Monday, 26 July 2010

The Tripods

Year: 1984-1985
Directors: Graham Theakston, Christopher Barry and Bob Blagden
Screenplay: Alick Rowe and Christopher Penfold, based on "The Tripods Trilogy" novels by John Christopher
Starring: John Shackley, Ceri Seel and Jim Baker
Running Time: 25 episodes over two seasons. 25 minutes per episode.
Genre: Science-fiction, adventure, alien invasion

Summary: The series opens in England in the year 2089. The planet Earth has been completely taken over by a race of aliens who move around in giant, three-legged walking machines known as "Tripods". The human race is completely controlled by means of a mind-control device called "The Cap" which is permanently fixed to each individual's scalp when they reach adulthood: a process known as "Capping". The Cap removes creativity, subdues intelligence and individual thought and replaces it with a fanatical devotion to the Tripods and the aliens who operate them. It also ensures that human civilization has reverted to the late Middle Ages. Two teenagers, Will Parker (Shackley) and his cousin Henry (Baker), who are due to soon be Capped, decide to escape and undertake the hazardous journey to the "White Mountains" in the south of France where they have been told are a band of "Free Men" who live independent of Tripod control and are planning to overthrow the invaders. It is this jounrey that takes up the whole of the first season. The second season, deals with a plot to send an undercover resistance member, equipped with a fake Cap, into the Tripod City to gather information.

Opinions: "The Tripod Trilogy" was a series of books for teenagers written by Samuel Youd under the pen-name "John Christopher" and consists of The White Mountains (1967), The City of Gold and Lead (1968) and The Pool of Fire (1968). The TV series, which was made by the BBC, covers the first two books. The show follows the books fairly faithfully and frequently the pace suffers from the fact that the scriptwriters were trying to adapt short books into a lengthy TV series. In fact the first season could probably have surprised viewers tuning in late and expecting some science-fiction action in that it seems to consist mostly of people walking around the picturesque countryside chatting with the occasional glimpse of a Tripod to remind viewers that, y'know, they were actually watching The Tripods and not a super-low budget version of Lord of the Rings. The first season suffered heavily from the limited special-effects budget which meant that there were many episodes where the Tripods themselves were barely glimpsed and some where they never appeared at all. To be fair though the Tripods themselves were pretty impressive creations for the time and at times were quite striking. The second season was in many ways an improvement on the first, with more pacing and a genuine sense of danger. The special effects were also improved and the Tripod City itself was an impressive attempt at making a genuinely alien city. However, as is always the problem with special effects, though they were ground breaking in their day, to modern eyes they have really dated badly. Some other aspects in the second season, most notably the costumes that the humans have to wear in the city, and some of the dialogue given to the alien "Masters" were clearly the product of a more innocent age. For all it's flaws though, The Tripods remains an interesting, and striking piece of science-fiction television and it has moments of real brilliance. Unfortunately a planned third season which would cover the third book, The Pool of Fire, was never made. However Youd continued the book series in 1988 with a prequel to the original trilogy called When the Tripods Came. Also the Tripods are due to lumber across screens again in 2012 in a Hollywood movie version.

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