Podcast Episode 3 Show Notes

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An American View of British Science Fiction ep 3

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An American View of British Science Fiction Ep 3 – Threads

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“In an urban society everything connects, each person’s needs are feed by the skills for many others, our lives are woven together in a fabric, but the connections that make society strong also make it vulnerable”

Last episode, Stephen started a series on the 1980’s fascination with our own impending doom by discussing a much earlier film called The War Game. This week Stephen discusses the 1984 post-apocalyptic disaster film Threads – perhaps one of the bleakest films ever made.

 

An American View of British Science Fiction Ep 3 – Threads

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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V for Vendetta (1982-5)

By Alan Moore and David Lloyd

Warning: there are spoilers in this review, by reading this I assume you are familiar with the works of Alan Moore, or at least will not be offended if I discuss the ends of a few of his books.

 

“Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. ”

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As the cold air creeps into our homes, and the smell of pumpkin spiced confectioneries seems to permeate our everyday lives, I figured that today would be the perfect day to look back at a literary classic that is relevant to this very week (November 5th to be precise). It’s the story of a future Europe riddled with fascism and the one man (?) willing to try to change everything for the better. If that means razing it to the ground to start over, that’s par for the course for our hero. Of course, I’m talking about Alan Moore‘s dystopian masterpiece V for Vendetta.

Remember, remember!

The fifth of November,

The Gunpowder treason and plot;

I know of no reason

Why the Gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot!

Most of V for Vendetta originally appeared in black-and-white between 1982 and 1985, in Warrior, a British anthology comic published by Quality Communications. That publication went under in 1985, leaving the story unfinished. DC comics came to the fans rescue and encouraged Moore to complete his work, an act that seemed awesome at the time, but has led to years of litigation and sour grapes between the two parties. I’m not going to touch on that too much, but it’s hard to consider that if Moore had his way, V for Vendetta wouldn’t be the cultural lightning rod that it has become some 32 years after pen touched paper.

It’s hard to write about any version of V for Vendetta in 2014 without stumbling over many modern uses of it’s iconography, most notably with the modern anarchist-driven protest movements led by the self-styled “hacktivists” that go by the name Anonymous. It can be argued that they have slightly missed the point in their use of the iconic Guy Fawkes masks and other homages, but one cannot ignore their passion for their hero – the antihero named V. Artist David Lloyd has been quoted saying: “The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny – and I’m happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way.

Protesters Camp Out In Front Of European Central Bank

Before I get too far, I wanted to drag out my soap box for a minute. Notice, I said “literature” up there and not dismissive things such as “comic book” or “graphic novel”, because, as pretentious as this must sound, I feel that this is one of the many examples of sequential art that can easily be considered a classic of modern literature. Even today, comics somehow still have a near hundred year old stereotype as either a silly or childish storytelling medium. This is, of course, the established art community trying to resist new mediums, much in the same way that video games get the cold shoulder by critics and art lovers alike. I challenge anyone to hold in one hand a popular book such as 50 shades of Gray and in the other a copy of V for Vendetta and come to the conclusion that the former is in some way a better piece of literature. Just because something has pictures in it, it doesn’t immediately mean it’s inferior. Love him or hate him, Alan Moore has been one of the few comic writers to break this elitist barrier and gain even the slimmest amount of recognition by the non-comic media.

The story of this book is pretty complex, but it mostly boils down to the story of a girl named Evey Hammond, and how a chance encounter with a domestic terrorist (or a freedom fighter?) changed her life. It’s Bonfire Night in London in the far off future year of 1997 (I always love joking about dates in sci-fi, don’t mind me). A down on her luck young girl named Evey has resorted to prostitution due to her inability to find a job, and makes the mistake of soliciting men who are undercover members of the state secret police, called “The Finger.” These men plan, not to arrest her, but to rape and kill the poor girl until a cloaked figure calling himself V steps in and takes care of the situation. V is a well-spoken, seemingly intellectual, anarchist wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, a long black coat, and a tall old-timey hat, all fashioned to look like the infamous Guy Fawkes. What follows is the story of how V slowly dismantles a fascist regime through both ideas and bloodshed.

