The Tripods: Season 1 Episode 1

Adapted by Alick Rowe
from the book by John Christopher 
Directed by Graham Theakston

England 2089. People live in rural communities with resources that stretch no further than the Victorian era and under the rule of three legged metal behemoths known as the Tripods.  One boy- Will Parker- already having doubts over the ritual `capping` that takes place when people reach the age of 18, is inspired to make a daring journey to uncover the truth.

England 1984. The BBC is seemingly awash enough with money to invest in a second sci-fi series and decide to adapt John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy to fill the early Saturday evening slot. England 2013. We’re going to watch it one episode a week for the rest of the year. It’s difficult to know who is more ambitious- the BBC for thinking they could successfully realise seventy foot tall metal machines or us for imagining we will make it through the meandering narrative. I remember seeing the series when it was shown; in fact what I remember is the main characters wandering around outside and the Tripods themselves only showing a metal leg now and again. Oh and a vineyard. A lot of time spent in and around a vineyard. Nearly thirty years later will we be grabbed by the Tripods?
"Oh an iPod. I thought you said get me a Tripod."

This opening episode shows little of the sloth I was expecting managing to set Will and pal Henry off on their adventure in 25 minutes flat after the boy encounters Ozymandias, a `vagrant` living wild in the woods. Ozzy tells him some truths about the Tripods invading 100 years earlier, subjugating humans and taking away their technology. Handily for the BBC, this has left the population living the Victorian life so the standard props and costume stores probably did fine for that. Ozzy claims the capping process robs people of their inclination to be curious, rebellious or aggressive. It’s tempting to think this is a big allegory for growing up and getting a job though if it were just that the comparison would be as awkward as the Tripod’s movements. Instead there are hints of a more involving story of teenage rebellion and aspirations of freedom.

Shot on location with crisp video cameras the impression is of a cowed population content to live in a country idyll. The special effects vary though clever use of sound and selected images ensure the initial arrival of a Tripod impresses. There’s a great shot where you see it reflected in the water. It’s only when viewed moving from a distance that it looks too much like a tiny model. There is the slightly stilted feel of a studio drama even though we’re outside in the summer. 

It’s not the BBC’s fault that the Tripods do look similar to the Martian war machines from War of the Worlds. In fact, let’s face it, it’s the same idea. However the similarities stop there; this is more like an alternative showing what would have happened if the Martians had won; in that sense the period look seems appropriate.

As Will, John Shackley resembling a young Paul McCartney, carries the bulk of the dialogue and is at his best conversing with Ozymandius, played by Roderick Horn with tremendous zeal. Shackley seems lumbered with a character so virtuous he could be quite dull whereas Jim Baker seems like he’ll have more fun as the livelier Henry. There are a few anomalies in particular how the Tripods get any information across as they just seem to arrive and parp noisily. Also, how come Will is so awed by a watch when there’s are clocks around.

On the whole this is a confident well made opener promising much but when you think there are 12 episodes in the season, you wonder how they can sustain the impetus.

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