Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Tomorrow People - Original Series

Sometimes I think I must be living on another planet.  When I was a wee nipper, along with Ace of Wands, Lost in Space and Doctor Who, I watched The Tomorrow People ... a series about a 'future' race of humans who had telepathy and could teleport themselves around.

I was convinced that many of the episodes no longer existed - probably because all I could find from my friends was a black and white copy of the first story ...  but it seems I was wrong, and they do all exist. And what's more they have all been released on DVD ...  And so to the watching ...

SEASON ONE

Here we are introduced to our Tomorrow People ... there's John (Nicholas Young), who is sensible, wears polo neck jumpers and has sideburns. He's also the eldest. Carol (Sammie Winmill), who is prone to snivelling and pointing at things dramatically - not to mention teleporting herself into John's bedroom unannounced!  And finally Kenny (Stephen Salmon), a pretty useless black kid who has a lisp and who gets left to mind the base all the time. The base is run by a computer called TIM - with a brilliant voice (Philip Gilbert) - who knows everything and who can enhance the powers that the TPs have, allowing them to teleport further, talk via communal telepathic links and so on.

The first story ('The Slaves of Jedikiah') follows the breaking out of a new TP, Stephen (Peter Vaughan-Clarke), and how the others help him to understand and come to terms with his new powers. Mixed in around this is a plot by an alien called Cyclops (Robert Bridges) to try and escape from where he is trapped in his spaceship using a robot servant called Jedikiah (Francis de Woolf).  There's much to like here ... the acting from John and Steven is excellent, and sort of makes up for the dreadful overacting of Carol and Jedikiah, and the acting 'blank' that is Kenny. Helping Jedikiah are two thugs, Leftie (Derek Crewe) and Ginge (Michael Standing), and while Leftie is rubbish, Ginge is pretty believable.

The story sets everything up nicely, and director Paul Bernard does a good job of bringing it all together. This is like kid's Doctor Who in many ways - played more for laughs (the thugs all fall over themselves all the time) and not wasting time on explanations.

The second story is 'The Medusa Strain', and here Count Rabowski (Roger Booth) rescues the robot Jedikiah from space, and in a different, and much better acted, form (Roger Bizley), it tries to get its revenge on the TPs. There's a nice idea in the Medusa - a plant like thing which can mute the TP's powers, and lots of running about. Overall it's not bad, but let down a little by Count Rabowski who comes over as more like one of Lost in Space's comedy aliens rather than a serious threat.  Much of the cast spend most of the time locked in little cells here, and Peter (Richard Speight), the other captured telepath, and one of the Time Guardians, is very effete in his open-to-the-navel shirt and britches. At the end Jedikiah is sent to Mercury in the distant past ... a point which becomes important later on ...


The final story of the season is 'The Vanishing Earth', and this plays with some more nice ideas, introducing Spidron (John Woodnutt) as the main alien threat, assisted by the easy on the eye Joy/Sandor (Nova Llewellyn). Spidron is very creepy indeed - masked in a sort of Klu-Klux-Klan mask and with tendrilly fingers. His voice is sibilant and John Woodnutt does a brilliant job of making him credible and scary.  Sandor however is good when she's pretending to be a girl at the funfair (in Clacton of all places) but when she gets into her space-leotard, she goes all posh and forgets how to act. Topping the guest cast though is Kevin Stoney as Steen, another telepath who has been hunting Spidron.

There's some great scenes in the ghost train house and in an old drain at the end, and some nice location work too.


SEASON TWO

So Season Two kicks off with the producers apparently realising that Kenny and Carol were useless and so had to go ... to be replaced with Elizabeth (Elizabeth Adare), who is much better. Poor Ginge and Lefty get edged out too, to be replaced by Chris (Chris Chittell). More to the point, why does everyone play a character with the same name as the actor!

The opening story 'The Blue and the Green' is perhaps the best in the entire run of The Tomorrow People. It's an original concept - that an alien can affect the mood of people and turn them against each other via a 'weather' painting which can look peaceful or stormy ... and the idea of giving out badges which cause the wearers to side against each other in irrational anger and violence is pretty good too. The only weak element in the story is the old grandfather, played in doddery form by Nigel Pegram. The alien boy, Robert (Jason Kemp) is both creepy and sympathetic, and the idea that they are 'seeds' which need the violent emotional outburst from humanity to send them out into the stars is an unexpected conclusion. We spotted a very young Pauline Quirk as one of the schoolkids, and apparently Linda Robson is there also!

