The White Mountains (The Tripods #1)

The White Mountains (The Tripods #1)

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; one that was 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 adult” novels (way before they were a cultural phenomenon) penned by John Christopher in the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s. The series was a success and was eventually adapted into an awesome television show that I’ve seen the first season of. If this sounds fun, be sure to look for my reviews of that show on here. 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 White Mountains is immediately unsettling based solely on the realization that something is wrong. The book employs a great juxtaposition of little hints of lost technology and a primitive, medieval-ish, somewhat pastoral, setting. This sets up what I will be calling “The Reverse Shyamalan”- we have already seen the twist, something bad happened and this is a dystopian future – now let’s work backwards and find out why. Maybe it’s more like Memento? I’m sure I can figure out a better early 2000’s film reference to put here, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway…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 Jack, 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 later 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 sing 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.

Then a whole lot of shenanigans ensue – a third character named Beanpole joins up, and grenades get hurled at stuff. I will let you read to find out the rest.

I was struck with how different this book is to the television series. First and foremost – Will and Henry almost hate each other. Even coming to blows a few times. The show also has a LOT of “fluff” padding the main part of the story. Honestly, the book flows better and is very tightly paced. This is ostensibly a young adult book or some equivalent thereof and can be read very quickly, if you enjoy science fiction I would greatly recommend it.


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The Tripods: (1984) France, October 2089

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AKA season 1, episode 12

Episode 11 of The Tripods was an action-heavy chapter that dealt with the boys resorting to theft to get food while traveling to the White Mountains. The aftermath of said choice was basically the resulting punishment they received. Not only did they have to escape a tribe of murderous “Vagrants” living outside the town, but were apprehended by some Blackguards and put on trial for theft.

They apparently have a semblance of a fair trial, but it seems that the trial itself is more of a ritual than an actual legal proceeding. It seems like it’s a foregone conclusion that they will get capped once a Tripod arrives, and that is even if they are somehow found innocent. Boys of their age simply do not walk around uncapped, it’s uncivilized and terrifying! Our buddy Danielle, the French Blackguard that has been stalking the boys ever since they left the vineyard, shows up and punches holes in their defense. Danielle basically ruins everyone’s day by stating that he knows they are up to no good. he’s no Duc Du Sarlat on the scale of jerkitude, but he’s got to be pretty close.

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They are caged, and Danielle volunteers to take him back to his precinct for processing. Suddenly the boys are in a moral dilemma – Henry feels bad that they have to hurt Danielle in order to escape seeing that he is part of the family that took care of them. It comes down to the fact that “it’s either him or us” and the boys attack.

Danielle isn’t killed or anything, but bound, gagged, and stranded in the middle of nowhere locked inside of the cage he trapped the boys in. I liked this scene a lot because Henry had to come to terms with the fact that he probably wasn’t going back to that vineyard, and that Danielle was not their friend and family member.

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The rest of this episode is full of some very important information including our very first glimpse at what the true nature of The Tripods is. This kicks off when the boys are traversing an eerie ruined city and stumble onto a Tripod that is guarding it. Somehow they have gone completely undetected, or as beanpole puts it “just like how a fat man cannot see his own feet”.

Pretty soon a plan is concocted to attempt to destroy this Tripod. Henry climbs up a rock face and places a hammer under the foot of the hulking enormity of the machine’s foot. Beanpole then hoists one of the grenades that were plucked from the shopping mall way back in the beginning of the show, and pulls the pin with a rope. The resulting explosion knocks the beast over and a hatch opens on the front face of the Tripod.

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Until this very moment we were not exactly sure if the Tripods themselves were sentient robots or if somebody was inside of it piloting. With the hatch opening, the boys get a glimpse of an off-screen face that proves the latter is most likely the case. This is, of course, right before another grenade is hurled into the cockpit rendering the occupant inside nothing more than a thick green slime oozing out of the door.We are not only one step closer to knowing the true nature of the villainous Tripods, but we now know that they can also be killed.

As the episode closes, we see The White Mountains off in the distance, signaling that the first part of the boys’ quest is nearly complete. They aren’t sure what to expect other than the fact that there are probably more like-minded individuals there, and none of them should be capped. Here’s hoping that crazy old coot Ozymandias was right and this whole ordeal wasn’t a wild goose chase.

