The CW to Re-launch the Tomorrow People This Fall

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This weekend, I decided to pop a few episodes of the 1970’s classic The Tomorrow People into our viewing rotation. While looking for an episode guide, with cast names and such, I stumbled upon this bit of news coming out of The San Diego Comic-Con and all the fall TV press packs that have been making the rounds. It seems The American TV network The CW is trying to brand itself a hub for Genre TV geared towards a younger demographic. With the success of Supernatural under their belt, and Arrow having a solid first season, it seems the top brass wanted something to compliment Arrow, with The Tomorrow People somehow getting the nod.

This isn’t the first time the show was re-launched over here, as I clearly remember watching the 1990’s series on Nickelodeon many years ago, but that was more of a continuation than a reboot. this U.S. version seems to be a total re-launch of the plot of the 1970’s show:

“This update of the 1970s British sci-fi series stars Amell — aka the cousin of Arrow himself — as Stephen Jameson, a standard-issue teen save for his tendency to wake up in other people’s beds, no matter how securely you shackle him down. Stephen soon learns he is one of the “Tomorrow People,” a super-secret, supernaturally enabled race fronted by Cara and John (played by List and Mitchell). Their adversary is Ultra, an organization of paramilitary scientists led by Dr. Jedikiah Price (Pellegrino)”

I’ve been toying with reviewing U.K. based things that were either remade in the U.S. or vise-versa, and this seems like a perfect test for that. Stay tuned, as this new show premieres in October, let’s hope it’s actually decent. Bonus: Here’s a trailer –

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CW’s Arrow is filled with Doctor-y Goodness

One television show that I expected to hate turned out to be one of my favorite things to watch this year- CW’s Arrow. I’m a big comic book fan, and a fan of the original DC comics Green Arrow despite the fact that he’s nothing more than Robin Hood crossed with Batman. You may be asking: “Why would you have possibly hated it?” To be honest, I was not a fan of the show Smallville, and I initially assumed that this was going to be just like it. You may be also getting ready to ask “since when is Arrow a UK sci-fi show?” Well it isn’t, but there are three reasons that anglophiles might be interested in it:

It stars a ton of Doctor Who alumni in substantial roles! I initially assumed that this was going to be just like it.

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John Barrowman –

That’s right! everyone’s favorite Time Agent portrays none other than Malcolm Merlyn. Long time DC comic fans may recognize that name as one of the Green Arrow’s main antagonists from his rogue’s gallery. It’s cool to see John playing a villain for once because I think I have only ever seen him as the “good guy”. Even when he had his hair dyed blonde and sang “Spring Time for Hitler” in The Producers, he seemed nice, like he was the good Nazi. Merlyn brings a bit of the darkness we saw Captain Jack wallowing in towards the end of his tenure on Torchwood and redirects it to someone that is even more emotionally unstable.

Year's En

Colin Salmon

Colin Salmon is one of those guys that seem to be showing up in everything on both sides of the Atlantic. He has played recurring roles in big-budget Hollywood films like the James Bond 007 films, and a handful of big roles in TV shows. Whovians might recognize him as “Doctor Moon” from the Steven Moffat-penned two-parter Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead. In Arrow he plays Oliver Queen’s new stepfather and head of Oliver’s family business. He’s one of those characters that you really can’t trust although he seems like a harmless red herring.

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Alex Kingston

Another person that made their Doctor Who debut in Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead was River Song herself, Alex Kingston. So far Alex hasn’t had the biggest role in Arrow, but she plays a fairly big role if her comics equivalent is utilized. She portrays Dinah Lance, the estranged mother of Laurel Lance, the main love interest in the show. In the comics, both characters were dubbed “The Black Canary” and fought crime in their respective crime fighting generations. So far they haven’t hinted at this in the show, but I think it’s always a possibility.