Next up is 'A Rift in Time' which brings Peter back - this time he has been captured by a creepy Roman official, Gaius (Stanley Lebor) and made to fight in Gladiator school in the 1st Century BC. The story is the first to introduce the Time Guardians, and Zenon (Stephen Jack) who is Peter's father. I guess this is their equivalent to the Time Lords of Doctor Who, only far more Children's TV than Doctor Who ever was. Here it's all silver space-outfits and beards ...  There's an annoying pile of dialogue and explanation when they try to overcome all the logical issues: how will they speak and understand ancient Roman? How will Chris come with them as he's not a TP? How will they look like the natives?  All this is covered off and is very much a McGuffin ... even when the plot demands that they lose their TP powers, John notes that, strangely, they can still understand the language and so on ... it's all a little laughable watching them twist and turn and try to explain it all ...  It's lovely to see Sylvia Coleridge making a cameo as a Museum Vase expert!  She's just as delightful as in her Doctor Who appearance in 'The Seeds of Doom' a few years later.

The story has some interesting ideas to share about changing history, but at the end, it's all resolved fairly quickly. Peter is obviously in the show for his looks as his acting is not much better than his first appearance, but the main leads are pretty strong, and even though Stephen fluffs every other line, you can let it go as it seems to fit in with the show.

The final story of Season 2 is 'The Doomsday Men' and ... oh dear ... in a move which will become increasingly prevalent, the writer, Roger Price, seems to want to put his kid actors in kilts now ... and there's a cringe-worthy scene where they talk about the fact that nothing should be worn under the kilt!  It's all a little sado-masachistic with poor Stephen being kilted and then bound and left outside in the cold ... not sure what any of this has to do with the plot mind you ...

The story as a whole is lightweight - there's a space station orbiting Earth with lots of nukes on it ... and a group called The Doomsday Men want to gain control of it to hold Earth to ransom. Quite why getting Stephen into a Scottish school helps is uncertain ... and the whole thing shudders to a weak ending.


SEASON THREE

We kick off with yet another Tomorrow Person 'breaking out' - this is Tyso, and he is as annoying as I remember at the time. He speaks in a fast falsetto and is another of the 'pretty boy' kids they liked to cast in this show.

What's most interesting for me, is that episode two is the title sequence I recorded the audio for off the telly all those years ago as I liked the title music and was compiling a sort of 'mix tape' of them for my own pleasure. Others on the tape as I recall included The Zoo Gang and the Armchair Thriller episode 'Quiet as a Nun' ...

The first story is 'Secret Weapon' and introduces a character called Colonel Masters (Trevor Bannister). Now whether this is another nod to 'the Master' on Doctor Who I have no idea ... but Masters has a creepy female sidekick (Ann Curthoys) and a plan to capture the TPs and use them as a weapon. The willingness with with Stephen reveals all their number and secrets to Professor Cawston is amazing, and the whole thing trundles off into military espionage territory - so the same sort of ground as 'The Doomsday Men'.

Next up is 'Worlds Away', and this is where some silliness starts to creep in, although the ideas that the story is playing with are good. The Tomorrow People are visited by Timus, a rep from the Galactic Federation (played by Philip Gilbert, who also voices the computer, TIM). The TPs head to a pyramid on Earth wherein there's some old equipment left by Khultan aeons ago which suppresses their powers. This is disabled, but then they head off to the planet Pyrie which has the same problem - only current. There they meet Tikno - also played by Philip Gilbert - and they have to avoid the 'Veshtakers' - Vesh being what TPs are known as on Pyrie - and destroy the pyramid. It's all good fun, though why there is a pool of water in the dungeon is anyone's guess - just to get the kids all wet I suppose!  This is the first time that the series goes to an alien planet - it's a shame it looks like Earth!  And there's a young Keith Chegwin there as one of the Vesh outlaws.

'A Man for Emily' is next and ... oh dear oh dear. I really can't decide whether this is a work of genius, or it's just the most execrably bad thing ever shown on television. A spaceship arrives around Earth carrying three humanoids: The Momma (Margaret Burton), Emily (Sandra Dickinson) and Elmer (Peter Davison). These three characters overact and ham it up so badly that it's painful to watch. With crazy ideas like 'tickling boots' to keep Elmer in line, the unlikely 'Doozlum Pin' for transporting to Earth, and the fact that they eat their mates after mating, the story is a mess of ideas and tone - the comedy is pronounced, but they also kill a shopkeeper (who Stephen brings back to life using his 'special powers'), intend to eat John alive, and can destroy the Earth. The Momma wears a silver leotard (and she's a *large* lady) while Emily wears a Tee Shirt and pair of hotpants ... Elmer meanwhile dresses in what looks like a onesey when he's not in cowboy garb. There's a comedy chase with police being bothered by bees (which is even speeded up at one point!), Tyso and Stephen mug and laugh their way through, while it's only John and Elizabeth who take it in any way seriously. It's a mad, crazy, over the top, totally irredeemably rubbish set of episodes, which only make sense in the context of children's television, where hammy overacting and throwing of mashed potato is deemed funny and acceptable. This set of episodes is so out of kilter with the rest of the series to date, that it really stands out.

