03/12/2013

The Tripods Season 2 Episodes 5 to 8


Episode 5: Finally we’re inside the City of Gold which turns out to be more of a city of metal. Given budgetary limitations the scope of the episode is mostly impressive for its time. You certainly feel the scale of the place with several very well composed shots of people moving about the walkways and a good attempt is made to match the various elements- locations, studio and models- so they blend together. For the first time, the story begins to feel more imaginative with some innovative transport for its inhabitants in the form of floating cubes of green light. There is suitable incidental music to score the splendour. Best of all and in a couple of well- directed scenes we also meet the creatures who now rule the world. They’re odd looking and shot carefully enough to draw the eye away from any shortcomings. They look powerful yet talk in reasonable voices suggesting intelligence. If the city’s environs are impressive, the costumes are less so with the slaves forced to don cut off spacesuits which make them resemble spacemen at the beach. 

"Nice weather for a paddle, Will?"    "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, la"


Not for the first time, Will gets an easier deal than his mates and is ensconced in the employ of a seemingly more cerebral creature with the voice of John Woodvine. This despite the fact he makes a faux pas during the selection process; perhaps even these creatures think he is Paul McCartney. Yet by the end of the episode we learn that his future is limited. Fritz is sent to work in one of those generic telly sci-fi mines where people are beaten mercilessly ensuring they can’t do the job they’re supposed to. It doesn’t seem like much reward for all his dutiful scowling. He remains a character we learned little about so it’s difficult to root for him; if poor old Beanpole had been sent down there we’d be far more sympathetic.
Having played out so slowly in the first season this second seems willing to push the narrative faster and the revelation that the slaves only last a handful of years due to the air which ages them quickly adds a pall over the story. For almost the first time you start to feel something is really at stake.


Episode 6: The moral of this series is not to become friends with Will Parker because if you do only discomfort awaits. So while Will gets to chat about daisies and flirt with the cleaning girl, Fritz is being beaten by pointy hatted guards for not mining quickly enough. No wonder he’s grumpy and makes an escape to try and work in the powerhouse of the city. Here, a red eyed Tripod is wired up to an old generator while scientist types mill about in that TV scientist manner where they look busy but are really just pretending to move dials.
Not a lot happens but the real success of the episode is the visuals. A neat line about the Tripods building their city around an old power plant means the contemporary settings don’t look out of place. In fact the designer and special effects team have made it a virtue and managed to give the impression of a seamless construction. 
Will’s dialogue with his master gives us something of an insight into the way the creatures think though the generally laid back air they project seems at odds with all the stalking around the countryside killing people we’ve seen then do earlier. It’s a front of course; they clearly leave all the brutalizing to the guards.
It’s quite handy that this is the moment when John Shackley’s casting makes some sense. Frequently outshone by his former colleagues last season his centre stage position here brings out a more thoughtful, intuitive character. Robin Hayter meanwhile is all shouting and action. Its hit and miss but the narrative has yet to give Fritz much depth though the episode ending leaves us in no doubt of the horror that lies behind the Tripods’ veneer of civility.

"Did you see the match?"    "No, I had to do some DIY Stanley"


Episode 7: “Will you be my friend?” asks Will’s master placing a rather heavy leg on Will’s shoulder. Meanwhile Fritz meets his new friend from the Power Elite in a place called the Pink Parrot where dodgy 80s flavoured music is playing and people are dancing round imaginary handbags. What sort of an episode is this going to be? It is certainly unexpected that the slaves have been provided with bars though I suppose it might keep them quiet even if the strongest drink on offer appears to be orange juice served by somewhat surly waiters.
This is an episode intended to provide some detail about life in the city. I suppose we should call the aliens Trions rather than Tripods. During the extended history lesson Will has to listen to we learn a little more about their view of things. Presumably taken from the book is the idea that the Trions have of sorting out human misdemeanours. They view their regime, however harsh, as fair and having bars in the city of gold presumably supports that. I wonder what other alliterative nighteries are available- The Green Goose? The Red Rhino? The Silver Stoat?
Extensive filming in a real power station certainly conveys the sense of scale and wonder intended though you’d expect Fritz to be somewhat more overawed than he seems to be.  Better written is the way he doesn’t trust his new mate till it’s almost too late. The series has certainly become more intelligent since it moved away from wandering around the countryside with arguments finely balanced between the human and Trion point of view. How the balance between excitement and exposition is maintained will determine the enjoyment of the second half of the season.

Episode 8: While the show has sometimes been odd it has never been quite as unusual as this episode in which Will is taken to meet one of the super brained aliens that run the city. Disembodied former masters, these are creatures of pure thought and as such incredibly intelligent. This one for example seems to know everything about Will including his false cap, mission to sabotage the city, the Freemen and even where he really comes from. Either he’s already read the novel or else he can read minds. The latter turns out to be the case, though judging by the surreal quality of the episode I wouldn’t be too surprised if it were the former!
What makes this work particularly well is the playfulness of Coggie who provides a hot meal, a strange meeting with Eloise while relaying how much he knows with a casual air which is much more satisfying than had he been a threatening villain. His laid back delivery makes things seem all the more menacing. Visually the meeting is bizarre with Will in a white void surrounding by pulsing circles. Things appear and disappear; sometimes he is sitting down but turning in a circle. Now that the city knows what he is up to you wonder what can happen next.
Considering how slowly the first season moved, the speed of plot revelations in this second can be dazzling. While Will is spinning around, Fritz, now promoted to the power elite, find the map to the engine room of the city though of course Coggie will know this too won’t he? Also the episode provides a little clue as to the master’s vulnerability when Will accidentally hits him in a place where he is told he could have killed him. So there is plenty of development going on in what is quite an absorbing if puzzling episode. The big question must be – if these super brains know everything how can our heroes possibly succeed? Just as long as they keep away from the rather tedious guards it should be an interesting remaining five episodes.

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