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The backdrop for this dark world revolves around uprising of the villainous white supremacist group Norsefire. Sometime in the late 1980’s there was a large-scale nuclear war that ravaged the Earth, and while Britain was unscathed physically, it led to economic and social scars. After something like 5-6 years of lawlessness and rioting, a group stepped up with claims that they could bring stability back to Europe, this was of course with a cost. Norsefire implemented a by-the-numbers Orwellian nightmare upon the populace including mass surveillance and re-education campaigns. Racial and political cleansing was soon instituted, leaving most of the populace afraid to do anything that would remotely put themselves on the state’s radar.

To understand how Moore thought up Norsefire, one has to look back at the British political climate in the early 1980’s. Many were scared that the conservative ideas of politicians such as Margaret Thatcher were leading towards the acceptance of ideals usually held by radical groups such as The National Front and The British National Party. These groups were after political offices, and many felt that any success they might have would pave the way for something akin to Nazi Germany. As a result, many anti-fascist and anarchist groups popped up to “fight” the dangerous ideologies behind these Nationalistic parties, and it seems Alan Moore was very active in those scenes. Alan Moore was interviewed back in 2000 by a site called Blather about his creation of Norsefire, and here is a snippet about what he had to say:

“Well, exactly. You know, like originally, when I thought “Oh, I’ll make fascists the villains,” it was precisely so that I could sort of do a bit of propaganda, I mean, remember at the time I think I was still – I mean, this was 1981? 1980-81? – I mean, I was still involved with Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League, things like that – but it doesn’t do anybody any service to actually just do a load of cartoon Nazis, you know, with funny monocles and cigars and accents […] they’re just caricatures. “Ve ask ze questions”, you know? Whereas in fact fascists are people who work in factories, probably are nice to their kids, it’s just that they’re fascists. [Laughs]. They’re just ordinary. They’re the same as everybody else except for the fact that they’re fascists. Like, in order to really -I mean, I’ve read somewhere that – I’m sure I’m not going to get this exactly right but the basic quote is something like – “Total understanding is total love.” It’s something [like that] or vice-versa. ”

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One of the more refreshing things about the character V is that he is no hero. In fact, he does some pretty deplorable things in order to further his cause. I liken him to other villain-protagonists like Dexter, Light from Death note, or even Tony Soprano. In the comic at least, it becomes pretty evident that V’s time in the Norsefire concentration camp system may have shattered his mind completely. As readers, we are challenged to determined if he is sane or psychotic, hero or villain, due to his morally ambiguous acts. At one point he goes as far as torturing one of the former guards of Larkhill concentration camp in just about one of the most messed-up ways imaginable.

The man, Lewis Prothero, was once the site Commander of the camp, and was promoted to a role not unlike that of a news pundit. He basically takes information from a state computer system and broadcasts it to the masses. V kidnaps Prothero from a train and dresses him up in old Larkhill clothes. Prothero wakes up, and very quickly is driven insane by a combination of an overdose of the same drugs that were used to experiment on V and the shock of seeing his prized doll collection burned in a mock recreation of mass killings of camp detainees that he oversaw. Usually when V does stuff like this, he is seen wearing a more grotesque mask that is similar to a clown.

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I actually plan on reviewing the 2005 film based on this comic, but I do want to point out that much of V’s “dark side” is absent from the movie version of the character. We do see him getting revenge on folks, but it’s in a borderline heroic way. Many see the film, and do not realize that there is a duality to the character that makes him very unlikable at times. For example, V’s entire reason for taking Evey in was to use her to get at a priest known to be a pedophile (Evey is only sixteen in the book), one can assume that she was going to be left to get raped and killed along with the priest, that is had everything gone to plan. This is one reason I mentioned the misguided idolization by internet hackers earlier – to them V is a modern hero, but the book says otherwise. To V the ends justify the means, and he is just as willing to inflict all manner of atrocity to end the reign of the Norsefire leadership. The only difference is that V is willing to die, and has no plan to lead if he meets his goals.

Moore later revisited this idea with another character in his book The Watchmen. One could say that the character Ozymandias is the main villain of the piece, but when you think about what he actually did it becomes a gray area that involves testing your own morality. Ozymandias did commit mass murder on a terrible scale, but he was working towards a “good” result. He planned to stage an alien invasion to bring the world together and stop an impending a nuclear holocaust. It could be argued that in by blowing up cities such as New York City and Paris he actually saved billions of people that would have died otherwise. Then again, some of the best villains in fiction are heroes in their own story, and are only bad to us because we don’t agree with their methods.

