Jan 22, 2019

The Tripods on TV

John Christopher's Tripod series (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, The Pool of Fire) was one of my childhood favorites, so I eagerly watched the 1984-85 British TV series when it appeared on PBS, part of the British invasion that also included Doctor Who, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Tomorrow People, and The Prisoner).

The plot was about the same: in a dystopian future, people live under the thrall of the tripods.  On their 16th birthday, teenagers are capped with mind-control devices so they won't rebel.  Will  (John Shackley, left) decides to flee to the White Mountains (the present-day Alps), where he can be free.  He brings two companions, his cousin Henry (Jim Baker, center) and a French boy named Beanpole, or Jean-Paul (Ceri Seele, right).

When they reach the White Mountains, Will and the German boy Fritz (Robin Hayter) are sent out on a reconnaissance mission to a tripod city.

But the differences were depressing.

There is an extraordinary amount of beefcake, but the heterosexism is rapant.

In the book, a homoromantic bond is Will's motive for trying to escape: Jack, a few months older, has been capped and no longer cares for him.  In the tv series, the homoromance is absence.

In the book, Will briefly considers staying at the Chateau Ricordeau in France, where everyone is very nice to him -- he could have a "normal" life instead of always running.  He meets a girl named Eloise, but they are just friends.  In the novel, Will falls in love with Eloise and decides to marry her. There's an entire romantic plotline.

Beanpole is also given a heterosexual romance.

In the book, Will infiltrates one of the tripod cities, along with his German friend Fritz.  They have an intense, passionate, homoromantic friendship.  But in the tv series, they are coworkers and acquaintances, nothing more.

During the 1980s Reagan-Thatcher era of conservative retrenchment, homoromantic subtexts were rare, and the "fade out kiss" emphasized even more aggressively than in the 1970s.  So I should have expected it.  But I didn't.  After a few episodes, I stopped watching.

None of the principal actors has continued in show business.  Today John Shackley and his wife live in Chile, where he works in hotel management.


  1. I think I'll pass on it entirely

  2. I encountered Mr Shackley at a Marriott convention. I was a guest at the hotel. I didn't realize it was him until several years later.

  3. I have to wonder if this influenced Rebecca Sugar in any way. (Though she would be too young to have seen it when it first aired.) The last Steven Universe arc features a lot of trans metaphors. (Steven repeatedly telling the diamonds, and their pearls, it's Steven now, not Pink Diamond. The androgyny applies to his fusions as well, since gems as a rule look human.)

    But the reason I think there's an influence is, White Diamond demands perfection. And uses mind control to remove flaws, which turns the victims into white, T-posing zombies. (And we see it on the other diamonds. It looks like torture.)


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