The other thing which is becoming apparent is that they have no idea what to do with Tyso - he's done nothing significant since joining at the start of the season ... You can understand why Kenny was written out - he did nothing too, but he was there at the start, when presumably the dynamic was not known and understood. The show can easily be carried (and is) by John, Elizabeth and Stephen, so it's a mystery why they wanted to add someone else.

The final story of the third season is 'The Return of Jedikiah' and it's a return to the earlier stories. The robot Jedikiah was apparently rescued from Mercury by the Khultan and used to replace an Egyptian Pharaoh ... but was then mummified and discovered in the present day by an archaeologist who Jedikiah promptly kills and takes the shape of ... it then pretends to be Stephen and teams up with a magician (Ali Bongo) on the television talent show Opportunity Knocks (not sure why) and then, in this runaround episode, pretends to be just about every other cast member - leading to lots of people not knowing who anyone is, and the audience getting bewildered trying to follow the plot which back-references just about everything! Colonel Masters is shot dead (without even showing his face), the telepath, Tricia, played by Ann Curthoys reappears, as does Cawston, as does Timus and Tikno, even the original overacting Jedikiah makes an appearance (Francis de Woolfe), there's references to Peter and Kenny, the Time Guardians ... it's all crammed in here ...

The most interesting thing to me here are the similarities to the Doctor Who story 'Pyramids of Mars' which also features an alien enemy trapped in a Pyramid who can take over people's minds and bodies. The opening of the two stories is almost identical - a group of locals, along with an archaeologist break into a tomb, there's a strange light and all the locals run off in terror. The archaeologist enters the tomb and is promptly attacked and killed by the entity within who then uses their body to escape. Both stories even feature animated Egyptian Mummies! The Tomorrow People episode was transmitted on May 7 1975, and the Doctor Who story wasn't shown until 25 October 1975 ... Closer checking reveals that the location filming for 'Pyramids of Mars' took place on 29 April and 2 May 1975, with studio recording for episode one taking place on 19 May - by which time the scripts would have been completed. So it's probably just a really spooky coincidence ...

It ends the season with the Tomorrow People being taken off the Earth to attend the Galactic Trig, and, apparently, was intended as an overall end to the series. It certainly finishes in a fairly definitive way, with the Earth control room being darkened, and the credits playing against that image rather than the usual 'lava lamp' graphics.


SEASON FOUR

Another season, another new Tomorrow Person, and this time it's in the form of Pop Idol and drummer with the band Flintlock, Mike Holloway, playing Mike (where do they get the ideas for their names from!)  Mike gets involved with a Lord in the first story, 'One Law', and it's a simple affair really, with some running about, and another figure of authority in the form of the Policeman being made fun of as vain and incompetent, with some silly moments mixed in. Not really much to say about this. John Hollis plays a thug called Two Tone (he was also Sondergaard in the Doctor Who story 'The Mutants').

Next up is another good science fiction tale, 'Into the Unknown', where the TPs pick up a distress call from a rocket far out in space. They go to investigate and find a kid there Kwaan (Stephen Garlick). He is trying to get help (I think) for the FatherShip which is plunging into a strange hole in space. The commander is Tirayaan (Geoffrey Bayldon of Catweasel  fame) and the FatherShip has been taken over by sort of military thugs.  But it's not being drawn into the hole, it is being piloted there ... It's not bad this, but hampered by an episode of doing nothing but going through a wormhole, and an unexplained plot point of what actually happened to Mike at the start in the ship (he's apparently attacked by a statue but this is never referred to or has any relevance to anything else). I liked that the aliens spoke an alien language as well, but that the TPs could not translate it, and that they got cold even though they were wearing spacesuits (or Mike is anyway). This seems to be typical of the series that internal continuity is lost, forgotten or changed depending on how they feel. This is the first and only Tomorrow People story not to be written by Roger Price.

And that's it for the season ... two stories! 


