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The Tripods (BBC Scifi, John Shackley)



The Tripods BBC Scifi, John Shackley, Ceri Seel

Scifi drama series set sometime in the future when the world has been overtaken by alien beings and their huge machines – The Tripods. The human race has been subjugated by means of a cap fitted into the skull and controlled by the aliens.

Three young teenagers, Will Parker (John Shackpole), Beanpole (Ceri Seel) and Henry Parker (Jim Baker) join a resistance movement that plans to free the world and get rid of the Tripods. This is a series with a troubled history, the show was cancelled two thirds of the way through its three season run, leaving the aliens still in control. The only recourse for viewers to find out how the story ends is to read the source material – the third novel in the sequence The Pool of Fire).

Special effects took up much of the budget for the show and although the Tripods were seen in long shot the effects team mainly used a single huge leg to convey the presence of a tripod. The production couldn’t actually run to a trip to the French Alps where some of the action was set so Snowdonia stood in for it.

The first season had stayed very close to the original source material but for season two it was, for some reason, felt better to expand upon the material and bring in new situations and material.

Cast: JOHN SHACKLEY as Will Parker; CERI SEEL as Beanpole; JIM BAKER as Henry Parker; PAMELA SALEM as Countess; RODERICK HORN as Ozymandias; JOHN WOODVINE as Master 468; EDWARD HIGHMORE as Boll; ROBIN HAYTER as Fritz

Writers: Alick Rowe, Christopher Penfold / Trilogy of Novels: John Christopher (The three books are The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire) / Theme Music: Ken Freeman / Producer: Richard Bates

UK / BBC-1 / 25×30 minute episodes / 1984-85

SEASON ONE  15 September – 8 December 1984  

13 x 25-minute episodes
based on the novel The White Mountains by John Christopher (1967)

It is the year 2089AD and Earth is in the grip of the Tripods: huge machines that stride across the landscape, keeping the servile humans in check. Will Parker is a young boy who lives in the small English village of Wherton, a content pre-industrial community.

Once a year a Tripod arrives on Capping Day, and takes the young people who have reached the verge of adulthood and ‘Caps’ them – a metal device is attached to the scalp, liberating people of their free will and imagination. Will is upset by the capping of his cousin Jack, a fact which is noticed by the vagrant Ozymandias. He reveals to Will that he is one of the Free Men, a group of uncapped rebels who live far away in the White Mountains, and persuades him to leave Wherton to join them there. Will’s other cousin Henry joins him in his journey, and the two make their way to the coastal town of Rumney where they find passage on a boat owned by the unpleasant Captain Curtis.

After avoiding detection during a search of the boat by the Black Guard – human servants of the Tripods – the pair are captured by the Guards on the other side of the Channel. Thrown into a dungeon cell, they are rescued by Beanpole (Jean-Paul), the boy who had been bringing them their food. He too is uncapped, and agrees to join them on their quest. They find themselves in the devastated and deserted remains of Paris, enjoying the wonders left by their ancestors. Escaping a group of vagrants they flee the city after Will is injured, only to find themselves discovered by the Duc de Sarlat the nephew of the Comte and Comtesse Ricordeau. They nurse Will back to health, who falls in love with their daughter Eloise, angering his rival de Sarlat. Will almost forgets his quest when the Comte says that he can marry Eloise. Henry and Beanpole leave the Chateau, annoyed at Will.

However, Will finds that Eloise has already been capped and that she is to be taken to the city of the Tripods to serve them, and after the grand annual Tournament he slips away. He is captured by a Tripod and a metal tracking device is inserted into his arm, which Beanpole removes when he and Henry find Will. They continue, and after a brief stay at the vineyard home of the Vichot family they eventually reach the Alps. Encountering more disturbed vagrants here they are then captured by the elders of a village and put on trial. Escaping the village, they are soon found by another Tripod machine which they destroy with a hand grenade that they had found in the Paris subway. Captured again by what appear to be Black Guard, the boys crack and reveal their plan. However, this is merely a test by the Free Men to check their story, and they are taken to the mountain base where they meet the leader of the Free Men, Julius …

SEASON TWO 7 September – 23 November 1985

12 x 25-minute episodes
based on the novel The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher (1967)

It is now 2090AD, and the three heroes are training hard for the annual games that are held by the Tripods. Will, Beanpole and a German boy, Fritz, are chosen to go, leaving Henry disappointed that he is being separated from his friends. He stays behind to help with planning and strategy. Setting off, the trio soon find themselves travelling up the Rhine on a barge owned by Ulf and his wife Petra. Petra is suffering from the plague, but Beanpole soon cures her with his homemade medicines. Ulf has to go into the town of Wurttemburg at one point and does not return, so Will and Beanpole go into the town to try and find him. Fritz (who they both dislike) decides to stay on the barge and threatens to leave them in the town.

