|In 1984 and 1985, The Tripods was the show that the BBC used to fill its traditional Saturday teatime Doctor Who slot. Adapted from the first two books in John Christopher's "Tripods" trilogy, the show frustratingly failed to deliver the final story that winds everything up. This release collects the first series of 13 episodes, which covers the first book (The White Mountains). In 2089, the human race lives a peaceful, agrarian existence in post-technological communities under the rule of the Tripods, vast alien machines that look like the Martians from War of the Worlds. In a small English village, teenage cousins Will (John Shackley) and Henry (Will Baker) are troubled as they near the age at which they will be "capped", fitted by the local Tripod with a metallic hairnet which will turn them into docile, uncreative, happy servants of the invaders. A wily vagrant tells the boys that far to the south, a community of uncapped freemen resists the Tripods, and they set off on a 13-episode journey that takes them to the coast, across the English Channel and down through France, with stop-offs in the impressive ruins of Paris, at a medieval-style chateau and on a vineyard in the Jura. Along the way, the lads fall in with "Bean Pole" (Ceri Seel), a gangling, bespectacled French rebel who is fascinated with the lost arts of machine-making, but at each of their stopovers there are temptations, mostly in the forms of appealing French girls, to settle down and become happy conformists, but in the end they do join up with the rebels, ready for a mission to the city of the Tripods that comes in Series Two.
With production values significantly higher than Doctor Who at that time, the show conserves its effects and makes them count, with the Tripods only rarely intervening directly. Watched at a sitting, it seems padded and the three lead actors are variable, but taken in single-episode chunks it works quite well, with a subtly unsettling depiction of a backward world where everyone seems happy but actually isn't and actual villainy comes as a relief amidst the overwhelming niceness. The English and French locations are very well used, and the production design and costuming (lots of hats to cover the "caps") is imaginative without being panto-like. --Kim Newman