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Last week I discussed how much I loved the location shooting in this show, and this is yet another episode full of great shots. The ruins that the boys walk through were especially eerie, seemingly plucked from a medieval village that was destroyed. I did a bit of research, and it appears that this was actually an old Welsh slate quarry called Diffwys Quarry, that had been abandoned since the 1950’s. I’m not sure how something so recent fell into such disrepair so quickly, but it definitely gave this episode the terrifying post-apocalyptic vibe that it had lost a bit of in all of the pastoral episodes.

Also of note, were the awesome model shots and practical effects especially in the Tripod battle at the end. I’ve seen far more recent films have less realistic scenes of large creatures or machines walking around, and it really goes to show that sometimes models and puppets work better than computer generated effects for some things. My hat goes off to the director, Christopher Barry, and his entire crew.

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That’s it for this week, join me again in seven days as discuss the final chapter of season one – Episode 13, The White Mountains! Remember, if you missed any entries for this series and want to read more, go to the front page and click the “Tripods” button.

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The Tripods: (1984) France, October 2089

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AKA season 1, episode 11

It’s another week here at An American View of British Science Fiction, and that means another episode of BBC’s 1984 sci-fi fantasy epic The Tripods is going to be talked about! The series was originally a series of young adult novels written by John Christopher, beginning in 1967. The first two were the basis of this science fiction TV series, produced in the United Kingdom in the 1980s.

The story revolves around three boys trying to escape the clutches of a group of huge walking machines referred to as “Tripods” that are keen to mind control every able-bodied person on Earth. Cousins, Will and Henry, are not keen to submit to this and along with a traveling companion called “Beanpole” they are on their way to the mythical “White Mountains” is is said to be free of Tripod control.

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It’s been somewhere around one month since Will, Henry, and Beanpole left the safety of a French vineyard for the final push towards their destination – The White Mountains. Starving, and tired from their travels they decide to “hitch a ride” with a merchant to a small French town that appears to be having a festival.

Once there they make a huge mistake by stealing some of the food mostly bread and fruit and dashing for the town’s exit. Unfortunately for them, this place seems to be crawling with Blackguards, the human secret police employed by the Tripods. I’m not sure of our buddy Danielle, who we see has been stalking the boys, led them to our adventurers or if there just happens to be tons of them in the town itself, but one thing is clear – they chose the wrong town to steal from.

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The boys make it out of the town and run into the woods, a place that is overrun with Vagrants. These aren’t the sort of people that have been to as “vagrants” that we’ve seen in the show so far. Characters like Ozymandias and Lady Vichot still were what one would call “sane”, they were just overwhelmed with ideas that the rest of the mind-controlled populace were not so keen on.

Then we have these “Forest Vagrants” which seem to be similar to the weak-minded tribes seen in The Mad Max movies. They appear to have been driven completely insane by the “capping” process and live in the woods under the watch of a crudely constructed Tripod made of wood. They seem to revere this “statue” as their god and perform a crude version of a “capping” process to any newcomer that comes into the village.

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We never exactly find out where these people came from, but it can be assumed that they are former villagers that have resorted to cannibalism or at least mass murder due to their rejection of the capping. They are smeared in paint, carry crude weapons and talk in a completely indecipherable pidgin language made up of animal noises and grunts.

After a while of playing along with these people, the boys know it’s time to escape and gather their belongings, a fact that upsets many of the high-ranking tribesman. Keep in mind, these do not seem to be peaceful people, seeing that they have human skulls strewn about their campsite, and the boys don’t seem to want to take any chances. Upon leaving the woods, it seems like it’s a case of “out of the pan, and into the fire” as an entire regiment of Blackguards is waiting for them outside the forest. They are to be put on trial and capped as soon as possible.

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After the relative slow pace of the last few episodes, this was definitely a more action-packed segment. There really wasn’t much standing around, and as a result I was left really wanting more at the end. I was amazed at the beautiful location shooting for most of the outdoor scenes, especially a scene with the boys walking across a tall stone bridge and many of the scenes near rivers and waterfalls.

Looking online, it doesn’t seem at there was one exotic location they filmed the show at, but a handful of carefully chosen areas in and around the UK. The “bridge” I mentioned (shown above) is Pensford Viaduct, for example. If for any reason, you want to see this location list, it can be found on the Tripods Wikipedia Page.

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With another sticky situation to escape from, The next episode should be equally exciting as we get closer and closer to the end of series one of The Tripods. Seeing as there are two seasons of this show, I can almost guarantee the boys don’t get capped in this village, so it’s safe to say they somehow escape!

Join me again, next week, for my episode synopsis and review of episode 12.