In Wurttemburg, Will is captured by Black Guard and thrown into a deep pit, but is rescued by Beanpole. Together they continue their journey in a stolen rowing boat. Next they find themselves at a hotel where a grand wedding is being planned, and for a while they work as waiters, meeting the girls Zerlina and Papagena there. Avoiding Black Guard once again, they are smuggled out of the hotel by Frau Heinitz and make their way to the Games. At the stadium many athletes (and Tripods) are gathered. Reunited with Fritz, Will and Beanpole participate in their events, Beanpole failing to qualify to be taken into the City after spraining his ankle.

Both Will and Fritz are successful and are carried into the City inside Tripods. Once inside, Fritz is made to work in a huge quarry beneath the City, while Will is chosen by Master West 468 to be his slave. While Will becomes quite friendly with his Master, Fritz gains a transfer to become a member of the Power Elite, technicians who run the City’s power station from where he can gain more information. He meets another member of the Free Men called Pierre who shares with him the knowledge that he has gathered, before succumbing to a heart attack. Will finds Eloise in suspended animation in the Pyramid of Beauty – a museum where the Masters display many female humans that they have collected. He also discovers that higher beings live in the City in white voids at the tops of the pyramids surrounding the Pool of Fire, and he is summoned by one of them as he has a more inquisitive mind than the other slaves.

The Cognoscs are revealed to be creatures of energy and thought, with no physical presence. Coggy (as the Cognosc tells Will to call him) tells Will that he dislikes the Masters and that it amuses him to have found somebody who is prepared to stand up to them. Telling him of the Masters’ plan to convert Earth’s atmosphere to make the planet habitable to them, while killing all of Earth’s life, Coggy prepares to leave the City and explore the universe. Master 468 becomes wary of Will’s involvement with the Cognosc and tries to examine his false Cap, forcing Will to strike out and kill him. Will goes on the run in the City, but is helped to avoid the Black Guard by Fritz who decides to stay in the City while Will escapes, as he feels that he can learn more from inside.

Will leaves the City at the point where the river enters the dome, and swims under it, and is found by Beanpole who has been waiting for some sign of him. Together they make their way back to the White Mountains, joining up with Ali Pasha’s circus on the way. Pasha is devious and greedy, and plans to sell them and other children to the Black Guard. Will persuades the children to join him and Beanpole as they will be useful to the Free Men as they are all uncapped. However, after fleeing from an attack by many Tripods they find that the mountain base is now a smoking, black ruin …

The following is based on internal BBC documentation on Alick Rowe’s scripts for the third season, as outlined in TV Zone 22. The series was to have been directed by Christopher Barry and Graham Theakston

Meeting up once again with Julius, who is moving to a new base with the other Free Men, Will and Beanpole tell him about what they found out in the City, before being attacked by Tripods and separated. Beanpole goes with the Free Men to the new base – a castle on an island to continue his studies, while Will and Henry set out to recruit more followers, heading back to England on their route. They go back to Wherton, and on Capping Day they meet up again with Ozymandias who takes them to the new headquarters of the Free Men. There they make a plan to capture a Tripod by luring it with a green-painted man riding a green-painted horse, which they think the Tripods would consider out of the ordinary. Their ploy is successful and they remove the Master from the Tripod machine and carry out many tests on it.

Unbeknown to the Free Men, there is a traitor in their midst and soon a band of armed men attack the castle, some of which our heroes capture. The traitor turns out to be amongst the attackers, but Will and Henry suspect that there could be another. A scheme is drawn up to simultaneously attack all three Cities on Earth – the European one, and one on the Panama Canal and the other in China. They find from their tests on the Master that the creatures are allergic to alcohol, and Will and Fritz manage to capture the European City, eventually destroying it. Will rescues Eloise and takes her back to her parents at the Chateau Ricordeau, where he learns that the Panamanian City has withstood the attack on it.

Will, Henry, Fritz and Beanpole put forward to Julius their own plan to destroy the City, by are overruled. Instead, they take a trip in one of Beanpole’s hot-air balloons, realising as they do that this is how they could attack the City. Julius’ own plan fails, so he gives the young men their chance. However, in the attack Henry is killed which sours their victory when the City is destroyed …