It’s no surprise that this is happening as the show-runners of Arrow happen to be huge fans of The Doctor. Here is a quote from Andrew Kreisberg about it:

“Especially with shows like Buffy and Doctor Who, there’s a big bad and an overall story that feels like it comes to a completion, and we’ve definitely set that up. We have ways for that story to come to an end, and yet leave you feeling like there are a lot of unanswered questions, and that it’s going to take you into the next season. All of these kinds of genre shows, if they don’t feel like complete seasons, there’s something not quite right. You want to feel like you saw Chapter 1.”

My question is whether or not this casting trend will continue. With Catherine Tate and other prominent UK actors/actresses flirting with American audiences, could we see more Doctor Who Alumni in the mix?

 

Out of the Unknown (1965) No Place like Earth

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Anthology TV shows used to be fairly common, my personal favorite being a show called Tales from the Darkside (mostly due to its amazing theme song). While there aren’t many today, one can definitely see that the 1960’s were the golden age for these sorts of programs. In America, there were shows like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, and in the UK shows like Journey to The Unknown and the lesser known Out of the Unknown were big business during the UK science fiction golden age. Out of the Unknown is relatively unheard of outside of hardcore science fiction fandom due to the poor archival status of the show. It’s one of those shows that fell victim to the BBC’s “junking” policy for old footage. Of the original four seasons and nearly fifty episodes of the show produced, only around twenty exist today. What remains is pretty solid TV and consists of short stories adapted from existing work with a few exceptions made for the show. I actually heard about this show doing a Wikipedia search for John Wyndham (of Day of the Triffids fame) and found out that he had a story made into an episode. Which story? Well this one right here!

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No Place like Earth is a new take on the old Thomas Wolfe coined phrase “you can’t go home again”. Set fifteen years in an indeterminate future, a man named Bert Foster (Terence Morgan) wanders the canals of Mars thinking of simpler times he had on Earth. It seems Earth collapsed in a nuclear holocaust leaving all the survivors to find refuge on nearby planets. Bert is essentially homeless and travels around doing the work of a handyman to make ends meet. While trying to be the best hermit he can be, Bert draws attention from a Martian woman named Annike that is eyeing him for her daughter Zeyla. Before the story veers into sappy love story territory, a rocket from Venus shows up. The crew tells of a “New Earth” on Venus, and Bert jumps at the chance to regain his former glory. Bert’s heart breaks when he realizes Venus is nothing more than a slave colony with wealthy overlords preying on gullible fools like him. Looks like Mars wasn’t so bad was it Bert?

Some might look at No Place like Earth and think how silly the setting is. Wyndham painted a picture of a Mars that exists in pure fantasy; a planet full of crazy mountains and canals full of fresh water. I had to watch this on a popular video sharing website (since the episodes are nearly impossible to find otherwise) and noticed a bunch of unimaginative people mocking the “old notions of what Mars was like”. Those folks are missing the point, and are most likely the same people that crapped on John Carter, despite it being a really good summer movie. The original story for No Place like Earth was written in the spring of 1951, and by that time we definitely knew that there were no canals of rushing water on Mars. We knew there were not livable cities all over the place. Outside of the occasional ancient alien theorist espousing new theories on how Mars has a face on it, we had about the same level of Martian knowledge then that had when we started sending robots up there. To really enjoy this episode one has suspend disbelief just enough to see what story is trying to be conveyed rather than harping on how unscientific the whole thing is. And that’s the end of my rant for the day.

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No Place like Earth is definitely a low budget affair, and is only really saved on an artistic standpoint by being filmed in black and white. The costuming looks decent, if not a bit on the camp side; although I can imagine that everything was painted in garish colors. In this way, I feel a lack of said color is a blessing in disguise. Effect shots are very few and far between, and aside from a slew of decent matte paintings and other background special effects, the whole affair is essentially done as a stage play rather than something filmed especially for Television. One thing that could have been done a bit better was the acting in certain places. Since I can assume that most of the actors involved were stage actors, they seem to be massively overacting when in front of the camera. The way they wistfully look around, their body posture and the way they move all scream THEATRE! I can let this pass in older TV shows and films, because the medium was in its infancy, but I’ve seen much older shows with way more subdued acting.