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The edition of V for vendetta that I am using for this review happens to be one of the trade paperback editions released in the 2000’s prior to the release of the theatrical film. Between issues of the 10 comics, there are a handful of “making of” vignettes and other extras that are pretty entertaining. I’m unaware if these were part of the original DC run, or if they were added when the comics were grouped together as a trade paperback, but their inclusion is still very nice. Since the comic was originally black an white in Warrior, a lot of the first chapters are pretty drab despite being in color. In a way this adds to the dystopian feel of everything as it seems like everything is always dark, dingy, and sick in some way. With such a text heavy script, David Lloyd was able to create panels that were both exciting and somehow action-packed even when very little action was going on. The griminess somehow makes the art age better than some other 80’s comics. Even classics like The Watchmen seem older in comparison. Compared to another text heavy comic such as The Dark Knight Returns, with it’s multitude of “talking head” panels, this was a breath of fresh air.

I think a copy of V for Vendetta should be on the bookshelf of most comic fans, and read alongside many other subversive classics like Orwell’s Ninteen-Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The book is a challenge to anyone used to the typical hero vs. villain motif seen in most fiction, and plays up things like moral ambiguity. This isn’t a story of “The Government” vs “Freedom” like some would like for you to believe, that’s too simplistic. This is the story of how we rationalize things that could be seen as heinous, even evil, if it means a greater goal can be reached. Do the ends really justify the means? If that means that we’re better off with a draconian fascist police state, that’s one option that a character like Detective Finch strives for. If that means we’re better off with freedom through anarchy, that’s yet another option that V stands for. This book is the key to keeping someone from looking at things in a truly dualistic manner (i.e. “good” vs “evil”) and to see all of the factors that go into the choices one makes. Think of what the mask represents – the real Guy Fawkes, a Catholic mercenary that tried to kill King James and his full parliament on that fateful day over 400 years ago, to some he was a hero, and to others a terrorist.

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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 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

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Day of the Triffids (1981) – Episode 2

Egads! It has it been a while since I looked at this series, and I know that I should do more seeing that it brings the most traffic to my blog than any other topic! I had previously stated how thrilled I was that Netflix was carrying the show, and that they had a big selection of such material. I guess the people who make sure we don’t have any fun saw my glowing praise and the show was gone immediately from their digital service. All kidding aside, I had wondered if I should go ahead and just buy the film from Amazon, which was until I noticed that it was on Amazon Prime for free. It seems that in the wake of “Flixtergate”, the debacle wherein Netflix announced that they were splitting into two companies and raised prices – killing their reputation, many of these great UK shows have moved to both Hulu Plus and Amazon prime. Most of these aren’t science fiction shows, but I know that I’ll be getting some new material for this blog from this none-the-less. Now I hope that this very article will not trigger another calamity such as the show being lost forever, but I think I can take the chance, if only to share with you all this great drama.

When we last left Bill Mason, he was lying in a hospital bed thinking back at the series of events that ultimately led to him being there. His blindness seemingly gone, Mason yanked his bandages off only to find everything in disarray. As far as he can tell not many people have the ability to see anymore, and even worse – the world has gone to hell. Dead bodies lay everywhere, Triffids are crawling all over the place, and human society has ultimately crumbled. Some of the post-apocalyptic scenes we are presented with are truly disturbing; one of the earliest shots in this episode sees a man committing suicide nearby a field full of people wandering around without the use of their eyes. It’s always a cheap tactic to use endangered kids against the viewer to illicit certain emotions, but hearing small children yell “Mummy where are you?!” was a shock.

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We are also introduced to another main character of this program, Josella Payton as played by Emma Relph, the eventual love interest of Mason. Being another person that hasn’t gone blind, Jo finds out first hand that the world isn’t such a nice place anymore as she is assaulted by a haggard looking man with a beard. Desperate people want to take advantage of anyone that still has their vision, and this man is the worst kind of accident survivor there is. Jo isn’t in danger long, and eventually meets up with Bill when he saves her from this creep. Her interest in Bill seems sort of forced, as if she is only tagging along because she feels helpless by herself, but it’s cool for such a nerdy guy to get with such an attractive lady. Then again this was a time of the “weak female assistant” as seen in Doctor Who and other shows; all they do is get in trouble and act emotional as the strong man character does all the work.

