The Tripods Season 1 Episodes 10 & 11

Episode 10: For an episode The Tripods forgets itself. Here we are imagining it to be a silly kid’s series and then it comes over all reflective and lyrical. There’s a lovely scene when Madame Vichot is trying to cheer up mopey Will by telling him about her past life. With a sparkle in her eyes she details travels and a zeal for discovery that she had before capping and, more importantly, how some of that has remained in her head afterwards. She becomes, in only a couple of episodes, a quite marvellous character especially portrayed by Anni Lee Taylor as if she is in a proper drama or something! In writing and acting terms she really is the first convincing three dimensional character we’ve met. Naturally she forces everyone to raise their game and even John Shackley manages his best scene so far playing opposite her.

"Thank goodness Primark survived"

Her room full of `old` treasures- in fact more recent objects the viewer will recognise- adds a visual motif to Madame Vichot’s dialogue. Her speech about love and aspiration is delivered with sincerity and in terms of the original novel is presumably supposed to suggest she is a similar soul to Will. Unfortunately the tv show has thus far allowed Will to show little of that same spirit, his lines generally having been either banal or whiny.

The episode revolves, sometimes a little more clumsily, around the burgeoning relationships between the boys and some of the girls and has a carefree attitude to it with much singing, dancing and jumping around on grapes. Some may find it dull but I think it adds a much needed human element to a scenario that so far has relied on a trio of main characters whose motivations and feelings have been conveyed through uninspiring expositional dialogue. They are supposedly on the journey of a lifetime fraught with peril and pain yet also opening a whole new world to them yet you’d think they’d just been into town for a few hours shopping.

Madame Vichot’s story, her identification with Will and the others suggests a fabulous tale lurking underneath somewhere about how explorers can become world changers and about holding on to the things you value. You feel the series can never realise such ambition but it is a relief to watch an episode that at least tries.

Episode 11: France is one crazy place, n’est pas?  This week the trio nick some food from a man with an unfeasibly gigantic hat and pretend to be monkeys. In one of the pacier episodes, we find them tired and hungry, especially Henry who never misses an opportunity to moan. After a river crossing escapade in which Beanpole gets soaked they hitch a lift to a local fair (a chemin du fair?) where they see an opportunity to steal some food. Once again the scale of the production impresses with more extras than you’d expect loitering for croissant in a ruined castle.

The Mayor is collecting taxes though how anyone makes money in this Tripod run society is not clear. Do the Guards pay people? For that matter where and how are the coins made in this apparently non industrial environment? One suspects this particular Mayor might be siphoning funds and hiding them inside a ridiculously large hat he is sporting. It’s so big he can’t even join in the chase to pursue the boys when they make off with the average contents of a Delice de France counter and the rest of the villagers stop at the boundary of a forest marked out by skulls on sticks.

There then follows a bizarre interlude in which the trio encounter face painted, gibbering folk probably from a drama group who jump around, make animal noises rather than talk and do not seem capable of boiling a cup of tea never mind organising a macabre barrier. In his best moment of French common sense yet, Beanpole decides the way to escape is to pretend they too are animals. In all likelihood none of the actors can now watch this scene and its hard going for the rest of us. Henry noticeably does not partake in any on screen (j)apery perhaps mindful that thirty years hence people might be reviewing this and thinking “what the…”

Director Christopher Barry does add a lot of verve to this episode which helps conceal some of the silliness of the woodland savages. Thankfully our heroes are soon returned to the clutches of Mayor Large Hat and discover that they will stand trial and if found guilty of stealing loaves (and possibly fishes) will be capped “tomorrow”. It’s just like Les Miserables though thankfully nobody starts singing about bread.

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