I recently reconnected with my old friend Sandy, who was one of the few people I knew back in the day that watched The Tripods when it was on PBS back in the eighties. This was a show I had remembered with much affection, and I was delighted to find that he was able to make me a copy of both of the produced series. I've been watching them all week and concluded series two yesterday afternoon, just before the cable guy arrived (see below).
It is always a dangerous prospect to revisit programs one enjoyed as a youth, and so I was very happy to find that The Tripods does indeed hold up as immensely entertaining and very thought-provoking. I had only seen series one once, when it was originally aired back in 1984. Based on the first book in John Christopher's trilogy, The White Mountains, it introduces to the viewer a world in which humans are enslaved through the use of the Cap, an electronic device implanted on a persons' head when they reach maturity. The effect of the Cap is that it inhibits insurrection by imposing a reverence for the Tripods, and with this device, they are able to set mankind back hundreds of years. The story is set in the future, but for the most part looks more like Medieval Europe.
The Cap is by far one of the most interesting aspects of the program. In a dimension that I wasn't quite able to grasp when I first watched the show all of those years ago, it is clear that teenagers (the age of Capping is much older in the series than in the books) are quite aware of how the Cap will dull a person's personality and creativity, but being minors are unable to do much about it. While the Tripods themselves only appear five times in series one, their presence is felt throughout because of it. The protagonists hear of a group of free men in Switzerland and set off across England and France to join up with them.
Series two is significantly different. Now members of the Freemen, they are part of a program to pose as Capped athletes to penetrate into the Tripod City of Gold (the title of this book was The City of Gold and Lead). Now that the heroes have false Caps, their adventures before they reach the city are of a different cast because they fall into a new social category.
But it is in the depiction of the City of Gold that made series two completely unforgettable to me. With all the hints about it in the previous series, the week between episodes four (the Games) and five (entry into the City) I remember clearly as being a hellish seven days of apprehension. I was to see the City and find out at long last what was driving the Tripods... but on top of that there was the my concern for the main character, Will (John Shackley), whom I had followed from his home village in England all the way here - the other Freemen contestant, Fritz (Robin Hayter), was not only a newer character, but fairly unpleasant as well up until that point, although over the course of the series I began to respect him quite a bit.
The world inside the City was one that I found fascinating, yet that danger never left. Who the Masters were, why they were here and what their plans were for Earth were all interesting questions answered over the course of the five episodes that take place there, and I found myself as caught up in the story as I was in 1985. The City itself was dazzling for its time, certainly a banner moment for special effects on the BBC. There is also the interesting note that the Masters were not even slightly humanoid in appearance, and the puppetry was very good, thus infusing Will's Master, West 468 (voiced by John Woodvine), with a distinct personality.
And, of course, there was Ken Freeman's musical scores, which were pretty groundbreaking at the time but seem rather quaint now. The music is rather charming, actually, while I am pleased that Freeman released a CD of selections, I have to say that I think the series could use a volume 2; the series often used its score to very good effect (although there are moments when the combination of the 80s electronic beats and the Medieval visuals give the film a Ladyhawke-esque quality, which as I've mentioned before, doesn't bother me as much as it seems to many others), with some standout moments that would make as good listening as the CD that exists. One thing I was most surprised to find about the CD when I got it is that the catchy guitar theme associated with Fritz in the City appears nowhere on it, which is odd considering that it is a principle theme for series two.
The most depressing thing about The Tripods was that it was also one of the first times when the Fates discovered that I liked a program, and thus ensured that it would be canceled before it completed its run. Michael Grade, controller for the BBC, decided he didn't like science fiction and so had the show axed before the epic final book of the trilogy, The Pool of Fire, in which the Freemen plan and launch their attack to rid the world of the Tripods, went into production. This is particularly annoying as series two ended on a cliffhanger.
I am glad to have been able to revisit this show, and even happier to see that it still works despite both its age and mine.
My internet has been iffy for quite some time. Two weeks ago, the cable guy showed up and replaced the line from the pole to the house, which seemed to improve the situation somewhat, but soon enough it became clear that was not the problem. I would periodically lose service, and when I did have it, I could usually just surf, not look at content or download anything, at least not within a reasonable time frame.
I had another appointment yesterday "between 2:00 and 6:00," which required me to skiv off work early (which wasn't a big problem what with the workload being what it was). I waited for a few hours, and the cable company called me not once but twice to inform me that they would not be able to dispatch a technician to my home that day.
He showed up anyway, checked all the lines and replaced the modem. That last seemed to have been the real problem, as now I am able to download at reasonable speeds once again. It occurred to me earlier today that they might be dispatching someone to my apartment again today... hopefully not!
Happily, the two courses I was required to take today were available on the company's web-based Netlearn site, which meant that I could go through them from the comfort of my hole rather than going to the office. I don't mind going to the office most of the time, but I would really prefer not to have to change out of my shorts.