The Tripods: (1984) France, September 2089

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AKA season 1, episode 10

I believe that John F. Kennedy said it best when he once wrote: “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” I chose this quote in particular because it best illustrates the central dilemma of this episode of BBC’s Tripods.

In case you’re following along at home, the previous episode of Tripods showed our intrepid trio “laying low” for a while in a French vineyard. They were seeking shelter so that Will could recover from a Tripod abduction and the resulting amateur surgery required to remove a tracking device crudely clamped onto his torso. Much like the time spent at the Chateau earlier in the year, the gang is finding it hard to leave the relative comfort of the vineyard, even though Tripods seem to be everywhere. We see the gratuitous long tacking shot of Tripods walking around in the distance, and considering the way the boys evaded them in the last episode, they are probably close by because they are looking for them.

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One thing became clear in this episode, and it is that teenagers are really stupid when they get hormones pumping through their systems like a rush of Nitrous through the engine of a sports car. It’s hard to not want to punch both Henry and Beanpole at the beginning of this episode. They are having fun and chatting up cute girls and constantly telling Will to “lighten up!”. This is a complete 180 degree reversal from the chateau where Will was “livin’ it up” and the boys wanted a one way ticket out of Dodge. Winter is soon to be there, and Will understands that they need to make it to the mountains ASAP.

Luckily we don’t see too much bickering between the boys, but the animosity is there. Will is jealous about what happened last episode regarding the “love of his life” Eloise. He took part in a village Olympics sort of festival, and lost to a cheating ball of jealousy that chose his love interest as the town tribute to the Tripods. She now gets to live in the Tripod city far away from Will, because if the Duke couldn’t have her nobody could. Will now sees everyone else having googlie-eyes at girls and feels like crap about it.

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The mother of the house, Madame Vichot, pulls the boys aside to show them a collection of art and other wonders from the past that they may have never seen. This sort of stuff is mostly lost to time and frowned upon by the Tripods and those that support them. We find out that she is showing them this a trade of sorts, she is suspicious why a french boy (Jean Paul aka Bean Pole) is traveling with two boys that are obviously from somewhere in England. They let it spill that they are on their way to the White Mountains, a place we discover is somewhere in the French or Swiss Alps. If this wasn’t red flag number one that they are too comfortable, our buddy the Blackguard-in-law Danielle starts nosing around to figure out who these “travelers” are, and it’s just a matter of time before his superiors want answers as well.

The reason that Madame Vichot is so worldly and interesting is that she is some sort of “Vagrant”, whose capping was not fully completed or failed. If you recall a “capping” is the process by which the Tripods place a mind-control device on every person of a certain age, and vagrants are those that cannot be capped or are rendered insane by the process. While she isn’t crazy, the Vineyard mistress is very distraught by the fact that she has ambition, hopes, and can still dream – all things that other capped adults simply cannot do.

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She talks to Will about his guilt about what happened to Eloise, and the fact that he seems to be redirecting all of his angst towards Henry an Beanpole. This seems to level Will’s head a bit, and by the end of the episode he seems mostly angst-free for the most part.

The boys get a new set of traveling clothes, maps, and travel documents to aid them on their journey, and eventually set off. Unfortunately, it seems that Danielle was basically trying to trap them with the documents, as he is seen stalking the boys at the end of the episode.

If you’ve missed any reviews in this series, please feel free to click the “Tripods” banner on the main page – It’s all there! Tune in next week for my review of episode 11!

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The Tripods: (1984) France, September 2089

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AKA Season 1, Episode 9

Many medical professionals go to school for upwards of eight to ten years to hone their craft as a practicing physician. Intricate procedures like doing surgery are skills that one must spend countless hours to perfect in order to keep the patients alive and well. In a post-apocalyptic dystopia nobody is that lucky, and your only bet might be the gangly guy with glasses who seems smarter than everyone else.

When faced with a foreign object embedded into his flesh, Will has to make that very choice – letting Beanpole dig a hunting knife into his side to remove what can only be assumed to be a Tripod tracking device. To really send the gravity of the situation home, one of the last things beanpole says to Will is- “you better find something to bite on.” This is, of course, as he sharpens his knife on the wall of a dirty underpass they are hiding in.

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Once again Will becomes a bit of a liability to the group as he recovers from his amateur surgery. Not since a handful of episodes ago has the team been so vulnerable to an attack with Tripods basically crawling all over them. Beanpole steps up and formulates a plan involving this tracking device, their new horse, and a straw dummy fashioned to look vaguely human. The tracking device is stuck in the dummy, the dummy placed on the horse, and the whole shebang is sent off into the wilderness or as far away from the boys as they can get it.