I think I really like this show based on the simple fact that Bill Mason, as portrayed by John Duttine, doesn’t look or act like your typical action hero. He’s a normal looking guy with a beard and a tweed jacket, not a square-jawed badass that you would normally see in Hollywood action shows. Bill feels the need to help people in the situation, but feels bad that his size and ability gives him no upper-hand in altercations with bands of marauding football hooligans. If there is one thing he’s awesome at, it’s killing triffids – we see him destroy one with a pitchfork towards the end of this episode in a manner that would make Neptune himself blush with envy.

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My last review of episode one was pretty sparse, as it was like the third entry for this blog, so hopefully I’ve improved here. Episode 2 of Day of the Triffids was awesome, and keeps me coming back for more. Slowly but surely through this and the 2009 miniseries, I am becoming a big fan of the property, and plan to seek out more if I can.  Since I can definitely watch this on Amazon prime, I will try to get through this fairly quickly so that I could possibly read the books as well. Onward we go to episode three, where Mason is hopefully on his way to get some firepower in order to battle the triffids.

Survivors (2008) Episode 4

As is the norm with this show for a while, we have the episode split into a few separate story strands to keep everything rolling nicely and to give each character something to do. There are actually three main segments to follow: one with Abby, one with just about everyone else, and one with Greg and Anya. Mysteriously, we don’t really hear from the scientists that have been popping up in the last few episodes. You’d think that their search for the cure to the virus would get some mention here.

Abby found out about a group of kids occupying a large mansion from the eco-commune last episode, and has gone out to find out if her son is there. These kids have gone into full-on Lord of the Flies mode without any parental supervision, and are causing havoc around the grounds of the mansion, much to the dismay of the original owner of the mansion, a man that is hiding in the woods while his belongings get ransacked. She’s caught between these kids that “couldn’t make it outside” and said owner. She realizes that she could maybe get them to form an alliance of some sort, an option that seems easier said than done.

The second segment involves a familiar setting from last week. Here I thought the previous episode was the last time we’d see Samantha Willis and her creepy eco-commune, a place that gets worse by the second. How wrong I was, as we only had to wait one mere episode! The previous episode saw the former Health Minister becoming more and more of a ruthless despot as she clings to power. Abby was completely unnerved by the way the members of this commune handled “law” in their new community, and opted to leave despite all the good things such a community could offer.

The problem is that Willis is definitely making the hard choices that any leader should make, and as the sole authority from the government left, she’s bound to start making a few bad choices sooner than later. We saw her do things like punishing would-be supply thieves by public execution to send a message, thus continuing her fall. In episode 4 we have the arrival of Tom, Sarah, Najid, and Al in this community – possibly to stay for the long haul. It seems that despite the bad stuff going on, Abby let everyone else know about the place, and wants to move on to find her son. As one would imagine this lasts about three seconds before bad stuff goes down.

The weakest story in this episode has to be one involving Greg and Anya at the house. This segment seems to be a situation of trying to find something for these left-out characters to do, and serves little purpose otherwise. Basically, the pair find themselves under siege by a pair of rapists, and spend a few moments fighting them off. Unlike the chicken coop minor-segment in episode three, this piece was not very good.

I’d say this episode was a step down from the last one, but that isn’t a bad thing. This show usually stays pretty interesting, and the weaker episodes are still better than most other shows in the same vein. I am worried that the show will keep having segments for characters left out of the main plot such as tonight’s foray into rape-busting, as these sort of scenarios have seemed sort of half-assed so far. Hopefully we get to see what our bunker-bound lab coat guys are up to, I miss those guys 😉

Survivors (2008) Episode 3

It’s been a while since I did a write-up for this Survivors; I guess I had a lot going on and got a bit sidetracked. Recently, I got hooked on a U.S. based reality show called The Colony, in which people are made to live in a situation resembling a post-apocalyptic virus outbreak; I immediately thought of Survivors. A lot has happened in the first few episodes of Survivors, and now that the main cast is all together, it’s time to break everyone up into little groups to look into the inner-workings of their characters. In the last episode, we had things like Al finally opening up – moments like this are really the best thing the show can offer. We get two such occurrences in this episode:  Abby in one case, and Greg and Tom in another.

