My review of the first night certainly divided people neatly into those willing to give the second half a chance and those who thought I should re-read the book. If I gave the impression that this new version was taken from John Wyndham’s 1951 novel verbatim, I apologise, because what I meant to convey was that characters and events are broadly common, although exactly what happens is substantially different. But then this is true of all the versions produced so far, so that’s not especially interesting.
Having now seen the first half again on HD and not a poor DVD transfer, I can also agree with those who thought the Triffids weren’t the strongest aspect of this production. But I stand by my assertion that, in general, the first half was entertaining, and I was genuinely interested to see where the second half took us.
Part two started with the lightweight cliffhanger of Masen and Coker surrounded by Triffids in the dark, dark woods. Which was resolved by Masen directing the Triffids to Torrence’s henchman with his Gameboy-inspired MP3 player. Soon they’re back in the truck that brought them trimming down those plants with no road sense. At this point, shown a simple and effective way of reducing Triffid numbers, I wanted them to find a big industrial farm, enter the barn where the A-Team music would start before the doors swung open to reveal the world’s first armoured combine harvester, before they unleashed some agricultural carnage! But, alas, instead they end up finding their way to a nunnery run by the strident Mother Superior Durrant, played by Vanessa Redgrave.
This interlude was relatively short and sweet as it’s obvious from the outset that the convent’s lack of attacking Triffids isn’t bestowed by divine intervention. The sacrificial relationship that’s grown up here hints at the level of intelligence that the Triffids now have, as do a few other scenes later on, but their problem solving and communication isn’t something that’s truly explored.
What this part of the story did do, though, was get me much more into the Masen character, and Dougray Scott certainly made the most of the scene where he returns to confront Durrant after finding the body of the old man in the wood.
Meanwhile back in London, Jo is still the ‘voice of Britain’, although I noticed that they’ve still not put any advertising between her announcements. She was told that Bill is dead, and then she’s told that Coker is dead and begins to smell a rat.
Torrence finds her attractive, which only adds to her complications and encourages her eventual escape. The most remarkable aspect of her fleeing London is that she chooses to do it in the most unsuitable vehicle imaginable, a SMART! OK, I accept that’s what the Chinese restaurant owner had, but surely in her journey she must have seen tens of thousands of abandoned vehicles more suitable than a SMART. But I digress.
Bill leaves the convent and heads towards his father, who might hold the key to stopping the Triffids. But he runs into Susan and her sister Imogen, young survivalists armed to the teeth. How lethally equipped they are seems to be an intentional piece of humour, although Masen is lucky to be alive to team up with them after they spot him first. There’s an underlying theme here which I think the book also contained about family, as Bill assembles his in this curious ad-hoc fashion rather than by the usual methods.
Eventually, Bill and Jo meet up with Dennis Masen and it’s an idyllic scene with the period cottage surrounded by high voltage cables and even a pet Triffid in the back.
In the first episode, I’d suggested that the dialogue was good, but in the second outing it wasn’t as strong, as represented by Bill’s meeting with Dennis.
Dennis, played by Brian Cox, greets his so with the amazing line, “So…you’re here about the Triffids?” No,Dennis, he’s come to borrow a cup of sugar! Cox rather phones his performance in here, but then, given lines like that I can’t entirely blame him.
Dennis has already hatched a plan to subtly scupper the Triffids by getting a female to spawn infertile offspring, for which he needs a male sexual organ that Bill must get for him. I had two problems with this entire sequence, the first being that due to the electric fence, I could see no plausible way that Susan stows away in the Range Rover without anyone seeing her, and that after what Bill does to the chosen plant it’s of any use to anyone. Do they jump the shark? No, they jump the Triffid, after assaulting it with a double barrelled shotgun and a light machine gun.
With their plan coming to fruition there’s only one possible way this can go, which is with Dennis getting careless with the female Triffid while playing the sound recordings of the plants that his wife recorded in Kenya.
How much is made of these sounds and what they might mean is given a good amount of running time in both nights, but actually at the end we’re none the wiser about what the sounds represent or why they agitate the current Triffids. The only purpose they provide is as a distraction in both the end of night one and the climax of the story on night two.
Annoyed that she’s stood him up on their dinner date, and realising that Masen might be more important that he realised when he tried to have him killed, Torrence turns up at Dennis’ cottage so that Izzard can hone his most manic acting. I recall this scene in both the book and the 1962 movie, and both are entirely different to what happens here.
Using the now repaired MP3 player, Susan attracts all the local Triffids so that they surround the complex. Now, in general, I hated the movie, but in one respect their line-up of Triffids was much more impressive than the one we see here, where the dark is used to mask how many are out there. But then there isn’t a petrol tanker handle to burn through these, so you’re left wondering how anyone will survive.
The answer (and we had at least six or seven flashbacks as hints) is the wooden mask that Bill keeps remembering. Amazingly, he’s known all along how to survive with Triffids, as the ‘ritual’ was performed on him as a boy. The mask allows the Triffid poison to be placed only on the eyes, which then immunises the recipient against Triffid attack. Did I buy this rather farfetched answer? Not entirely. It does rather assume you can overcome one Triffid to perform the trick, which is like saying you’ll be safe from muggers if you can get the knife off the first one you encounter.
Torrence gets what he’s deserved all along, and it ends as per the book with them going off to the Isle of Wight to save humanity as a long-term project.
It all wrapped up rather quickly, and I was actually slightly disappointed there wasn’t a third night, really. In the end it was an acceptable adventure with a few thrilling parts and others I’d rather forget. Dougray Scott was much better in the second helping as was Joely Richardson, although I was slightly confused by the strength of their relationship given what little we’d been shown of it in episode one. Izzard didn’t really add to what he’d achieved in the first night, and in some respects I liked him more when he was less reactive to events.
In the end, this wasn’t a classic Triffids, although it avoided descending into the dramatic abyss some recent BBC drama productions have gone (Bonekickers, Paradox). The Triffids weren’t very imaginatively presented and the overall message of living in harmony with nature was somewhat slipped under the door in the last five minutes. I’d give them an A+ for trying, but a B- for what they achieved.
The best recommendation I can give it is that, having established the characters, I was interested to see this continue, where any comparisons with previous productions or the books would, thankfully, be moot.
Read our review of Part One here.