One of the many things I like about the characterization of Beanpole is that he is a formidable genius, but it’s not too over-the-top. Some shows have guys in these sorts of survivalist situations that rub two pine cones together and produce cold fusion somehow or another. Characters like McGyver come to mind, and even though I loved that show as a kid, his genius was a little far-fetched at times. Beanpole is more realistic in the way that he attacks the trios problems, and whether it be cutting into somebody to retrieve a weapon or creating a dummy to distract the baddies – it’s exactly the sort of stuff one could imagine a sheltered genius doing with very little materials.

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Once this plan is executed, flawlessly I might add, the guys find themselves once again in the company of French citizens with an injured Will needing a place to rest (sound familiar?). This time they are taken in by a group of young girls and their mother and father, a headmistress of sorts and a farmer. Unlike the previous aristocratic family, these guys run a vineyard and live off of the land. They of course get cleaned up, fed, and are expected to work a little bit in exchange for the hospitality.

I noticed that this show has a silly way of making French people suddenly all start speaking English, and it first popped up in the “Chateau arc”. Basically when these girls realize that Will and Henry are not French (Beanpole is) they proclaim that “from here on out, we will all be speaking English”. This is from the perspective of hospitality within the show, but it’s real purpose to to keep the whole thing left un-subtitled for English speaking TV audiences. Let’s face it, if this were to really happen Beanpole would be translating for Will and Henry, and everyone else would be speaking French. Drawing attention to such a problem almost makes it more silly than just having everyone magically speak the same language.

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Basically, this episode and the next episode exist solely to give Henry a romantic fling so that Will isn’t the only “Mac Daddy” of the trio. This entire story-line is absent from the original books, so I’m not too sure if this was added in as a “filler” of sorts or to balance the story out a bit. It becomes fairly clear that this family is keeping the boys around in the hopes that their enormous family of young girls will suddenly all get married and move on. Will is still hurt from what happened  to Eloise just days prior, and wants no part of this. Henry however goes on and starts to fall in love with one of the older daughters.

Will and Henry basically flip sides on their previous views on relationships during this adventure, and come across as huge hypocrites. Henry suddenly has googly eyes whenever he thinks about staying at the house – to the point that he suggests they wait there all winter. Will, on the other hand, suddenly doesn’t trust anyone and wants to leave ASAP.

We don’t see them bicker too long, as their decision is basically made for them later in the episode during a banquet for the oldest daughter. They are all set to meet her fiance, and a young “Blackguard” walks in the door! if you forgot who those guys are, just think of Nazi Gestapo officers working for the Tripods. They also have dumb hats!

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As we roll into episode 10, the boys are on the verge on yet another daring escape, and with Will at less than 100%, that’s not going to be easy at all. Luckily, this story is wrapping up pretty fast and we don’t have 4-5 more episodes of Henry falling in love to deal with, sad that he gets the short end of the stick all the time.

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The Tripods: (1984) Chateau Ricordeau, France, August 2089

AKA Season 1, episode 8

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“What I can’t have, nobody else shall have!”

 

This is the ONE sentence that sums up this particular story-arc‘s mini-villain pretty well. This was, of course, Duc Du Sarlat‘s answer to Will’s simple question of “why Eloise?” pertaining to the previous episode’s climax. For those not following along at home, this general “D-bag” referred to as The Duc Du Sarlat basically cheated in order to win a prestigious athletics tournament, and was given the chance to name his own “Queen of the Tournament”. He, of course, chose the love interest of his rival, his former fiance until Will showed up. This was purely in spite, and generally because he wasn’t getting his way.

You may be thinking “I’ve seen this trope a million times before, if she’s got to marry that slime ball, Will should just…” Wait right there…Eloise wasn’t betrothed to Sarlat, no that would be easy, she won a one-way trip to the Tripod home city never to be seen again. This sort of villainy is great, because a lot of genre fiction villains fall into the problem of being “too cool to be bad”and end up being either anti-heroes or reformed villains turned heroes in the end. Unless my assumptions are completely off here, Sarlat is destined for none of that. He seems to be taking a page out the the playbook of other notable fictitious bastards (non-literal) and doing everything in his power to be vile and unlikable.

