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A second childhood on two discs
on 4 April 2001
I remember being delighted all those years ago when my parents decided to buy a brand spanking new Betamax video recorder. Ostensibly to record my mother's Open University programmes at 3am, to me it just meant that I wouldn't have to miss an episode of "The Tripods". Being a sucker for anything with a good alien in it, I followed the programme keenly, obviously not minding the fact that the actual Tripods of the title rarely show up at all, and their "drivers" are not seen until Series Two.
And now, Second Sight has remembered a TV series that I thought everyone had completely forgotten about. The books might be aimed at "younger adults", but at 26 I still consider them a pretty classic sci-fi story, and was pleased to see that the series has finally been resurrected.
The loose TV conversion of "The White Mountains" which constitutes Series One manages - aforementioned shaky acting and dodgy effects aside - to retain the atmosphere of John Christopher's books, even if it doesn't exactly closely follow the storyline. Much of the content of the series - for example Will's rivalry for Eloise with the arrogant Duc du Sarlat, or the boys' stay with the family at the vineyard - does not appear in the books at all. The books are short, however, and it is not completely surprising that the producers chose to "pad out" the story. But as other reviewers have commented, it may have been this very padding out that was the series' ultimate downfall. Where the characters are on the move, the programme holds the interest. When stops are made, such as at the Chateau Ricordeau (the Chateau de la Tour Rouge in the book), and extended and embellished as they are for the series, I often found myself trying to decide whether or not to "spin on" to the next "interesting" bit.
Like the 1954 film of "War of the Worlds", this conversion was great for its time, and should be watched in that frame of mind. But, also like "War of the Worlds", it takes great liberties with the novels, and I live in quiet hope that one day some great Hollywood blockbuster will be produced that's faithful to the original story. I'm being unfair, though. This series and the one that followed it are good entertainment, and nothing about it in terms of acting, sets, props and effects is any worse than the much-revered "Doctor Who" from the same time. Watch it for fun - I'm sure its widest audience now will be adults on a nostalgia trip!
And now, of course, it just remains to nudge the BBC meaningfully in the ribs and mutter "The Pool of Fire"...