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The Tomorrow People: series six

cast: Nicholas Young, Michael Holoway, Misako Toba, Elizabeth Adare, and Michael Sheard
director: Roger Price
140 minutes (PG) 1978
Revelation DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Back in 1978, by the time they ran series six of The Tomorrow People, I had either reached an age by which I could be said to have outgrown the children's teatime SF series realising how awful it was, or the series had well and truly worsened. Watching series six now without re-familiarisation of the surrounding series leaves me none the wiser. When it comes to the commentary, on The Thargon Menace, the two-part adventure that closed this series, there is a collective cry of horror from the former cast members. "Oh God!" exclaims one, "embarrassment," he adds, and "this was the worst episode" ever... but more on that later. Of course, it was terrible, and how so terrible, and the reason it is so entertaining now.

One suspects, watching it again, that there was an attempt to kill the series, to poison it with its ludicrous content come 1977. I recall it opening on a more serious note; its success perhaps galling to some of those involved. It was time to put it down and move on, if only they could dissuade the kids and appal the parents first. Why else add to a cast that already included the tragic over-actor Mike Holoway a new immigrant Japanese non-actress who had difficulty not only remembering and delivering her lines but understanding them also... or her co-stars or directors' addresses, come to that. There appeared a deliberate attempt at shoddiness. Still, it makes for never a dull moment, whether it be unintentional or not, unapproved humour or an acknowledged comedy in the script.

The series began with a new set and sleeping quarters for the Tomorrow People, the teenage Homo Superior, that additional stage along in mankind's psychic evolution. The old titles sequence is still there, as uncompromising and scary as it ever was, it still produces a frisson with that unnerving Dudley Simpson score and creepy images, a chill factor never to be met by the actual story contents. This sixth series was to carry a running motif in dictatorial regimes. Story one features a child-sacrificing Buddhist sect, story two returned Hitler to us, and story three gave us not one but two usurpers in one bloated figure, as Papa Doc and Idi Amin went into the blender to produce a villain called Papa Minn.

The Lost Gods (all adventures in this series are told in two parts, the five-episode adventures long deserted) introduces the new tomorrow person, Hsui Tai (Misako Toba), a 15-year-old corporeal embodiment of a god, or so she is seen in the eyes of a sect and the next of the child gods due for sacrifice and reincarnation. She finds that she is able to link up with the god Kishnu, though that is in fact tomorrow lad Mike (Mike Holoway), and for some reason only when alone in the air during glider flying lessons. They let her die. No they don't. Clearly they rescue her and close down the sect. It is the tightest and dullest of the episodes. It is interesting to hear John (Nicholas Young) instruct the computer TIM (voiced by Philip Gilbert) to get "on-line with the press cuttings agency." That credited Scientific Advisor on the series was worth his salt. There is a touch of genius in one exchange, whereby the boys try to explain to Hsui Tai that she is human like they. "You're not a god either," pronounces John. "How dare you say such things? That's blasphemy," responds Hsui Tai. So true that is, only a god has the veracity to call someone a blasphemer.

Their second adventure in the series, Hitler's Last Secret is the real jaw-dropper. And what currency it displays, with Mike trying to jaunt out for an evening with the blitzkrieg brigade in a camp wardrobe of Nazi jacket and peaked cap. "You're not going out dressed like that," excites John, "It's disgusting." There is a serious threat of lockjaw with this tale as Hitler is revealed to be an alien called Neebor from the planet Fasci (apparently it is common knowledge on Galactic Trig) and early genetic experiments ("Genes, Mike, no not the ones you wear.") are timed to explode a fascination (in a fascist nation, a rap career beckons) in the image and voice of Hitler and fascist paraphernalia among the current generation of European Youth, thus explaining the popularity of Nazi ideology amongst the kids down at Himler's Tearooms in the East End of London. Apparently, when Werner Von Braun's V2 rockets were winging their way over to our shores, the notorious dummy missiles that curiously did not have any explosives (historical fact that part at least), were not entirely empty, but carried an e-coli bacteria that was ingested in the then generations intestines to be borne down through to the youth of today. Fourteen-year-old Nicholas Lyndhurst plays a 47-year-old storm trooper and Michael Sheard provides a superb impersonation and bears a disturbing resemblance to Adolf Hitler, a role he was to be engaged in repeatedly thereafter.