Aside from those few quibbles, I enjoyed No Place like Earth quite a bit. I think it’s my love for older science fiction short stories from the era, but stories like this have a weird sense of wonder and adventure that is mostly absent from a lot of modern science fiction. If you like these sorts of shows and want to see stories from some fairly prominent science fiction writers of the time, I’d say check this show out.

The Tripods (1984) – The English Channel: July 2089 AD

tripods-title-card(aka season 1, episode 3)

Large naval vessels require manpower, and in many cases such manpower is hard to come by. In a world over-run by large marauding Tripods, sailors must be in short supply as traveling around could be seen as too much freedom. Two runaway boys are the perfect target for naval impressment, and guess who I’m talking about – That’s right, it’s Will and Henry! When we last left the boys, they were under the impression that they had been kidnapped onto a ship on its way to Africa rather than their planned destination of Europe. It turns out they weren’t on the wrong ship after all, but Captain Curtis is not the saint that Ozymandias spoke of. He takes their money and offers little help other than safe passage, a fact that both Will and Henry resent. Good thing he can deal with the Tripods’ henchman, as we get to see them a whole bunch this time around.

Episode three marks the first real appearance of the show’s resident Nazi-like dirt bags – The Blackguards. Blackguards are humans that keep an eye on other humans, reporting anything suspicious to their three legged overlords. Clad in black robes and utterly silly headwear, the Blackguards are almost cartoonish in their villainous ways. Just think of all those scenes in all the World War II movies you can think of where a pale-faced German guard asks someone to see their “papers”, that my friends is the Blackguards. That isn’t to say that they are comical or ineffective, they are creepy as hell and the sheer sight of one makes you cringe whilst watching the show. It seems that anytime anything is going well, at least one Blackguard is waiting to ruin it.

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This episode also marks the first appearance of a new main character named Jean-Paul or “Bean Pole” as he is nicknamed almost immediately. Bean Pole is a tall, skinny French boy that sees himself as somewhat of a genius. When we first see him, he is wearing a pair of crude eyeglasses that he has fashioned himself. It seems he has avoided “capping” for more than a year by simply pretending to be deathly ill each time he is supposed to have the deed done. He knows that once he is capped, he will no longer invent things, or be creative. He is tasked with guarding Will and Henry in their Blackguard cells, but secretly plots to help them (and himself) escape. The three do their best re-enactment of the climax of The Shawshank Redemption and venture into the unknown.

I enjoyed this episode because the “adventuring party” is finally fleshed out with Bean Pole. My one quibble is that his English “accent” is too perfect considering he is supposed to be a Frenchman. I guess one can chalk it up to the same logic that made Sean Connery a Spanish man, Kevin Costner Robin Hood, and Patrick Stewart a Frenchman from space. Sometimes the best actor isn’t whatever nationality he is supposed to be. Returning to my tired Lord of the Rings analogy from last time, we have characters in the same vein as Sam and Frodo finally meeting their Gandalf. If only Bean Pole was secretly some sort of wizard, those Tripods wouldn’t stand a chance!

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Obligatory purchase links:

The Tripods: Series 1 & 2 [Regions 2 & 4]

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came

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Blake’s 7 Could be Perfect for Syfy

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I’ve been slacking on posting news on here for years now, but I did want to comment on a recent announcement. It seems that a brand-spanking-new version of the classic BBC science fiction series Blake’s 7 is in production by the former Sci Fi Channel. I know it changed its name to Syfy years ago, but that still looks like a slang term for syphilis to me, and makes me cringe when typing it. Syfy has been looking for their next big show for quite a while now, and with channels like BBC America directly competing with, and in many ways overtaking them in the realm of speculative fiction TV, something like Blakes 7 could be a real “shot in the arm” that the network needs. It could even be their next Battlestar Galactica if they play their cards right. Truth be told, I wasn’t a fan of the recent version of Battlestar Galactica because I was far too fond of the original show. For years I wondered why they chose the BSG license to do such a remake, when more fitting brands would have been better – ones like Blake’s 7.

