The Tripods Season 1 Episodes 2 - 4

Our journey to the White Mountains gets under way in the BBC’s dramatization of The Tripods from the 1980s. The idea was to review one a week  but to be honest there isn’t really that much to say about each episode so I’ve bunched them together like, you know, some kind of chemin de fer, like.

All episodes adapted by Alick Rowe from the books by John Christopher and directed by Graham Theakston
Episode 2: You can see how different TV from the 1980s is to modern programmes right away when Episode 2 begins with Will’s mother making breakfast, discovering her son has run away and seeming only mildly bothered about it. In a similar manner, lots happens in the ensuing 25 minutes but none of it seems to be that vital, even a supposedly daring attempt to escape the clutches of press ganging sailors seems too choreographed. Faced with some real dilemmas, the combination of inexperienced actors and wafer thin dialogue leaves what should be a reasonably well paced episode starved of jeopardy or excitement.  

Will insisted they re-create the Abby Road cover despite the fact they are in Paris

The only aspect that does look good is the harbour though this exposes a fundamental flaw of Christopher’s story. If this is 2089 then surely some sort of hybrid world would exist; a mish mash of equipment, clothes, buildings and ideals spanning the entire century? Instead, at least as depicted here, we are entirely within the late 19th Century down to the boats, pubs, attire and even behaviour. So why not just set it at that time? These broad issues undermine the entire series yet by comparison there is forensic detail regarding things that don’t matter like how to read maps. The result is a drama from which all the life has been sucked out.

Episode 3  sees the mysterious Captain Curtis emerge once the Orion has set sail meaning that the whole press ganging thing was a ruse and before long we are in France. Not that the boys can trust anyone except perhaps Jean Paul whom Henry decides to call Beanpole which the admittedly tall French teenager agrees to right away. His presence seems to liven up the dull conversations Will and Henry have been having though I still think that dramatically it would make more sense for one of the trio to be a girl. Beanpole seems free to come and go bringing well prepared snacks and escape plans for the prisoners. Hence Will and Henry get away after their French sandwich delivery mate leaves their cell unlocked. 

This episode is very well made with an impressive visual aspect that incorporates what looks like a real ship really at sea and an impressive subterranean prison location (if it’s a set it’s a very good one). As for the Tripods themselves all we get is a distant belch and the slightly unconvincing sight of a couple of them skimming across the sea in the distance. It underlines how the creatures themselves seem an odd fit for the story that bears their name.

S Club were also in town

Episode 4: Not a lot actually happens for much of this episode but what we do see are some very well achieved visuals depicting a ruined Paris as the trio wander around the deserted city. You’d have imagined the insertion of some wild dogs or something might vary the wandering about but it does give the production a chance to show off its set dressing. Perhaps the camera lingers a little too long giving away the lack of any movement and highlighting a few perspective issue but it still looks impressive. Both the shop and Metro station interiors benefit from being locations rather than studio sets so when things fall or drop they make a real clatter and the lighting adds to the overall effect. 

You do wonder if after a hundred years things would still be so recognisable and complete and there is a disparity between a bag which gives way as soon as it’s used and the assortment of clobber the boys don which does not seem to have faded or decayed at all. Luckily their new  outfits are not as gaudy as a bunch of kids who are following them though it’s amusing that Beanpole selects a jersey with the word `Oui` across it lest we forget his nationality. Shame they can’t find a corresponding one for Will that says `Alright, la`.
It’s a pity that the boys’ conversations are so one note- there is little sense of wonder at what they are seeing and they have the demeanour of being out for a stroll rather than encountering jaw dropping images. At least Beanpole gets excited about trains which he refers to as “chemin de fer” which is a French word for `railroad` but is actually a form of the card game baccarat. Unfortunately when Henry starts lobbing grenades about and Will goes crazy with a machine gun my dvd copy went on the blink  but as there are still a lot of episodes to go, I assume they survive this arsenal.

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