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Duc Du Sarlat is your classic literary”resenter” villain, he’s that guy that stands behind the hero and feels bad because the hero of the tale is getting good things, and he’s losing a bit of his prestige. In previous blogs, I’ve generally compared him to a Game of Thrones character named Joffrey, but If I mill over the whole thing, he’s more like Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy. Not only is he a colossal jerk, but he’s also pretty pathetic and isn’t even cool enough to be a real villain. If he were to get killed, that would almost be too good for him.

Will gets tired of his new social pressures sans-Eloise and slips out under cover of nightfall during a fancy banquet. This is really no shock since he was planning an escape anyway, but the way he leaves is sort of depressing. While riding a horse around the French countryside, in an inky cover of darkness, he stumbles onto a lurking Tripod and is taken prisoner by it’s huge metallic tendrils.

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The next morning, Will wakes up as if nothing had happened. He wasn’t capped, and it definitely wasn’t a dream, so he is puzzled why he is so lucky. After meeting back up with Henry and Beanpole it all becomes clear – the Tripods have planted a tracking beacon into his skin like a wildlife conservationist would do to a fish. Not only are they following the boys, the tripods seem to be using them to gather Intel on other like-minded people.

One quibble I had with this episode was that more than a few of the exterior scenes were nearly pitch black. I sometimes get privately annoyed when movies and TV shows film “night-time scenes” in broad daylight then lay a cheesy “oh look how dark it is!” filter over the whole thing. It usually looks like the movie is being filmed with sunglasses over the camera. Here we see why they do that, as many scenes during Will’s escape are almost entirely pitch black. If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s riding a white horse, I’d think that my TV suddenly stopped working. These scenes do work in that once will almost rides his horse into a Tripod, it’s lights cast an creepy green tinge to everything that gives an other-worldly feel.

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One of the recurring themes of this show is the loss of civilization due to The Tripods, and our heroes coming to terms with a past that is so distant to them that they are completely ignorant to it. We saw a bit of this is a previous episode involving the boys walking through a Parisian shopping mall and nearly getting themselves killed with various weapons like guns and grenades.

This time we see them come face to face with a marauding Tripod trying to corner them in a small shack that the boys are using as a safe house. Henry has a great idea: starting a fire will cause smoke to surround them, and they should be able to escape through said smoke. Next thing you know, the boys have started a huge fire and are chucking all the wood they can find onto it. The camera pans over the back wall to reveal a HUGE stockpile of various petroleum-based fuels such as gasoline and kerosene! This is where they innocently discover an easy way to get a Tripod off their backs – an explosion!

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With that out of the way, this episode is the first that really starts to look into the nature of the Tripods themselves. The boys ponder if it’s a huge creature or if it’s merely a vessel by which something drives around the countryside. It’s still a while before we get the answer, but at least Will and the gang are starting to discover what they can do to defend themselves against this monstrous walkers, even if it takes the might of a while storeroom of gasoline to do the trick.

All in all, this was a solid episode, and a great injection of much needed action piped into the show after the characters were running around a stuffy chateau for the better part of four episodes. Now Will has nothing to distract him from the goal of reaching the White Mountains as fast as they can, and barring more Tripods, nothing can stop them.

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The Monday Meme: Fashion

TRIPODS-CLOTHESPicture From: The Tripods

 

 

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The Tripods: (1984) Chateau Ricordeau, France, August 2089

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(AKA Season 1, Episode 7)

It’s been a while since I did a write-up for Tripods, hasn’t it? In fact, I feel like it’s been far too long, something I’m fixing right now. My plan for this “Doctor Who drought” that we are about to enter is to try to clear up a few shows I never completely finished up, and Tripods is right at the top!

Before I get into my review of episode seven, I’d like to touch on something that gives me hope for this franchise in modern times. With the success of The Hunger Games and other youth-oriented dystopian films, I’m hoping that film execs will realize the potential they have with this story. Many may not realize it, but Disney has owned the rights for a film adaptation of the series for upwards of a decade and a half, and have been sitting on them. Considering how long it took before we got a second Tron film, I’m not too optimistic in many ways. My hope is that, much like with Harry Potter, The Hunger Games craze will ignite a new slew of movies that are vaguely similar, not copycat films, but in the same vein.

There was a script floating around, said to be helmed by Alex Proyas (Crow, Dark City, and I, Robot), that made huge changes to the plot, such as changing genders and creating love triangles between characters that has seemed to died off thankfully. I mean, take this nugget from a Digital Spy interview in 2009:

“Well, we’ve erm, I’m giving you all my secrets, but we’ve actually changed Beanpole to a girl. That was a pretty significant change, because I really just didn’t get the notion that there’d be these three boys traveling around the countryside and they just really wanted to have a girl in the mix.”