In the first half of the story, Greg and Tom come across a family that has somehow managed to stay isolated during the viral outbreak. The father of this family goes to insane lengths to protect his family, such as forcing his kids to stay inside at all times. If he sees any living creature, whether it is an animal or human, it needs to be killed to preserve their unaffected status. He bathes in harsh chemicals if he steps outside, and burns his clothes afterwards. This is all done because he loves his kids, but this extreme nature does nothing but bite him, when he attacks Greg and Tom. They are forced to hide in this man’s barn for a bit after their car is destroyed, and accidentally expose the daughter to the virus. This brings up a very bad situation where the father must choose for the daughter to leave with two unknown strangers, or to stay there and possibly kill the rest of the family.

After seeing some terrible new 2012 inspired American TV shows such as Doomsday Preppers, the attitude of the father makes me a bit sad. His paranoia for the unknown nature of the virus makes his entire family miserable, and resent him. In the aforementioned program, people hoard food, make ridiculous precautions, make their kids run paramilitary drills and other stuff that seems to be a great idea, but as Survivors illustrates, would just end up failing anyway.

The other half of the episode sees Abby coming across a haven for other survivors while she is out looking for her son. This camp is run by Samantha Willis, possibly one of the few government heads left alive after the virus hit. While the place initially looks like a utopia as it has food, electricity, and multiple survivors of all ages, it has a dark secret. These people don’t like outsiders, and have a warlike relationship with a group of marauders that are trying to share the wealth. Problems like the viral epidemic seem to bring out the worst in people, a running theme in this show, and a place like this colony go from being awesome to just as bad as the gang that our characters met with in episode two.

I liked this episode a lot because of the above situations the characters are forced into. The story of the little girl is heartbreaking, and was the highlight of the show drama-wise for me. I’ve seen other shows recently like Outcasts that try to be an interesting drama with a bit of science fiction flavor, but end up being a glorified snuff film to make the audience feel bad. These gruesome acts take the place of good writing, but fail to do anything for me. Survivors doesn’t rely on shock tactics and we see a bit of the other side of drama – warmth. The scenes were the remaining Survivors help build a chicken coop while Abby, Tom, And Greg are out gives this slow a glimmer of hope, and that’s why I can always come back to it.

The Day of the Triffids (2009) – Part One

Having enjoyed the 1981 BBC miniseries for The Day of the Triffids (review of that here),I jumped at the prospect of watching a newer take on the story. At some point I really need to get the books and dig into the original stories; but with my limited time as of late I have to settle for movies. The 1981 TV miniseries was fairly iconic, in that parts of it were used an inspiration for the film 28 days Later, especially the opening hospital scene. The one thing that really drew me to this show was the inclusion of a handful of actors that I really like – Eddie Izzard, Dougray Scott, and Brian Cox. These guys are usually in larger productions, and it was cool to see them here. Izzard and Scott are especially awesome actors in this film, basically carrying the production. With a bigger budget, a great cast, and modern special effects, one would hope that a new take on the story would be truly exciting and a feast for the eyes; luckily it is for about half the time.

Despite a few changes for the sake of modernity, and adding a more “cinematic” feel, a lot of the story in part one stays largely the same. Bill Masen (Dougray Scott) is a scientist that studies Triffids on a Triffid farm – an area where an odd species of plant is harvested to make a type of fuel that has made fossil fuels obsolete. This comes at a cost, however, as Triffids are very dangerous to work with. Bill knows this all too well, as we see the death of his mother at the leafy hands of these creatures in the opening moments of the film. Bill is stung early on by one of these guys, and spends a while in the hospital with his eyes taped up. Luckily for him (as his eyes are covered), a crazy solar storm happens that knocks out power and makes much of the populace blind (those who were watching the storm), and helps cause a post-apocalyptic Triffid-running-amok scenario. He is joined by a BBC television reporter named Jo (Joely Richarson), a con-man (Eddie Izzard), and a few others as they try to survive the ordeal.

In the original, the bright lights that blinded everyone were the result of a meteor shower, so changing it wasn’t too much of a change at all and somehow seems more realistic. This inclusion also helps tap into the zany 2012 theorist wet-dream that we are going to be hit with a large EMP/solar wave that will destroy the Earth this year.

While I feel that our films and other media are largely getting over-saturated with zombie apocalypse stuff, Day of the Triffids puts a new spin on this trope. Instead of the horror of mindless masses of flesh eating monsters running around, we have a situation where most of the world has been rendered blind resulting in a writhing mass of humanity trying to stay alive when the more predatory folks out there try to take advantage of the situation. These people aren’t zombies, but are fueled by pure hysteria and helplessness. In many instances, when someone finds out that someone else can still see, they try to harm them or force them into a situation where they are now these people’s eyes. The hysteria causes many a massacre with policemen firing on civilians trying to get to safety, people getting trampled, and the weak (children and elderly) getting lost in the shuffle.

