Friday, 27 August 2010

The Tripods

A while ago I posted the intro sequence to the 80s BBC sci-fi series The Tripods. This review of the series has been a long time coming mainly because the show goes severely downhill in its later episodes, and I only got through them because there was nothing else to watch on my iPhone on several long train journeys.

The Tripods is based on the collection of four novels by John Christopher who was inspired by the premise of what had happened if Wells' martians had won the war of the worlds. The story opens with humans having been pacified by alien overlords and reduced to a pre-industrial state. The tripods keep humanity docile by "capping" them when they reach their late teens. This involves a circuit-like plate being implanted onto the head of all youths. The aliens have also instilled a quasi-religious belief system which encourages humans to view them as benign saviours of their race. The world, therefore, resembles a kind of post apocalyptic Merry England.

In the first series the tripods are an ever-present but rarely seen threat. Wisely the series concerns itself with the human drama of three boys on the run to escape capping. The tale is therefore a coming-of-age travel yarn where puberty, romance and the nature of free will drive the narrative. So far so merry. We British excel with costume drama and, with its alternative history slant the BBC was well placed to make a decent adaptation of the story. The quality of the filming aside (it looks like it was shot on video rather than film) the sets and costumes are sumptuous.

Things go very wrong when we hit the second series. Main characters drop out of the storyline for too long, and events are stretched out over too many episodes. The rural sets are dropped for high-tech interiors which, although they were costly at the time, have dated badly. The show was cancelled after the second series, and it's not hard to see why.

The DVDs come with an excellent "making of" documentary where cast and crew fondly remember their work. A thing of note is that the great Brit model-maker Martin Bower (the Gerry Anderson of the 80s, and Alien veteran) numbered amongst the technical team. A rather sad epitaph is that the actress who played Elouise, Charlotte Long (the youngest daughter of the 4th Viscount Long), died in a car crash shortly after filming the first series.

1 comment:

  1. I thought The Tripods was pretty good when I was a kid. The trouble they had was that the BBC executives wanted 13 episodes when 7 or 8 would have been perfect. I watched both series again over a couple of days or so and enjoyed much of it. If you're 10 years old, then it will be quite tense and thrilling. The concept of brainwashing was unusual and curious for children to think about...

    I showed this to my Chinese girlfriend (I now live in China) and she was quite nervous and tense about it. However, if I showed it to an English woman in England, she would poo poo it and scorn--unless she loved it as a kid too. It's main benefit is that it led many people to read the Tripods Trilogy of books - which are brilliant!! A must read for teenagers or those young at heart. Very thoughtful and cool, tense books. The second book's City of Gold and Lead is far, far more stressful than the second series alluded to... However, the alien Masters in the series were pretty cool, mind.
    Read the books and show the tv show to timid asian women and you'll be more immersed in the show 8oD