The Tripods: The Complete Series DVD review

And just how long have we been waiting for this? The Tripods - in its entirety - has just arrived on DVD.

The Tripods

For those who may not know anything about The Tripods (c’mon, what kind of geek are you?), it’s often referred to as Doctor Who‘s replacement as it sat proud in the Saturday teatime slot on BBC1 during the Eighties. It’s a slightly inaccurate (and rather reductive) description as Who had departed that particular slot some two and a half years previous (and would then return to it) but the spirit of the sentiment is apt.

The Tripods was a family-friendly sci-fi romp that enthralled over ten million viewers back in the day when the Time Lord’s ratings were starting to struggle. The series was based on a trilogy of books written by John Christopher (also known as Sam Youd) set in 2089 where an alien race had taken over the world and enslaved mankind through a procedure called “capping”.

Despite its popularity, the series only ran to two outings with the third installment canceled, thus dumping it in the ‘cult’ bin for eternity. Oddly, the BBC never repeated either series and when it came to the home market, the first series has been released on both VHS and DVD but its follow-up hasn’t seen the light of day in retail form. Until now with this Complete Series box set, but is it any good all these years on?

Although The Tripods is very much a product of its time (especially the second series – more of that later) that does not mean it’s any less of an essential watch. Most ‘classics’ are ‘of their time’ and whilst the series reeks of the Eighties, there’s a charm and a warmth present that will keep you enthralled throughout all twenty-five episodes.

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One of the arguments that is often fired at The Tripods is that there aren’t many of the titular machines actually present in the show but, for me, it adds to their mystique, building tension whenever a leg appears or the sound (that sound!) reverberates in the landscape. When we do get some full on action, it is memorable in the extreme, such as Will’s capture and the series one finale showdown where a number of the three-legged bad boys hunt down our intrepid heroes.

The first series beautifully builds the relationship between the three young boys: Will, Henry and the “Frenchman”, Beanpole. And this is where much of the charm of the show lies – on their inexperience and naivety. It’s a big ask of the youngsters but they do successfully manage to carry the show and full marks and a gold star go to John “Young Paul McCartney Lookalike” Shackley, Ceri Seel and fan favourite Jim Baker. Frustratingly, the trio are split in the second series (though it does make for a fantastic narrative) and we are introduced to the “German” Fritz, who starts off as a thorn in the side of our gang but ends up becoming a bit of a hero. Like the other teenagers, the character is stoutly played and I’ll hand out some more gold stars to Robin Hayter for his affectionate portrayal.

The second series sees a change in tone from the innocent love shared by the boys and various French gals they hook up with to a more, how should I phrase this, sexual flavour with homoerotic overtones. As noted in the accompanying doc The Cult Of…, there’s a huge Frankie Goes To Hollywood vibe going with the costumes in the city of the aliens (or “masters” as they are referred to). Chuck in the odd dodgy ‘tache, a dubious nightclub called the Pink Parrot (where they played anachronistic music even for the 80s), aliens that look like a phallus with three further appendages, the continued use of the phrase “happy release” (won’t someone please think of the children?) and the main character changing his name to Willy Sachs (I kid you not) and you’ve got yourself a sexy party.

Even more ‘adult’ is the relationship Will shares with his master, who comes off as a possessive, pathetic jealous teen when Will reveals his friendship with Fritz. And the words ‘bunny’ and ‘boiler’ spring to mind after Will meets with one of the Cognosc (cheerfully named Coggy) – the masters of the masters. The city that houses this series two action is surprisingly well-realised and still looks gorgeous, despite its Eighties stylings. The effects too are top notch for the most part with clever direction masking the limitations of model work and only very rarely do the Tripods seem like they’re walking in front of a postcard.

Although there’s a perceived lack of Tripod action in the first series, the second certainly makes up for it, though the journey taken by the young men is not nearly as fun. As they make their way to the games there’s some infuriatingly poor moments featuring Pam “Pat Butcher” St Clement and an accent that will make you wonder if the director had switched off and thought he was making a comedy. Likewise the return to the White Mountains isn’t up to the adventures experienced earlier on with some wearisome antics at a traveling circus.

The ending is deeply shocking and I won’t go into it (though it seems rather ridiculous giving a spoiler alert for a twenty-four year old show) but I can still remember it being the talk of the playground on the following Monday. Was it all for nothing? There are more memorable scenes throughout but none more so than the excellent opening to the very first episode, where a young man is capped by a Tripod at a special ceremony in the boy’s home village – utterly gripping, full of mystery and supremely well filmed. Much like the entire series itself.

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Extras Although 2|entertain do sterling work when it comes to special features on Doctor Who DVDs, the extras here are paltry. They’ve included the topping The Cult Of… The Tripods which screened on BBC4 some years ago which offers a tantalising glimpse into what could have been in the added material department. It’s great to see Jim Baker (Henry) gush so positively about the series and it’s a pity the other boys weren’t able to contribute. Apart from that half hour doc, there’s not much else: there’s an “animated” pic gallery (just a gallery, don’t get too excited); a two minute round-up of Series 1, and a cracking soundtrack for the dumped third series.

That’s right, there’s no commentaries which is incredibly frustrating as many of the main players are still more than happy to talk about their time on the show. There’s also footage from Blue Peter and BBC Breakfast (briefly seen in the doc) which could have been included and just highlights the patchy nature of the set. But, coming in at under twenty quid, it’s hard to complain too much when you’re getting two complete series of a classic and rarely seen television show.


5 stars
2 stars
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5 out of 5