Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Tripods

The Tripods is another childhood favorite of mine. Writing as John Christopher, Samuel Youd authored three novels in the 1960's, The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire. A pre-quel, When the Tripods Came, was written in 1988.

In the late 20th Century an alien civilization invades and conquers the earth. Breathing a poisonous atmosphere, the aliens (the Skloodzi) are confined to the mechanical tripods which most of humanity believes to be the aliens themselves. Humans are controlled by capping, the implantation of a control chip in the skull at age 16 which removes curiousity and initiative.

Will and Henry, residents of a small British town decide to flee their home when they witness their older friend siezed and capped by a tripod, losing all interest in the world at large, happy to stay and chop wood in his mediaeval setting. They are befriended by a so-called vagrant, "Ozymandias," who is not, like others, a victim of a failed capping, but a wanderer with a false cap who uses his vagrant status as camouflage in his quest to recruit young men for the resistance, based in the French Alps.

Will and Henry voyage to France, where they meet a tall "inventor" named Jean Paul who has managed to remain uncapped at age 17. Together the boys travel to the Alps to join the fight to overthrow humanity's alien masters.

The books are juvenile, but quite good for children. The story adopts the common conceit of children fighting an adult world controlled by some secret or alien force. Baffled by the world of adults who seem to come to an accomodation with some unspeakable evil - or just some bland gray mediocrity - this plot device appeals to the young and embarrasses those who sell themselves out to the establishment.

The books were adapted into a miniseries by the BBC and the Seven Network of Australia. While an adaptation of all three books was written and budgeted, The series was cancelled by the new BBC head who, according to Wikipedia, was opposed to science fiction programs. The two extant seasons have a cult following. The show can bee seen in twenty five half-hour episodes here on YouTube. The filmed episodes actually tell a better story than one finds in the books, with an expanded tale and love interests for the heroes. With the current market in DVD releases of old telvision series, one might argue that the BBC shortsightedly capped itself in refusing to film the entire series until its heroic climax.

Here is Episode One, Part One:


Joe Maurone said...

Wow, I remember reading these as a kid! Thanks for the nostalgia trip, I have to check them out again.

Ted Keer said...

Joe, you'll find that the live action series blows the first two books out of the water. The first 13 episodes are available on DVD. All the episodes are on YouTube. Search for The Tripods E1 - part one, etc., for the first nine episodes, and the thirteenth through the 25th. For episodes 10-13 use "The Tripods (1984) Part 24" through Part 33.