THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS
Bill Masen -
Jo Payton -
Jack Coker -
OTHER POST APOCALYPSE SHOWS
The Last Train
Planet of the Apes
John Wyndham's classic tale of blind man against carnivorous plant gets the BBC sunday serial treatment. This was a family drama, so the violence is toned down and the nastiness of the situation is never dwelt on too much. That said, the plague that sweeps the land in the wake of the blindness is fairly graphic for the more nervous of nature.
Nobody, though, is going to be scared of the triffids. They're as well rendered as you might expect from a BBC TV budget (which means not very) and as a result aren't scary and thus don't actually appear much.
The show, instead, dwells on the evil that men do in the wake of the disaster in the name of survival, but even that is more talked about than actually witnessed. Even so, the essential interest of the plot - how would mankind react and civilisation fall under such circumstances - is hinted at without being deeply explored.
The very popular (at the time) John Duttine makes for an appealing enough hero, matched by Emma Relph as the girl he falls in with, but the really interesting character of Jack Coker (Maurice Colbourne) is watered down into a good guy really.
All in all, THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS is too cosy to make for really compelling viewing, skating over the depths of the book to deliver only the surface survival story.Top
Bill Masen wakes up in hospital on the day that he is going to have the bandages taken off his eyes. He reflects on the events that have brought him to this point, the steps that made him a triffid farmer and almost allowed the strange carnivorous plants to take his life twice. When the nurses and doctors don't come, he realises that something is very badly wrong, so he takes off the bandages himself and goes to take a look. He finds one of the doctors who has been turned blind by the meteor showers that blanketed the night sky whilst he was unable to see them.
This first episode of THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS is a set up of the story, relating the background through the incredibly clumsy device of having Bill dictate it into a tape recorder, presumably as he is unable to write a letter. It doesn't convince at all and makes the start of the series very unlikely to be impressive.
Any version of John Wyndham's famous tale is going to live and die by the quality of its triffids. The glimpses that we get here range from the pretty impressive (when they're not moving) to the downright ridiculous.
The first half hour is John Duttine talking to himself, so there's little enough to judge on the acting, but the actors are going to need better writing than this to get by on. Fortunately, the last few minutes, as Bill starts to look around and encounters the doctor, give hope for improvement.Top
Bill leaves the hospital, hoping to find out a bit more about what has happened. He finds the streets eerily empty, but encounters enough people to realise that the majority of the world have gone blind. One sighted little girl takes him into the presence of a man who explains a bit of how society is going to implode rapidly and soon after he sees the earliest stages of the process. Then he encounters Jo, a woman who has already been enslaved by a blind oppressor. Then the triffids start to appear.
Now that the back story is out of the way in the first episode, we can get on with the actual plot and the show has improved immensely. Not an awful lot happens in the half hour, but the world that it shows is chilling enough. There are shots that are really disturbing, such as the staff of a hospital all groping blindly in a corridor and the speed with which the first blind woman is taken advantage of it frightening. The deterioration of humanity is going to be violent and rapid and it's depicted here in compelling believability.
The triffids start to make their appearance at the end of the episode and it's clear that the trick is going to be keeping the shots of them short and sharp to hide their inadequacies, but the vulnerability of the blinded humans before the new masters of the planet has enough power to cope with the less than perfect realisation of those masters.Top
Bill and Jo find a place to hole up and have something approximating a civilised meal as they listen to London collapsing all around. A light, clearly a signal for the seeing population guides them to a group that is organising a race to the country to start again, creating a new civilisation in which the rules will, of necessity, be different. Bill and Jo decide to join them, finding their bond strengthening into something deeper. Then there's a fire and Bill wakes up to find himself bound and chained.
The real horror of John Wyndham's tale was never in the presence of the triffids, but in how quickly and easily civilisation falls apart following the disaster of the global blindness. True, the heroes manage to make the best of it, but that just counterpoints what is going on beyond their closed curtains, the terror and death that they are trying to ignore because they cannot affect it in any meaningful way. Their torture is not that of being amongst the suffering, but having to listen to it in guilt and helplessness.
There's not actually that much action in this third episode, it really is about the horror of the situation and the changes that are to come. The self-appointed council announce to the survivors they have gathered that men will work and women will have children. Blind children can be catered for as they will have seeing children. Some blind women can also be catered for in the same way. There will be no room for the one man, one woman relationship. They will have to cut themselves off and wait for the rest of humanity to die before they can start again. It's a horrible thought and one that lies at the heart of this story.
It may be called THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, but they prove to be a much less pervasive threat at present than the people.Top
Bill has been taken prisoner by a man called Coker, a man with a plan. Handcuffed to a group of blind people, Bill is to act as their eyes, finding them a place to stay and scavenging for food until help comes. Bill's group gets attacked by both Triffids and other men until he no longer believes he can help. And then the plague comes.
Things are going from bad to worse. Bill's plight doesn't seem so bad. He is dispirited, true, but he seems at first able to help his charges, but then attacks by the triffids (yes, they actually make an appearance this week) and the other group bring home the hopelessness of his situation. The worst is when a young blind woman comes and offers herself to him in the hope that she can keep him from running away. The simple desperation in that act speaks volumes and is more terrible than the so-called action.
The plague is also an unpleasant reminder of the situation and it is depicted in about as ugly a fashion as you could have expected in Sunday tea time television from the 70s. Surprisingly, it is John Duttine who is the weak link this week, overacting his frustration and suppressed anger. He's been so good so far that this comes as a shock.Top
Episode 5Bill returns to the gathering place he last saw Jo, but only finds Coker. Together they go for a drive to find the group whose plans Coker sabotaged in the first place at a place called Tynsham. They have already split into two groups and Bill takes off to find the ones that Jo might be with. He manages that, but learns that all those at Tynsham are now dead of the fever. He and Jo plan to start again, but the Triffids are gathering.
Finally, the action leaves London and heads out into the countryside. Here, two spectres haunt the land, that of the everpresent plague which even the seeing survivors are not immune to and the growing menace of the triffids. The titular stars are making their presence felt more and more despite their still unconvincing appearance. Worse still is the effects shot of the triffid gun in action. Even so, the final shot of the episode, of the house being surrounded by triffids that have no eyes, but still seem to know where they are, manages to chill.Top
Six years have passed since the end of episode 5, six years that Bill, Jo and the children have lived under a state of siege, surrounded by triffids kept at bay only by the fence. When Coker arrives by helicopter and invites them to join his new commune on the Isle of Wight, they decide to wait one more summer, but then the self-styled Council of the South East show up with guns and plans to break up the family.
It's a big leap down the road to this last episode. Six years mysteriously disappear and then there's a last burst of action to get the family to safety. It's a bitty, unsatisfying way to end the series and even manages not to come up with a proper ending, with just the family leaving rather than arriving.Top
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