The Thargon Menace is the truly embarrassing, silver costume, SF stupid-fart of a tale in which young and fugitive Thargon villains (Jackie Cowper and Michael Audreyson) crash into the earth, quite literally rocking it, in an attempt to escape their pursuers. Back on the surface of the planet they try to deceive the Tomorrow People then offer to build a highly destructive Ripper Ray for the Pacific Islands dictator Papa Minns in order that he can govern the planet, though their true intention is to arm themselves to endeavour in further chaos across the universe. You can imagine anyone cringing at an involvement in this. A fact file proudly notes that this is the only Tomorrow People adventure to include glove puppet monsters. Little effort has gone into the 'Things', as they are called, mouthy computer creatures, one of which has been stuck with an aluminium-foil beard. By comparison they make the occupants of Button Moon look like Giger creations. It is not surprising that one of them is voiced by Roy Skelton of Zippy fame and even old zipper-face would have been more convincing here. At least the fugitive humanoid aliens are given pleasant burgundy spacesuits unlike their poor pursuers. It is a shambles.

Jackie Cowper, who plays the mischievous female alien Sula, was to be the least successful of the Cowper sisters. Her twin Gerry was Rowan Martin in The Wicker Man who earned her News Of The World coverage with topless scenes in the Sunday evening rama series A Kind Of Loving. While Jackie shows a chirpy vivaciousness under the glistening make-up that promises way above what the third, kid, sister Nicola was capable of it was the prettier Nicola that went on to several richer assignments, amongst them George Pavlou's Underworld (1986) and Gavin Miller's Dreamchild (1986). Ray Burdis, Robert Lee (from Mind Your Language), Burt Kwouk and the boy from Midnight Is A Place all turn up in adventures. Elisabeth Adare took time out from the series, limited to a brief appearance on screen in The Lost Gods, explained as away on a diplomatic mission on Galactric Trig, but in the real world popping out a child.

Much of the supplementary material is half hearted but enough in the scheme of bringing all eight of the series to DVD (well, I don't expect them to stop now). The cover boasts "the funniest commentaries on DVD," and that might just be true. Nicholas Young is particularly alert, clever, and a laugh riot on the commentaries, accompanied by Peter Vaughn-Clark and Mike Holoway. Rob Bryden's dreadful skit series Director's Commentary (much deplored by John Cater, one of its victims, I might add) is put rightly to shame by this disc. On Hitler's Last Secret there is hilarity from the get-go, enough naturally from the filmed story, but then Nicholas Young ratchets the laugh factor up way higher. There had already been some of the ribald when Peter Vaughn-Clark admitted that the hand closing into a fist on the opening titles was his. "Well-known for your fist!" ribs Young. When the titles come around again he cannot resist it. "Your fist has obviously got around a bit." Young quickly alights on comments like "Labs are laborious, yeah!" and "Miles from anywhere... how does he know his name is Miles?" The episode title is due some stick too. "Is that 'Men Like Rats' or 'Men Like Rats'?" They behave like gentleman though when it comes to the acting abilities of Miss Toba, but then for some it would have been a bit like the pot calling the kettle black arse. Though a comment about her perhaps not having a work permit is braved, and naturally by Young. Miss Tobu, 23 playing 15 in 1977 when the series was shot, is revealed on the notes to have married the man who got her the part and returned with him to Blackpool where she is still known to sing for her supper. Some interesting facts are revealed about the actual production. The chroma-key colour used by the effects team was yellow not the usual blue screen (unless this is more of Young's smarter-than-thou humour) and the opening titles were captured in a day with a Nikon camera.

The colour is interchangeable. On The Lost Gods the 16mm film is now pale coloured with an occasional image flicker, perhaps a digital fault, while the video footage is russet and ruddy. Hitler's Last Secret opens with film footage reduced to a grubby green tint. Plenty of entertainment value is available in these episodes and I am frankly now curious about seeing other, particularly the earlier series adventures, again.

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