SEASON FIVE

As usual we kick off with the hunt for another TP, this time a Russian spy called Pavla (played with a perfect English accent by Anulka Dziubinska who, I notice, also appeared in the horror film Vampyres!). 'The Dirtiest Business' is a strange story, very bleak and ending with something of a hardcore shock for the series as Pavla, who has had a bomb implanted in her, dies jumping from a window to save Mike's life. Not a happy ending at all!  Most strange here is that Stephen and Tyso are just not in it. Not even mentioned. I think that's a bit off to be honest - especially for poor Stephen who has been there from the start!

Following this we have 'A Much Needed Holiday' which is something of a strange piece where the TPs head for another planet for a holiday only to get embroiled in child slavery ... the kids are awful, the costumes fetishistic and the whole thing is just strange. And when two of the local kids are called Trig and Trog, you know they're just not taking it seriously! Interesting to me (at least) was that the aliens are called the Klepton - a name from the Doctor Who comics!

Finally we have 'Heart of Sogguth', a very silly story where a bunch of devil worshippers have an African drum and intent to take over the world and release a Demon from hell. It's all just daft, with Mike Holloway's real life pop group Flintlock making an appearance, and a camp and unbelievable 'manager' called Jake heading the plot to gain control of everyone except Elizabeth - even John gets affected!  There's an interesting sequence where a possessed John and Elizabeth have a stun-gun fight in the TV studio, and I felt there were shades of the Doctor Who story 'The Deadly Assassin' in Liz trying to destroy the Drum ('Assassin' was shown in Oct/Nov 1976, so 4 months beforehand) and in 'Talons of Weng-Chiang' for the studio fight (shown in Feb/Mar 1977, so just before transmission of this).

The series is now descending into the two-part format which typifies it's latter seasons, and the stories are just no good. There's no sense of purpose or of the show even taking itself seriously, and to be honest, the bleak horror of 'The Dirtiest Business' doesn't sit well with the childrens' television sensibility that the show is developing and increasingly moving towards.


SEASON SIX

Predictably, in 'The Lost Gods' we have another TP to find, and this time she's a Chinese girl, Hsui Tai (Misako Koba) who is to be sacrificed so she can be reborn in another baby - horrific undertones once more. However she really can't act and looks a lot like Fu Manchu's daughter Lin Tang (played by Tsai Chin) in the Christopher Lee films  For no good reason Liz is now offworld somewhere and out of the show - at least we get to see her on a screen and know that she has gone rather than poor Stephen and Tyso. And for no good reason John is teaching Mike to fly a glider ... It's got Bert Kwouk though so it can't be all bad. Unfortunately the classic TP underground base has been replaced with a really awful looking studio set, and the jaunting belts are now watches ... it's all going to the dogs!

'Hitler's Last Secret' sounds awful, but the story is not too bad. Michael Sheard plays Hitler, preserved in a cryogenic pod -m except Hitler is actually an alien. One of the Hitler Youth is played by Nicholas Lyndhurst off of Only Fools and Horses, and overall it's not bad. It again makes use of the theme of kids being taken over/possessed (aka 'The Blue and the Green' and 'Heart of Shoggoth') and Mike is of course the only one affected. Generally these two episode stories don't work - they are too short to develop anything and often end very abruptly.

The final story is 'The Thargon Menace' and this plumbs new depths with the most rubbish puppet robots ever seen on television, and with stupid Kids' TV character voices to boot. I wonder which meeting they were in when they agreed that these things (called 'Thing') were a good idea and good enough to show on Telly.  The plot revolves around a couple of kids who have escaped from Thargon justice ... Flyn (Michael Audreson) and Sula (Jackie Cowper) are terribly acted and barely believable ... and there's a Tin Pot Dictator too in the form of Papa Minn (Olu Jacobs)!

With each story you think it can't get any worse ... and with 'The Thargon Menace' it really hits rock bottom ... or does it!  These tales make 'A Man for Emily' look like Shakespeare!


SEASON SEVEN

'Castle of Fear' kicks off a new season with, yes you guessed it, another new Tomorrow Person. This is Andrew Forbes, a 13 year old Scottish lad who is creating ghosts at his father's Loch Ness hotel ... it's not a bad little story to be honest, nicely done, and with the main weak point being when Andrew and the other TPs stage a battle of imaginary Highlanders and Redcoats in the grounds. There's still nothing for Hsui Tai to do, and Elizabeth is now back with no explanations. Nigel Rhodes as Andrew is pretty good for his age and the tale doesn't outstay it's welcome.

