Cult TV

Cult TV Essentials: The Tripods

The Tripods is a television adaptation of John Christopher’s The Tripods series of novels. It was jointly produced by the BBC in the United Kingdom and the Seven Network in Australia. The music soundtrack was written by Ken Freeman.

PLOT

The story of The Tripods is a variation on post-apocalyptic literature, wherein humanity has been enslaved by “Tripods”: gigantic three-legged walking machines, piloted by unseen alien entities (later identified as “Masters”). Human society is largely pastoral, with few habitations larger than villages, and what little industry exists is conducted under the watchful presence of the Tripods. Lifestyle is reminiscent of the Middle Ages, but small artefacts from the Modern Age are still used.

Humans are controlled from the age of 14 by implants called “Caps”, which suppress curiosity and creativity. Some people, whose minds are broken by the Caps, become vagrants. According to The City of Gold and Lead, Masters begin to believe that humans should be capped at an earlier age “because some humans, in the year or two before they are Capped, become rebellious and act against the masters.”; but this cannot be done because Capping must wait until the braincase has stopped growing.

PRODUCTION

Series one of The Tripods, broadcast in 1984, which had 13 half-hour episodes written by the well-known author of many radio plays Alick Rowe, covers the first book, The White Mountains; the 12-episode second series (1985) covers The City of Gold and Lead. Although a television script had been written for the third series, it never went into production.

The first series was released on both VHS and DVD. The BBC released Tripods – The Complete Series 1 & 2 on DVD in March 2009.[1]

The series introduced several minor changes from the book, notably the shape of the Masters and Tripods, which have tentacles (although the Tripods do have a mechanical claw-arm that they sometimes use) in the book; the Black Guard was introduced to serve as a tangible human antagonist as overuse of the Tripods themselves would be expensive to film and undermine their dramatic presence; gravity inside the Golden City was increased artificially, which is not mentioned in the TV series; the introduction of “cognoscs”, spiritual life-forms vastly superior to the Masters themselves; and more other main characters, including love interests for both Will and Beanpole.

The original texts have few female characters. John Christopher was asked about this for an interview on Wordcandy, replying that at the time of writing the series, it was generally accepted that girls would read books with boy main characters, but not vice versa. He also stated that he felt the addition of an entire family of girls to the TV series was somewhat “over the top”. The series is also notable for featuring non-humanoid aliens, which was uncommon at the time.

The death in a car crash of Charlotte Long, who played Will’s love interest Eloise, occurred shortly after the start of transmission of the first series. For the second series, the role was briefly recast, with Cindy Shelley appearing as Eloise during a dream sequence.

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