Blake’s 7 is a dark show comprised of anti-heroes and criminals banded together to fight a common foe. The story follows the struggles of Roj Blake (as played by Gareth Thomas). A notorious political dissident, Blake has been arrested, tried, and convicted on false charges by a brutal totalitarian government, and deported to a prison planet. Blake unites a group of fellow misfits, steals the transport ship he’s on, and wages a war against his oppressors. To sum up Blake’s 7 one simply has to imagine George Orwell meets Star Trek. Well, that was the original show at least; nobody really knows what direction Syfy will take the show. And considering the fact that the show is very underground here in the States, I seriously doubt that it will stay completely faithful.

I did find an official write-up (posted below) for the show that appears to be some sort of treatment for the new show. Is it the same magic, or could we have another dud like Syfy’s unwatchable Flash Gordon catastrophe? I guess time will tell.

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The year is 2136, Blake wakes up on one side of the bed. He reaches for the other side. There’s nobody there. As reality sets in, this handsome ex-soldier sits up, and looks at a photo of his wife Rachel. Beautiful. Deceased. 

A revolutionary reinvention of the long-running BBC series made in the late 1970s, Blake’s 7 tells the story of seven criminals – 6 guilty and 1 innocent – on their way to life on a prison colony in space, who together wrestle freedom from imprisonment. They acquire an alien ship which gives them a second chance at life and become the most unlikely heroes of their time. 

David Ellender, CEO FremantleMedia International and Kids & Family Entertainment said, “Blake’s 7 was such a forward-thinking concept that the show continues to have resonance with audiences today. Its complex characters and gritty storylines, coupled with the highly talented team and modern production techniques are sure to appeal to both original fans of the show and new viewers.”  Leon Clarance, co-founder of Georgeville Television and CEO of Motion Picture Capital, the finance arm of Reliance Entertainment, said, “Joe Pokaski and Martin Campbell have worked tirelessly with the Georgeville TV team to create an amazeballs reboot of this classic space opera which I watched with my father when I was a child. This reimagined classic for a new generation of science fiction fans will enthrall original and new fans alike. I couldn’t be happier to have our beloved show handled internationally by the passionate team at FremantleMedia.”

And yes, He said “amazeballs” in a press release…

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It’s time for a poll

The Tripods (1984) England, July 2089 AD

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(a.k.a Season 1 Episode 2, this show has bland episode names doesn’t it?)

When we last left Will and Henry, the boys were disgusted by a “capping ceremony” for a former friend named Jack. At a certain age, all boys are expected to give up frivolous things like creativity and adventure and submit to the life that the ominous Tripods have set out for them. This usually includes working in a hard labor camp, mine, factory or even helping the Tripods directly. The boys leave a goodbye note to their family and rush out to meet with Ozymandias, a supposed Vagrant they just met. He tells them of a path to a port city and a way to the European mainland. A man named Captain Curtis is known to freely transport runaways on their quest to the White Mountains, and is said to be just like Ozymandias in that he also has a false cap and can think for himself. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned and Captain Curtis isn’t the nice guy that they thought he’d be. He’s not evil or anything, he just doesn’t like the fact that two snot-nosed kids are on his ship expecting him to give them money and such.