With everyone on Earth subdued, suddenly we are at the bottom of the totem pole with Triffids suddenly at the top. There are ten million of them out there on various farms, and they are hungry for human flesh. This is especially made more shocking when we find out that these monsters are most-likely intelligent and seem to communicate to each other.

My main concern going into this film was that the production staff would somehow mess up the design of the Triffids themselves. Granted, the 1981 series depicted them as slow bell-shaped pitcher plants made out of fiberglass. Since these guys could “walk” the 80’s take would scoot around on the ground ever so slowly. It seemed that as long as people could take them out within about three feet or so, and keep from being over-run, everything might be cool. This time around, the Triffids have long tentacle-like appendages that can go great distances and sting anyone capable of doing them harm. Rather than a three foot radius, these new stingers are truly terrifying and could come out of nowhere. In the first part we gradually see the Triffids, but in very small doses. They stay in the shadows for the majority of the film, making them a bit scarier despite the silly premise of the creature (sentient walking plants). When we do finally see them, they are pretty well done special effects-wise.

After all the praise for story and acting, there has got to be a few bad apples in the bushel. Some of the CGI effects in this movie are questionable at best. Towards the beginning of part one, we see a multitude of news reports rolling in, talking about an impending solar storm hitting the Earth. For some reason we see these news reporters standing in front of obvious green screen backdrops of swirly sun energy in the sky, the effect it so bad that I cringed a bit. In an era where one can see even the cheapest of TV shows implement some sort of competent computer effects, it makes this stand out even more. This isn’t to say that it all looks bad; some of the cinematography and effect shots are quite impressive for a TV miniseries –bordering on Hollywood caliber. Scenes like one in which an airplane crashes into a busy city-scape after the EMP hits are quite scary and very well-done. One can definitely see where the money went, I just wish there was more consistency.

In the first of two parts, we also see the ugliness of heavy-handed preachy dialog starting to roll in. Bill talks about global warming, fuel consumption, and other ills that we are currently dealing with at this time. I’m really worried that the production will suddenly turn into a PSA for the environment or something that wasn’t intended in the original story. This sort of thing makes sense in a film like The Lorax, which was based on a book about the ailing environment. Subtlety can be great with messages in movies, but when overdone you can end up with something like October Baby, which was more message than film.

Aside from a few wonky solar flares, I really enjoyed part one of Day of The Triffids, and am confused by all the bad press this movie got. Looking at Amazon.com’s listing for this DVD, one comes away with the impression that Ed Wood had directed it. Maybe I’m easy to please, or maybe the whole thing goes awry in part two; all I know is that this first episode is well worth a watch for fans of the original 1981 miniseries and sci-fi fans as a whole.

Survivors Episode 2 (2008) Reaction

The one thing I find most disturbing about post-apocalyptic television shows and movies is the way the film makers can make a normally crowded area look desolate and destroyed. One of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who is an old William Hartnell serial called The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It was the second episode featuring the metallic pepper pots, and as a result of their new found popularity, the production team opted for some on-location exterior shooting. This resulted in an incredibly grim look at London after the Daleks enslaved mankind, complete with an abandoned Trafalgar Square and other London Landmarks full of patrolling Daleks. This same unsettling image is done to a fine degree in the second episode of BBCs Survivors, as we finally see some of the aftermath of the plague. As far as one can see, there are emptied shopping centers, urban blight (most likely from a riot), overturned cars, and wreckage strewn about. These kinds of shows really rely on this sort of visual desolation to look good, and Survivors gets an A+.

We do see our first antagonists of this series in a rival group of survivors with different views on how to stay alive. While our star group hope that everyone will play nice and live in happiness, the truth is that situations like this really do bring out the worst in humanity. This opposition group has laid claim to large portions of territory, especially a well-stocked supermarket. When the survivors come across this they are horrified to see people resorting in such a way. After the crazed gasoline thief that ultimately burnt himself so nobody could share with him, and this barbaric lot, I do believe that our main characters have finally realized how life is going to be from here on out.