Next up is 'Achilles Heel', another space adventure where a couple of aliens wanting to mine something called barlumin on Earth arrive in a ship and check in at Andrew's hotel (convenient). The barlumin removes the powers from TPs which is why the aliens want it, but they are kids' TV silly with malfunctioning translators and misunderstanding clothing and umbrellas. It all gets even dafter when all the TPs end up on the ship with their dog-faced pilot, and all have their powers removed. It's down to Andrew and his dagger to rescue the day!  I *think* the spaceship used here might be one from the Doctor Who story 'Frontier in Space' ... and one of the two aliens is played by Hilary Minster (General Klinkenhoffer from 'allo 'allo).

Finally we have 'The Living Skins' and in a bound, The Tomorrow People is back to doing what it does best - Earth-set adventures with creepy aliens and good ideas.  The idea is a retread of previous stories - teen fashion takes over the teens - so we're in 'The Blue and the Green', 'Heart of Soggoth' and 'Hitler's Last Secret' territory again, but it's well done, and the director even manages to make a bunch of orange inflatables look scary!  There's a very dodgy shot of Mike Holloway in his pants ... and the idea of John's cold defeating the aliens is taken from War of the Worlds but never mind. The idea of plasticky fashion jumpsuits being the spearhead of an alien invasion harks back to Doctor Who's Autons, and overall it's a good end to the season.


SEASON EIGHT

This season is an adventure long piece, with 'War of the Empires' taking up the whole thing. The Thargons are back - all gold this time and thankfully without a Thing computer/robot in evidence now - and they are at war with the Sorsons who look like mobile Aztec columns (they're also sort of Daleky in a way) and have silly comedy alien voices. They decide to use Earth as a base, so the TPs have to try and stop them. There's some nice stuff with Elizabeth and Timus at the Galactic Trig where we discover that the council members are a bunch of duvet-monsters with felt pieces sewn on - the sort of things that a bunch of pre-schoolers might create at playgroup one morning. Such a laughable shame - consider what Doctor Who managed some ten years earlier in 'The Daleks' Master Plan' story with the alien delegates shown there - they were imaginative both visually and audibly, whereas The Tomorrow People go for the bargain basement alien look.

The plot rambles a bit and it's very talky, but it's a sort of intelligent look at an intergalactic war and what the diplomacy might end up looking like. However for kids used to comedy aliens, bumbling policemen and hideous teen fashion, it might all be a little too po-faced.

I spotted musical cues from Doctor Who's 'Inferno' in this one too. Oh, and the Y-wing fighters (models by Martin Bower) look very Star Wars to my untrained eye. I guess that this significant and influential film is impacting on The Tomorrow People as it did with Doctor Who.


AFTERMATH

So we got to the end of the viewing, and I have to say that on balance I was pleasantly surprised. I had remembered much of the latter seasons as being unwatchable drivel, and while there are some real klunkers there, and some design and voice decisions which drag the whole thing down, overall it manages to maintain its head above water.

I think part of the problem is that the earlier stories are a) longer and b) better, so that they stick in the memory more than the latter ones. The first three seasons are pretty good ('A Man for Emily' excepted) but once we get further than this, the plots become sparce and patchy, and one wonders what Roger Price was doing all year if this was the best he could come up with for his series. The show is further hampered by some dreadful casting decisions for the leads. Nicholas Young as John is a rock throughout, a brilliant performance and very believable. Next best is Liz Adare as Elizabeth, who manages to do well despite leaving for a season to have a baby. Poor Peter Vaughan-Clark as Stephen though - excellent in the role, but dropped with no further mention of him having ever been there!  But the others ... Kenny was unfortunately poor from the start; Tyso was just annoying; with Hsui Tai ... of all the Chinese actresses available in the UK at the time, they manage to pick and cast one who can't actually speak English!  Her acting is forced and unnatural and because she is apparently speaking the words from the script phonetically (they wrote them out for her), her delivery is often hard to understand ... Andrew at the end is bearable, but like all of the non-lead TPs, they are constantly sidelined and left at the lab while John/Stephen/Liz/Mike go off and have all the fun. It's as though they thought they needed the characters there for some reason, but then had no idea what to do with them.

The show is also a strange mix of extreme Children's television with daft puppets, forced comedy voices, incompetent, bumbling police, traffic wardens and officials of all types ... but then you get some very creepy horror with young girls being walking bombs (who then die!), lots of threat and violence, and body/psychological horror of loss of identity and mind ...  it's like the show didn't really know what it wanted to be all along.

I'm so glad to revisit it though - it's been a pleasure. And now that it's being re-worked again for a 2013 audience, maybe it will manage to find the narrative consistency and drive again and deliver thrills and excitement as a whole new generation of Tomorrow People 'break out' and start to Jaunt once more.



1 comment:

Keith solley said...

remember this series very well!