I mentioned the nature of the Vagrants a bit in my last review, but did not elaborate on what makes Ozymandias stand out in comparison. In the books by John Christopher, it is revealed that “cappings” don’t always go well. This can be expected, seeing as they are placing a brain washing device directly on a person’s skull. Roughly five percent of people that get capped are driven insane, becoming Vagrants. The Tripods can even make someone into a Vagrant on purpose if it fits their needs in dealing with a potential “problem person.”  Vagrants range in intellect and self-sustainability, but usually lie somewhere between a really disturbed person unable to care for themselves and on lesser cases, a medieval village idiot. Ozymandias is nothing like this; the man is well spoken, seems to have all his mental faculties in place, and knows how to think for himself. He claims to have a false cap on his scalp, a precaution to fool everyone into thinking he’s just as idiotic as the other Vagrants. Running off with the man, seems like a terribly stupid idea to the boys, but they know it could be their last chance to avoid being capped, and to live free.

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I really love the theme of this show, as it is basically in a similar vein to other works that espouse a need to think for one’s self and reject norms that society puts in place. On an innocent level, The Tripods can be compared to Peter Pan, as bot Will and Henry are definitely resisting “growing up” in order to live free and have adventure in their lives. One can see that this whole set up is a reaction to what happens to most people when they move into adulthood. We all give up dreams of being astronauts and princesses, and submit to 9 to 5 jobs that many of us don’t enjoy. While I don’t think many have a fifty foot tall monster as a supervisor, the allusion still stands.

Like the first episode, the second is mostly more dialog and set-up, but has a tad more action as a whole. As the boys leave the village, they are embarking on a Tolkien-esque quest in no-mans-land; and just like a group of weary Hobbits, our boys have no experience dealing with the outside world. With search parties looking for them and Ozymandias getting severely injured, things start to unravel. Ozymandias laid out a “easy” quest for them, one that almost immediately goes wrong as they are seemingly “shanghaied” onto the wrong boat. This of course is just the first in many problems that plague these guys.

Once again The Tripods Delivers awesome sci-fi action that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and makes you wanting more due to the cliffhanger endings, a similar trope used in Doctor Who to great effect.

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How to watch this at your house:

For whatever reason, The Tripods was never released in the United States or Canada on home media. I assume that this boils down to Disney “squatting” on the rights to making a feature film based on the license. Disney has a habit of blocking DVD releases of things until it suits them monetarily (see Tron on DVD prior to the release of the second film). If they had been released, I could have recommended you guys just ordering this on Amazon, but a tad more creativity is needed if you want to watch this show over here. If you have a region-free DVD player, you could always import the show from the UK; make sure you read my guide to region-free DVD players for more info on importing home media to the U.S. If you’d rather not deal with things like international shipping, I did find a seller with the import in America, but one still needs the special player to run the disks”

The Tripods: Series 1 & 2 [Regions 2 & 4]

Of course there are  also “other means”, but I’ll leave that up to you guys! If books are more your speed, there are four in the Tripods series:

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came

The Tripods (1984) – A village in England: July, 2089 AD

The Tripods first came to my attention a few years ago when I stumbled upon a picture of one of the titular crafts in some sort of memorabilia magazine full of garage model kits. As I recall, I had no idea that there was some sort of “sequel” to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and wondered why I had never heard of it. I was, of course, mistaken as the concept of these three-legged walking crafts is merely inspired by those similar Martian crafts, and have no relation otherwise. The Tripods was actually a series of “young reader” novels penned by John Christopher in the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s. The series was a success and was eventually adapted into the very television show that we’re talking about today. The production was a joint venture between the BBC and the Australian Seven network, and lasted two seasons. Sadly a third season died before it went into production.

The Tripods is immediately unsettling based solely on the setting alone. The juxtaposition of the words “A village in England: July, 2089 AD” and the primitive, somewhat pastoral, village setting we see right from the get-go sets up what I will be calling “The Reverse Shyamalan”- we have already seen the twist, let’s find out why it happened. We know that something isn’t right: either these people are some sort of Anabaptist off-shoot that hates technology, or something bad has happened in the past. This is answered almost immediately as we meet the main characters on their way to a village celebration. It seems that a neighborhood boy has reached the age at which everyone is considered an adult, and is to have his “capping ceremony”.