We also see a side-story of sorts where a woman uses her looks to seduce a man to not only take her in, but to share his enormous warehouse full of supplies with her. He hopes that she will reciprocate with a relationship with him, maybe even a sexual one; sadly, she is just leading him on. She lures him with promises of a worldwide distribution business for their stock, and he buys it whole-sale. I’m not sure if this character ends up being bigger than she is, but I could see them using her to drive a wedge within the survivor ranks.

Once again, the acting in this episode is superb, and a special nod goes to Anthony Flanagan as Dexter, the leader of the aforementioned gang of thugs. From his greasy hair, to his pale complexion, and his evil demeanor, they really couldn’t have picked a better actor for the job. He’s going to be the guy in the show that any sane viewer is going to root for some misfortune to befall. As for the rest of the cast, I do wish a few of the other survivors would get fleshed out a bit more. Anya, Al, and Najid immediately come to mind in this case. As this is only the second episode, I can imagine that this will come with time.

All in all, this was another fine episode of Survivors. Hopefully the show keeps this quality up and doesn’t resort to either a cheap ending like the Hollywood version of I am Legend or a super preachy one either.

Survivors Ep 1 (2008) Reaction

Having never seen the original version of the Survivors due to my assumption that it was not released outside of the UK until very recently, I was able to take to the new version (well, 2008 version…new for me :P) with an open mind and very clean slate. I was initially drawn in due to the inclusion of a handful of actors I like including Freema Agyeman, Paterson Joseph, and even a very brief appearance from Shaun Dingwall. Of course all three have been in Doctor Who, but I enjoy their performances in just about anything they are in, especially Mr. Joseph. With my love of all things grimy and post-apocalyptic, the immediate premise of Survivors was right up my alley. I’ve been ready for a show in a similar mind to Day of the Triffids, except a bit more modern. Survivors asks the age old question of how humanity will react if we are plunged into a nightmarish world of survival. As many would imagine, some will be heroic, and others will do anything to survive even using others and resorting to evil.

The premise of the show is fairly simple, a woman named Abby comes down with a horrible case of flu that the tabloids and such are labeling the “European Flu”. Much like the media circus surrounding both the “bird Flu” and “Swine Flu” many are freaking out about the whole thing including news agencies and politicians alike. Abby falls asleep only to find her entire world turned upside down when she awakens THREE DAYS LATER. Not only is her husband dead in the next room, but so is her entire neighborhood. Scared for the safety of her only son, she embarks on a quest to find him, alive or dead, and meets the worst of humanity.

While Abby is definitely the main protagonist of the show, this initial episode does concentrate on many other people including Anya and her friend Jenny (a doctor and a schoolteacher respectively), Al Sadiq (the son of a wealthy businessman), Najid (A very religious Muslim boy), Samantha Willis (a media minister for the government), Tom (A prisoner), and later Greg (a man trying to live as a loner with his trust in the world shot). All of these stories are separate at first, but slowly merge together as the survivors begin forming small parties.

As a first episode, this one does a good job of instilling the same jarring horror that was seen in both Day of the Triffids and 28 days Later. In many cases, whatever character we happen to be following is a single entity amongst a mass of decaying corpses, many of which are their friends, family members, and in Najid’s case his entire church congregation. This leaves many to cope a lot better than others, notably the differences between Anya and Abby. Abby reacts in a very strong manner, pledging to find her son at any means necessary. On the other hand Anya initially attempts to end her own life, due to the horrors witnessed at the hospital.

While I’m more into science fiction and fantasy that relies on humor and wit, possibly even adventure as the main driving force, I enjoyed this episode. As dark and bleak as Survivors is, I was still engrossed. Not once did it cross into the “hard drama with a sci-fi veneer” edge that many sci-fi shows faded into. Not that I’m slagging off such shows as being inferior, I just usually don’t like them as a matter of taste. I think it’s just my affinity for post-apocalyptic stories that lets me enjoy even the darkest of the genre, Children of Men comes to mind, while I generally don’t like other similar things. I’ve avoided comparing this show to Lost as it existed much earlier in its previous incarnation, but in a way it is structured in a similar method. You basically have all of these people with conflicting viewpoints, ways of life, and even beliefs forced to work together because the world has been reduced to a matter of “strength by numbers”.

Right now I’m watching this show on Netflix, and plan to finish both seasons. Hopefully at some point I can get a chance to catch the original as well, assuming it has aged as well as most Terry Nation stuff.