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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Tripods
Series 1 & 2


Starring: John Shackley Ceri Seel Jim Baker
RRP: £39.99
Certificate: PG
Available 23 March 2009

It is the year 2089 and for the last hundred years mankind had been dominated by the Tripods, monolithic machines that roam the countryside keeping a watchful eye. Life has reverted to a simpler rural, agricultural model. When the young men and women reach the age of sixteen they are capped, during the coming of age ceremony adolescents shave their heads and are taken into a tripod to have a metal mesh attached to their skulls, caps which stifle curiosity and guarantee a docile population. Not everyone is happy with the arrangements and as Will’s capping ceremony approaches he becomes more determined not to submit. His chance meeting with a vagrant named Ozymandias, who tells him of free men who live in the White Mountains, spurs both Will and his cousin Henry to run away...

The Tripods (1984) was an ambitious science fiction show, adapted from the original novels by Alick Rowe. The series was eventually cancelled after two seasons having covered The White Mountains (1967) and The City of Gold and Lead (1967). The third book, The Pool of Fire (1968), was never filmed. John Christopher, the original author, would go on to write a prequel, When the Tripods Came (1988), which explained how the Tripods were able to subdue a technologically sophisticated society.

Series One ran for thirteen episodes with a slightly shorter twelve episode second series. Even on its original transmission the show divided fans. There were those who felt that the inclusion of extra material diverted too much from the original, slowing the pace of the story. Certainly, although the show kept the name Tripods, the machines are noticeable by their absence in a lot of the episodes. This was certainly true of the first series. The opposite camp was just as vocal in their defence of the show, feeling that the slower pace allowed the story not to feel rushed, which made some sense as the boys have to make it from southern England to the Alps on foot - a journey of many weeks.

What can’t be denied is that the special effects, for their time, remain impressive with the Beeb going as far as building full sized legs for some shots. This also meant that the show was one of the most expensive that had been undertaken.

Both surviving series have been released as a four DVD box set. Series One had previous been release on DVD but the print was not great with a lot of evident dirt, this print seems a lot cleaner in comparison. Series One is spread across two DVDs - disc one holdings episodes one to seven, with an option for subtitles, with the remaining six episodes on the second disc.

Series Two is also spread over two DVDs with disc one holding episodes one to six. This disc does come with a couple of extras in the form of a recap of Series One (2 min, 26 sec) and a featurette on the cult of The Tripods (29 min, 17 sec) which looks at the history of the show and its cancellation. The final disc in the set holds episodes seven to twelve with extras being Tripods: Pool of Fire Suite (40 min, 14 sec) which combines music from the show into one long piece and an animated photo gallery (2 min, 03 sec).

The second series was more effects laden with Will and his friends infiltrating the city of the masters - the masters themselves are particularly well realised. Ultimately what let the show down was the slow pace of the story and some wooden acting, and whilst it was a shame that the Beeb didn’t go on to complete the trilogy the show's faults almost guaranteed its cancellation.

Fans of the show (and oddly, considering that I’m quite critical of the acting, I count myself amongst that number) will be delighted to finally get their hands on both series. It’s also nice that the Beeb has added some extras. However, even the most strident fan will find it difficult to defend the show as a whole - which remains a gallant, if flawed, effort.


Charles Packer

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