’t open, and then Santa asks if Duckula has been a good boy this year. He says “Yes,” and Igor sneaks in “Mmm, ’tis a pity,” which is a good line as Santa hands over a gift for Duckula. He rips it open only to find it’s the same Tremendous Terence book he bought for Nanny. Most episodes of this show feature Duckula doing something self-serving where he gets his comeuppance in the end, and the Christmas episode is no different. Santa is confused that Duckula doesn’t seem to want his gift, but before Duckula can figure a way out of this awkward situation Goosewing rips open the gift he brought and asks if anyone wants Christmas crackers?
Nanny is excited to see the crackers so Duckula offers to pull one with her, but he makes it clear that he gets the present inside. The two then try to pull it apart, while Goosewing plugs his ears, but the thing won’t “crack” since Duckula is gripping the middle portion of the cracker and not the end. Frustrated, Goosewing grabs and yanks on the sides causing it to explode rather predictably. The explosion sends Goosewing rocketing through yet another window, where once again the crow brothers lurked and are soon knocked from the wall.
Duckula remarks that was one crazy cracker as Santa announces it’s time for him to go. Duckula wishes him a “Happy Christmas,” as Santa walks away. Apparently he wants nothing to do with the chimney of Castle Duckula. Nanny wishes him the same while Igor sneaks in one last “Bah, humbug,” for good measure. The scene pivots to outside as snow is falling. Santa drives away in his one reindeer sleigh as the narrator returns. He implores us to have “A very, merry, Christmas out there. Whatever you are!” The only surprise is there’s no moon in sight for Santa to fly in front of.
“A Christmas Quacker” is definitely a mixed bag. I enjoy the look of this series and I think the animation is rather well done, even if it’s sometimes minimal. And by minimal I don’t mean the comic book portion as that is certainly not the usual for this show. That whole section though felt like filler. There were a couple of decent and funny lines during that segment, but it was also pretty dull. Apparently there just wasn’t enough material to mine from the awkward gift exchange inside and Santa’s journey through the complicated chimney system of the castle. I like the recurring gag of the crow brothers, but I feel like more could have been done with Goosewing. They also could have just brought in more recurring characters from the show to pad this thing out, rather than roll with the comic thing. It just felt out of place in a Christmas episode because, other than the goal being to save Santa, that portion of the episode was pretty much devoid of Christmas.
What this show does offer is British humor and a wonderful cast. Jack May is especially impressive as Igor (and I think Santa) as I loved pretty much every line that character spoke. Nanny is charming as well since she never misses a chance to reprimand Duckula for doing something wrong. Our title character is almost the least interesting since he’s basically just a spoiled child at Christmas, but I do love his design. The scenery is also rather lovely and we get some snow and even a decrepit Christmas tree. There’s no Christmas message really, other than I suppose those who give gifts with the wrong intentions come away with nothing in the end. Well, I suppose Duckula did still get a book he liked, he just wound up with two.
“The Christmas Quacker” is not an easy thing to come by these days. If you live outside of the UK then it’s not even available on DVD and it’s not syndicated on any US channels. It is, however, streaming for free on YouTube via the official Count Duckula channel. If you remember the show from when you were a kid, or are just curious, I actually do suggest you give it a look. These free channels on YouTube feel like they’re not long for this world as various streaming platforms hungry for exclusive content keep cropping up. For now, it’s there, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?