The Tripods: “Has It All Been For Nothing...?”
A fan review by WILLIAM R HADCROFT
I remember feeling terribly excited when I saw the trailers for the new BBC SciFi serial entitled The Tripods back in the Autumn of 1984. The first episode introduced the awe inspiring, insect-like machines as the rulers of our world a hundred years from now. Technology has been eradicated and the pace of life has been returned to pre-industrial times.

At the age of sixteen every human has to undergo ‘capping’, a process by which mankind are conditioned to accept the rule of the Tripods without question.

Rapidly approaching the age of his own capping, Will Parker doubts the rights of the Tripods to have such allegiance feeling that mankind should have freedom of choice.

Deep in the White Mountains of the Austrian Alps, a band of uncapped rebels are plotting to overthrow their captors. Will and his cousin Henry decide to join them.

The second episode dealt with their journey across the sea to France. The french boy Jean-Paul Deliet, nicknamed Beanpole, joins the young rebels in episode three.

Conspicuous by their Absence

By this time I realised that although the series was called The Tripods there were not all that many Tripods in it! Although this proved to be a disappointment, I did enjoy the concept of the cap; a world brainwashed into accepting the norms of society without question seemed to reflect the world I was discovering as I was growing up (being only fourteen years old at the time).

The fourth installment was interesting with the trio exploring a decimated Paris.

A Dilemma for Will

Episodes five to seven dealt with Will’s infatuation with the lovely Eloise. The plot lines were handled nicely with Will’s divided heart becoming a major theme. Would he give everything up to be capped and marry Eloise? There was still no sign of the Tripods themselves and most of my peers had given up on the series at this point. I remained loyal to the show having enjoyed everything thus far. Quite by surprise, Will does not marry Eloise. She takes up the honour of serving the Tripods in their City instead!

This conveys very strongly the loyalties of all that are capped. Honour and indeed worship must primarily go to the Tripods. Parents, lovers, friends all must take second place.

Episode eight saw Will attacked and captured by a Tripod! This scene is genuinely exciting and one wonders, as do the characters, what the Tripods actually are.

Parts nine and ten dragged for me at the time, with the trio lodging with the strange Vichot family with not a Tripod in sight!

A Trial and a Thrilling Climax

The eleventh segment was an oddball of a piece in which our heroes are put on trial (only to escape again).

The twelfth episode picks up the story again with an excellent scene in which the trio actually destroy a Tripod!

Episode thirteen brought the serial to a thrilling climax with Tripods in hot pursuit as Will, Henry and Beanpole reach the safety of the White Mountains.

After Season One, I bought the 7" single of Ken Freeman’s superb Tripods theme music, and hoped that an album of incidental music would soon follow. I also discovered the original Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher on which the series was based. The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire were the most thrilling novels I’d ever read. One could not put them down! I looked foreward to the return of the television series.

The Second Season

Autumn 1985 brought Season Two.

The Freeman leader, Julius, outlined the strategy. Every year the Tripods held an annual games contest to select the fit and healthy to serve them in their City of Gold. A batch of well-trained youths would pose as capped athletes and hopefully be selected to enter the Tripods’ City with a view to discovering their weaknesses. Will and Beanpole, along with their new companion Fritz Eger are chosen to go to the Games.

Episode two is faithful to the book, but I noticed that episode three never occurred in the book. Moreover, an entire chapter of the book had been omitted from the serial!

The fourth episode dealt with the games themselves. Beanpole sprains his ankle whilst Will and Fritz are taken into the City.

The City is magnificent!

The duo discover that the Tripods are only machines, just vehicles and that the real enemies are the alien ‘Masters’. At this point, it seemed to me that the title The Tripods was totally inappropriate.

The Master Plan

It is revealed that the Masters came, initially to put a stop to our violent nature by means of the cap, but had now decided to colonise the Earth as well. Machinery was already on its way from their home planet to convert the Earth’s atmosphere and make it compatible for the Masters, thus killing all human life. These episodes stray considerably from the book, but do retain the basic storyline and are quite fascinating. A number of my peers returned to the series at this point.

Episode twelve shows Will re-united with Beanpole outside the City with Fritz remaining within. Here the storyline strays again with the rebels becoming part of a travelling circus as they make their way back to the mountains. This episode is boring and pointless.

Episode thirteen sees Will and Beanpole taking the circus children with them, with Tripods in hot pursuit. When Will and Beanpole reach the White Mountains, they discover that the Freemens’ hideout has been destroyed by the Tripods. Will sheds a tear and asks, “Has it all been for nothing…?” This marks the end of Season Two.

The Third Season?

Having read the final thrilling book of the trilogy, I eagerly awaited the third season.

It never happened.

The BBC were not impressed with the audience figures and so cancelled the series. The Tripods were not seen again until 1994 when BBC Video released the first season. The videos did not sell very well and so Season Two was not released. UK Gold, however, did show the series in its entirety.

Why Was the Series Such a Flop?

There is no doubt about it that John Christopher’s trilogy is a superb story reflecting our world’s media and education systems which supposedly broadens one’s mind, but in reality closes it. People are conditioned by the world system to accept the norms of society without question.

Interestingly, the prequel When The Tripods Came shows their initial takeover as via an addictive children’s television programme! Audiences were hypnotised and then capped!

The original trilogy deals very well with the issue of freedom of thought. The books themselves are fairly short. If the BBC had remained faithful to the books, perhaps having each season about six episodes in duration, it would have been a major hit. As usual the BBC hierarchy insisted on having more. Producer Richard Bates had been forced to pad out the series to thirteen episodes a season. Additional storylines such as the Vichots and the trial in season one, along with the wedding and the circus in season two made the series long and boring for most.

If anything should have been added, it should have been more Tripod machines. These models were excellent and depending on who was directing (like Graham Theakston, for example) the Tripods themselves were magnificent. The third season never happened solely because the BBC were too greedy in demanding thirteen episodes a season when it could only really manage six. They did themselves out of a highly successful and lucrative cult.

How the Trilogy Would Have Ended

The final book informs us that the freemen moved their camp elsewhere, anticipating an attack from the Tripods. Fritz escapes the Tripod City rejoining Will, Henry and Beanpole in the mountains. The freemen attack a Tripod and capture one of the Masters. They learn quite by accident that the Masters are allergic to even the most minute doses of alcohol!

The freemen re-enter the City and contaminate the water supply. Whilst the Masters are out cold, the freemen shatter the dome of the City, thus poisoning the Masters with Earth’s pure air. Henry is killed in this attack (although I suspect that he would have lived in the television version).

When the City is destroyed, the enslavement of the cap is over – people can think for themselves. The Masters’ ship arrives with the atmosphere conversion equipment, but on seeing the devastation of the City and the immobilised Tripods, they leave immediately.

The book finishes with the individual nationalities bickering amongst themselves, indicating that perhaps mankind does need capping for their own good.

It’s likely, though, that Will and Eloise, along with Henry, Beanpole and Fritz would have lived happily ever after in the television version, should they have made it.

Ten years after the BBC’s botch-up of a series, an American film company is rumoured to be making a couple of movies based on the Tripods Trilogy. Let’s hope they do it justice.

Will Parker was last heard saying, “Has it all been for nothing?” As far as the BBC series was concerned – it had.


WILLIAM HADCROFT has contributed various cult-TV articles and stories to RQC. He is now concentrating on becoming a writer.
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