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 Quatermass Experiment (1953) Episodes 1 and 2

Lately I’ve been mostly concentrating on extremely recent science fiction to talk about and write reviews for, but not this week. This week, we will be looking at the Grand Daddy of ALL British science fiction on Television, the program that started it all a DECADE before Doctor Who. Of course I am speaking of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass Experiment. It’s a while before we really kick into the Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebrations, but the seemingly forgotten SIXTIETH ANNIVERSARY of Quatermass is even closer, July to be precise. So, in order to kick off “Quatermass Week” on this blog, let’s talk about parts 1 and two of the 1953 serial The Quatermass Experiment.

quatermass-epiriment-bernard-quatermass-reginald-tate
“I’m getting too old for this sh-“

Originally shown in six parts, The Quatermass Experiment is a miracle of pure luck. I won’t write about any of the BBC’s pre-1980’s archival practices as I could do an entire article solely on that subject; many have written books on it to be precise. But I will point out that Quatermass is a victim of the worst idea the BBC ever had just like Doctor Who. We are truly lucky to have any of the episodes remaining at all, much less two of them. This was the infancy of TV, and things like home video were laughable to BBC executives at the time; in fact the show itself was broadcast live, making things like preservation a lot harder. There was an effort to record the footage directly from a monitor showing the live broadcast, but the results were quite poor, even a fly on the lens can famously be seen throughout a large portion of episode two!

I have been unable to obtain the DVD collection that the Doctor Who restoration team worked on; a set that seems awesome based on stills I’ve come across. I, sadly, had to find this on a popular video streaming site, and deal with visuals that I assume came from a VHS tape. While perfectly watchable, the version I watched was noticeably blurry in places and suffered from all the maladies that one would imagine having come from a camera recording off of a TV screen.

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“you massage the rocket like this…”

From the initial marvelous seconds of The Quatermass Experiment, I knew I was in for a treat as the pumping brass of Gustav Holt’s The Planets– Mars, The Bringer of War filled my ears. What an awesome choice for the theme of a show like this. Smoke rolls past a title card that says “The Quatermass Experiment” – simple but effective. The plot follows the ground crew of the first manned flight into space. Headed by Bernard Quatermass, The British Experimental Rocket group is on pins and needles, as communications with the first astronauts has been severed for over two days. It seems that the vessel drifted out of its planned orbit, and began soaring out into space. The ship does eventually crash back to earth near Wimbledon, but not all is okay. One of the three crew members remains, and he is acting weird.It seems “something else” may have also come back with the ship:

Ancient-Aliens-Giorgio-Tsoukalo-hair

One thing that really sticks out to me with this storyline is its realism. Many science fiction stories of this time were largely of the space opera variety. By that I don’t mean the modern sense of that genre, but the sort that lead to the genre being almost a pejorative term until the 1970’s. Keep in mind that this was done a few years before Sputnik ever launched, and there honestly isn’t much futurist shenanigans to see. No Ray-guns, no winged helmets, no dashing hero on Mars, just realistic hard-science fiction. Aside from the shape of the rocket being rather silly, one would assume that this show was made during the “space race”.

Quatermass is another of those great “smart heroes” that persist in UK genre fiction. Rather than being a dashing hulking action hero, Quatermass is a no-nonsense man that seems to know more than everyone around him. Reginald Tate does a fine job of portraying Bernard, and it’s sad that he only did one serial as him. He sadly passed away before Quatermass II was set to film. People today aren’t really used to seeing the heroic scientist archetype in action outside of video games (Half-life for instance) which is a shame. It was a trope that persisted in much of early science fiction, but was pushed to the side by the John Carter character model. The closest thing I can relate to Quatermass is older iterations of “The Doctor” from Doctor Who. In fact, Nigel Kneale was not a fan of the show because he felt it ripped off Quatermass. While the ending doesn’t exist on this serial, I do plan to watch the other versions of this drama (the 1955 Hammer film and the 2005 remake) to see the final conflict between Quatermass and the creature. I know they duke it out, but I’m not sure how everything leads up to that.

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I’m glad real space suits didn’t look like this

So there we have it, the original British science fiction hero! Not only did The Quatermass Experiment show that adults could enjoy science fiction stories just as much as kids, but it laid the way for sixty years of British science fiction afterwards. If you watch any serious science fiction drama such as A for Andromeda or Day of the Triffids, you can see little hints of Kneale’s masterpiece. Whether it be the dark nature of the play, or the completely realistic way in which it is told, I think this drama holds up to today’s standards (much like most old TV, as opposed to old movies) and everyone should check it out. In America, we sadly can only get the Hammer films of the series and the later 1970’s serial, but one can import the Quatermass Collection set from England, just consult my handy guide on region-free DVD players on tips to do that. As I stated, I found this serial “by other means”. Some of these older serials, Like Quatermass II, are in the public domain, so they can easily be found on video sharing sites, so us Yankees aren’t completely in the dark.