…..Yeesh!

Now for the review!

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We’re getting closer to the end of what I like to call “The Chateau Arc” for the most part here, and while I’ve enjoyed it immensely, I’ll be glad for the story to move along a bit. There is only so much wandering around an old castle drinking wine, and being aristocratic I can handle! When we last left “Will and the gang” a plea had been made to Will’s love interest, Eloise, for her to come along with him on his planned escape. When she refused, he was in utter shock and soon realized the worst – she was already capped with the Tripods mind control device, a fate worse than death itself for Will. With only days remaining until a sporting tournament on the grounds of the Chateau, and a wedding looming, Will has some tough decisions coming up.

Beanpole and Henry have left already, and are worried about the implications of their split party. Henry is worried that Will’s capping will mean the Tripods will not only know of their plan, the network by which they have been traveling, and where they are going, but that could intercept them. Thankfully, despite his little whiny displays last episode, Henry is not only thinking about himself. He is worried about Will and wishes him happiness, but feels like he has abandoned him in some way. Will is about to watch a series of games that vaguely resemble the type of competitions one might witness at a “Renaissance faire”. The winner of these games is our old buddy Duc du Sarlat, the eternal “Joffrey” of this universe. Not only did he cheat to win, but “The Duke” basically goes around wounding everyone he comes across, all in the name of sportsmanship.

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Throughout the last few episodes It’s been left fairly vague as to what winning this competition actually means in the grand scheme of things, and Will only finds out at the end of the tournament. In order to “get back” at Will and ruin his future with Eloise, Sarlat names Eloise as his “Queen of the Tournament”, an honor that means Eloise is to be taken away from the Chateau and hauled off to the Tripod “City of Gold”. All of the girls in the village run out and lead her to an awaiting Tripod, and it’s all over. Will never has to make the tough decision because his fiance is ripped from his side, and is presumed to never be seen again.

One sad note about this episode is that the girl who portrayed Eloise, Charlotte Long, died shortly after filming the first series of the show. This episode is essentially the last to feature Eloise, minus a dream sequence in series two, but it’s sad to think that she died so young. According to IMDB” She died three days after sustaining injuries in an accident on the M4 motorway, when a truck crashed into her parked car after it had broken down. Her passenger survived with only minor injuries. The resulting inquest heard that the truck driver had sneezed, causing him to lose control of his vehicle and violently rear-end her car while it was parked on the side of the road.”

There really isn’t anything new to be said about this episode, as all of the “Chateau arc” episodes really go together. It can be said that this episode has picked up in tension and drama, something that lacked in the last few “comfortable” episodes. I’m excited to see what Will does now that there is no reason to stay in France, and whether he tries to get even with Sarlat. So here’s to episode eight, where Will goes on the run once again.

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The Tripods: (1984) Chateau Ricordeau, France, July 2089

Will and Eloise from 1984's Tripods
Will and Eloise – destined for marriage?

(AKA Season 1, Episode 6)

We pretty much established how much of a jerk a new character referred to as “Duc De Sarlat” was in the last review, and that only gets worse here. In the previous episode, Will ended up rescuing Eloise from certain death while they took a romantic boat ride in a nearby pond. We previously learned that Eloise was betrothed to the aforementioned Duke, despite the fact that he was not getting on well with her parents. At the end of the last episode, Eloise’s father basically offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to Will, something that can’t make are old buddy from Sarlat very happy. With a fine greeting of “I should have left you in the woods” directed at Will, this assumption proves to be very true.

Aside from the occasional run-in with ridiculous man-babies, Will is acclimating to life in the chateau. He is studying French, watching fencing tournaments, and learning of the arts. Not a day goes by where he isn’t sinking deeper and deeper into the life of a nobleman, something that concerns his friends greatly. Beanpole and Henry plan to leave the chateau as quickly as they can, and feel that Will is now anchored down and unable to leave with them. Will assumes that Eloise will possibly leave with them if he can only persuade her enough. This mindset enrages Henry, who not only appears to be a bit jealous, but concerned for their mission and Will’s well-being as a whole.

Duc De Sarlat and Will from BBC's The Tripods from 1984
The Duc De Sarlat in all his annoying glory.

