The Tomorrow People: Second Impression

The Tomorrow People is one of the series which I have seen before and consciously not written about here, because I did not take to it at all. It is only on reading round on the internet that I have discovered my instant dislike of this series is a result of patchy writing from one series to another. I have discovered that many of the show’s greatest fans are quite upfront about their opinion that certain series of the show (it seems that the general opinion is that it had a slump in the series in the middle) were almost complete duds which badly let down an otherwise good show. Yesterday when I saw the DVDs of series 6, 7, and 8 in a charity shop I thought I would give it another go. I have been also confused by the way the series is released in two separate runs, one with series numbers, and the other with the titles of adventures, and obviously you don’t need both of them if you want the whole series. Unbeknown ot me, it was series 6 I have seen before and taken a dislike to, which I always thought a great pity, since it is the sort of thing I ought to like and has a cracking theme tune. I started watching through it yesterday, giving it a good go to prove itself although I realised it was familiar, but eventually turned it off when I fell asleep. When I discovered that the first episode of series 7 was based on a haunted castle, I put the disc in, pressed play and was hooked.
The premise of the show is absolute genius for a children’s TV programme. What child could possibly not watch this and not be taken into a fantasy that he could be a tomorrow person? What a fantastic dream for anyone. This premise and the show itself are well within the ongoing theme of the future, science, and the relationship between the two, which are so often the theme of the TV shows of this time. In this case, it is not really very surprising that the show lost direction from time to time, because once you have established that the next step of evolution is happening, where do you go from there?
The Tomorrow People is often criticised for the cheapness of its special effects. Personally I don’t have a problem with this, and given that I find I keep banging on about the beige colour palette often used in this era of TV, it is interesting to see that this show actually escapes from that colour scheme to indicate futuristic technology, such as the strange suits which take you over. The only thing which can be a problem is that the cheapness of the scenery and costumes can actually make it funny; for example at one point some things which look like huge pepper grinders are wheeled out as aliens. One thing which appears derivative to the aficionado of the cult TV of the past, is that some kind of balloons or balls are used to indicate extra-terrestrial life forms (there is even a lava lamp in the tomorrow people’s den thingy. Despite the fact that one white balloon alone is studiously ignored, to the cult TV fan this can only reference The Prisoner, of course.
Many of the reviews on Amazon suggest that modern youngsters would like this show. I think they would as long as they are prepared to swallow that this is a futuristic vision of the past – I have tried and failed to find episodes of Tomorrow’s World, since I feel that they would be hilarious. The difficulty is always that if you try to predict what the future could be like, you are OK at the time, but your prediction will automatically be very dated very quickly. This is the first of the two drawbacks I would identify about this show – it isn’t a fault, it is the nature of the medium. However, it means you have to approach this show with that in mind. The other drawback is also, I suppose, inevitable, that this show is famous for the big name actors it features, usually in a very early role. Personally I find it distracting, and that remains one of the things which I do find off-putting about this show.
One of the best features of this release is the commentaries (as an alternative audio track) by the cast of the show. You will be disappointed if you expect a serious dissection of the show, but I guarantee that you will be amused, since what you get on the commentary is the actors making fun of themselves and each other. I particularly love the anecdote about the fibreglass Loch Ness Monster being sunk without trace after one take only.
A darker element in the story of this show, is that in going back to the BBC of the 1970s we are of course returning to a cess pit of dodgy people and child abuse, which has thoroughly ruined my memories of the personalities of my youth. If you read round on the internet, you will discover stories of child actors whose lives turned out tragic, and the usual conspiracy theories of people being murdered, and so on. The pressure of being a child actor alone is probably enough to make anyone go off the roles, and the fact that we are now more aware of the effect these ‘opportunities’ have on children, leaves something of a shadow over the television of the past. Naturally this is not unique to this show, but is a shadow I found cast over many of the 1970s shows I wrote about some time ago.
I am pleased that my second impressions of The Tomorrow People are much more favourable than the first, because I was actually beginning to wonder what was wrong with me! I would say, though, that it is particularly important to remember the TV norms of the time when watching this one, because while if you don’t forget modern TV, you will be bitterly disappointed.