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Will and his cousin Henry are disturbed by this practice as everyone that gets “capped” comes back different. Capped individuals seem to lose any sort of creativity, drive, and imagination that made them who they were . “Adults” become bland worker drones that want no other past time than work and singing the praise of their “masters”. These masters are of course gigantic three legged monstrosities called “Tripods” and the Capping Ceremony can be surmised as a way of them controlling humans. At this point we have no idea what these creatures are or what they want with the human race, but one can see that it isn’t good.

Will strikes up a conversation with an eccentric “vagrant” named Ozymandias that talks of a land of free men in the White Mountains, a land outside of the influence of the tripods. Vagrants are those that are seen as harmless by the Tripods and regular capped townspeople, but are not allowed to mingle with everyone else. Usually it is accepted that these people were “driven mad” by the capping process and are better to be not spoken about. Will is amazed by what Ozymandias has to say, and plans to escape to the European mainland to find this utopia of freedom.

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As with many BBC science fiction productions of the time, the special effects are dated to the eighties. The hairstyles, clothes, and even set designs are very much reminiscent of other TV productions I have seen from the time. This show does appear to have a better budget than something like classic Doctor Who, in that there are location shots, outdoor scenes, and other evidence that the whole thing wasn’t just locked into a dark studio in an industrial park somewhere. The tripods themselves are done with miniatures and puppets; these look great to me and would have been poorly done had contemporary computer generated effects come into play. I sometimes look at late eighties Doctor Who and cringe at some of the special effects. For me this eighties vibe adds to the charm, and there really isn’t anything that makes it so dated that it’s hard to watch – something that is hard to say about a handful of older U.S. productions that haven’t held up. I recall renting the TV series to the landmark miniseries V, and barely making it through the season. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the boys are walking around in a post-apocalyptic world that had a vaguely referenced bad thing happen in the past. If you see them find some blatantly eighties clothes in an abandoned storefront, as we see in a later episode it makes sense because humanity has regressed to something like pre-industrialized England or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

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One thing that immediately caught me was the musical score as done by Ken Freeman. He is notable for being behind the synthesizer parts of the legendary rock opera version of The War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne.Freeman did a great job of creating a solid synthesizer-based soundtrack for the series; one that is neither overpowering nor too minimalist. I always had problems with eighties shows being accompanied by either disco music (which immediately dates it) or music that sounds like a cat running across a piano to emphasize action. Here is a video of the opening theme to give you an idea of the kind of music I’m talking about. While the show hasn’t had as much exposure, I liken this to equally catchy and iconic theme songs such as The A-Team, Airworlf, and Doctor Who.

The Tripods is a solid show, and has captivated both my wife and I all this week. Perhaps it is my love for these sort of post-apocalyptic stories that has led me to such enjoyment, but I feel any science fiction fan should enjoy it unless they are adverse to seeing the eighties. The Tripods is one of those shows that keeps you on the edge of your seat; whether it be the unraveling mystery of what happened before 2089, or the constant cliffhanger endings,I was always entertained.

tripods-episode-1-tripod-over-trees

How to watch this at your house:

For whatever reason, The Tripods was never released in the United States or Canada on home media. I assume that this boils down to Disney “squatting” on the rights to making a feature film based on the license. Disney has a habit of blocking DVD releases of things until it suits them monetarily (see Tron on DVD prior to the release of the second film). If they had been released, I could have recommended you guys just ordering this on Amazon, but a tad more creativity is needed if you want to watch this show over here. If you have a region-free DVD player, you could always import the show from the UK; make sure you read my guide to region-free DVD players for more info on importing home media to the U.S. If you’d rather not deal with things like international shipping, I did find a seller with the import in America, but one still needs the special player to run the disks”

The Tripods: Series 1 & 2 [Regions 2 & 4]

Of course there are  also “other means”, but I’ll leave that up to you guys! If books are more your speed, there are four in the Tripods series:

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came