 It is at this point that things start to unravel in a big way. Will suffers veiled death threats from Sarlat, accusations and distrust from his own friends, and the appearance of Tripods in and around the festival grounds. The only real reason that the crew was hanging around after Will got better is a tournament that The Chateau is hosting, but they had no idea Tripods would be there. Henry and Beanpole decide that all of the bad things are not worth it and leave early with a few maps Will has copied for them. Left alone and depressed he finally confides in Eloise and tells her the real truth as to why the boys were traveling, and where they plan on going. She seems very concerned, almost mortified by what she hears from Will. This is the very first time we see her without her trademarked head-wrap and Will notices something is wrong. Eloise has a shiny metal triangle under her hairline – she is already capped.

Will and his friends drinking champange in 1984's tripods
Will and Co. Living The good life at the Chateau

Another strong episode of this “Chateau arc” leaves the viewer feeling really bad for Will. As the credits roll, one can see that Will has hit rock-bottom. He gambled the mission at hand on the love of a girl he just met, and realizes that he must leave her as well. Henry comes across childish and bitter,in this episode, a fact that is only offset by the very level-headed Beanpole – always there to cool things down. While I liked this episode, it will be good to see the end of this arc, as the show could really lose momentum if they stick around much longer. Seeing the lone sentinel-like Tripod at the festival grounds reassures us that this is in fact a science fiction show and not a period romance drama. So here’s to the festival, and to Will hopefully finding a way out of this mess – next time on Tripods.

Eloise is capped from BBC Tripods 1984
Eloise is already Capped!

The Tripods: (1984) Chateau Ricordeau, France, July 2089

(A.K.A. Season 1 episode 5)

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The last scene of the fourth episode of The Tripods seemed to spell out certain doom for our rag-tag group of wandering runaways. Will was seriously injured in a run-in with Parisian vagrants, and was having trouble staying conscious. The boys narrowly escaped the situation, only to find themselves being surrounded by men on horseback while Will lay motionless in the mud. Considering all the trouble with The Blackguards (The Human Tripod enforcers) I immediately assumed that they had been tracked down and were in some serious trouble. This was of course a typical cliffhanger ending for this show, and things turned out better than expected.

Speaking of the cliffhangers, I mentioned that they were great in a previous review, but didn’t really elaborate why. Many shows do these sorts of endings, and it seems like BBC science fiction especially loved this trope. What really sets these apart, is that the characters are almost always in some sort of horrendous peril at the end of any given episode. Since my wife and I have been “marathoning” these episodes, it’s really hard for us to stop watching as we want to know what happens next.

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So anyway, Will wakes up with his wounds cleaned up and dressed in a comfortable bed. A French girl named Eloise explains that her family discovered the trio whilst hunting for wild boar on their land. Eloise’s family is definitely one of great wealth considering the size and grandeur of Chateau Ricordeau, the clothing worn by everyone, and the fact that they have servants. Will is initially horrified that he possibly blurted out their intentions on finding The White Mountains, or that they are wanted fugitives from a Blackguard prison. Thankfully this did not happen, and the French aristocrats all assume they are simply travelers. Beanpole points out that these are not “ordinary people” as they did not turn them in, in fact they seem to see value in young people having a sense of adventure, odd for ‘capped” citizens.

While the Duke and Duchess of the Chateau seem pretty decent in many ways, we are introduced to a real “winner” of a character named Duc De Sarlat. Much in the same way that King Joffrey is the most hated character in Game of Thrones, Duc De Sarlat is immediately a total A-hole. Robin Langford does a great job of portraying a character that seems not only pretentious, conniving, and backstabbing all at the same time, just by standing there making a sour face. He just has one of those faces, like he would be the guy at a party that likes to one-up everyone else, or drive a fake Ferrari covered in Axe body Spray. When told that everyone shall be speaking English to make the buys feel at home, D-bag De Sarlat basically throws a fit and makes himself look like some kind of man-baby. When he is put in his place, he acts even more ridiculously and tries to turn them in to the local authorities, and thus reveals that they are all uncapped. Truly a great minor antagonist, I wouldn’t say he’s truly a main villain, but pretty close.

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The first real tension between the boys starts to spring up in this episode. It’s almost immediately evident that Will has fallen in love with Eloise, and has diverted his attention from the task at hand. Henry and Beanpole want to leave as soon as they can, but Will is reluctant. The Chateau is his chance of not only living the life of an aristocrat, but falling in love. He obviously has not thought out his plans, because staying here would result in his “capping” and Eloise has been betrothed to Duc De Sarlat.

Episode five isn’t the most action-packed of the episodes we’ve seen so far. In fact, it nearly lacks any shimmer of science fiction, and as such resembles a period drama. While it does lack in excitement, this episode does a solid job of moving the characters along. Will has always been an impulsive character; thinking with his heart rather than his brain. This episode really showcases this fact, and I loved the tension that ensued from his actions. And with the Duke and Duchess basically giving him the right to marry Eloise in return for a kind deed (saving her life), things are only going to get worse.

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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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The Tripods: (1984) France, July 2089

(A.K.A. Season 1 episode 4)

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Remember those last three episodes of Tripods where Will and Henry didn’t do a whole lot? They can almost be seen as an introduction to this episode – the one where the show really kicks into overdrive. When we last left the boys, they had escaped a Blackguard prison and were set to be capped as punishment for their crimes against the Tripod overlords. Having met a young Frenchman named Jean-Paul (now referred top as Bean Pole) they are now free to explore France on their quest to find the mysterious White Mountains where men are said to live free.

This is the part where I’m going to gush about the post-apocalyptic nature of this episode. For those that have followed my blog for a while, you know that I am utterly fascinated by that particular facet of science fiction and usually enjoy anything in the genre. All I need to see is a few deserted streets or a destroyed national monument,and I’m sold on whatever is going on nine times out of ten. For this particular episode, Paris is standing in as the ruined city in question and I feel that it is realized fairly well. Since most of this show is filmed outside, all one really needs are a few ratty buildings and some garbage on a deserted street to get a pretty solid effect, but the production team went the extra mile to CGI some torn up monuments in the mix.

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The special effects team did a great job of realizing the destroyed buildings and other scenes of urban decay. They obviously used some sort of Matte paintings for the effects, but the results are pretty awesome. In fact, they look far better than a lot of the special effects I’ve seen in other science fiction shows of the time, leading me to believe that this show had a decent enough budget or a really talented director.

The climax of the episode finds the boys exploring a deserted shopping center where they gather up supplies such as cooking equipment and weapons such as grenades. The boys are ignorant to the world that existed before the Tripods, so things like cars, guns and other weapons of war are a mystery to them. This nearly results in tragedy as they fire off an old machine gun and a grenade that they find, barely escaping the damage. Finding these “goose eggs” does prove to be fairly useful later in the show, but for now the boys question holding onto them as they seem far too dangerous to possess.

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We get to see one of our first glimpses of Vagrants driven mad by the capping process, and how they live as insane barbarians out for blood. The group that Ozymandias, the man that taught them of the White Mountains, was part of seemed like a sad group of beggars, while this group is more like something out of a Mad Max movie. They also sort of look like extras from a post-punk music video of the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if A Flock of Seagulls were to make a cameo based on the make-up and hair used on the actors.

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One awesome scene in this episode is one where we learn a bit about they back-stories of the boys, namely that Bean Pole has been an orphan since he was an infant, something that he shares with Henry. Bean Pole grew up being taken care of by an Inn Keeper since his only remaining family, an aunt and uncle, could not care for him. He was fascinated at a young age by science, discovering via balloon that warm air rises and cold air sinks as a small boy. He then went on to become something of an inventor, creating his own homemade eyeglasses and other items as a result. He is most fascinated by steam, and since little technology exists in this world, machines made of steam would be amazing feats of engineering.

One of the more humorous things to happen in the episode occurs when they are gathering equipment up for their journey. When faced with a seemingly infinite stream of things that would be awesome to have on a long journey, the boys create new outfits from discarded clothing found all over the mall. This was filmed in the eighties, so this scene may not have been as preposterous then, but the outfits they create are a sight to behold. I’m not sure if Will’s amazing head wear or Henry’s shirt with garish letting that spells out “Oui” is better, but I know that I’m sad they don’t wear this stuff for the rest of the show.

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This was easily the best episode of The Tripods presented so far, mainly due to the action and real danger involved in the journey they boys took through Paris. As I stated before, this episode has great special effects considering the fact that it is from the 1980’s and has a BBC TV budget. Usually shows at this time had spaceships made of hair dryers and other cheap props all filmed in a tiny non-air conditioned set. This is almost in a similar scope to something on an American network at the time, just with grainier cameras.

 

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

tripods-s1e4-henry-will-beanpole-in-ruins

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!

bbc-the-tripods-bean-pole

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

bbc-the-tripods-bean-pole-will-henry

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.

tripods-episode-1-will-and-ozymandias

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