Now that it is over, Judge Eric Profancik weeps. He weeps for the corny rubber suits, the aliens formed of balloons and string. But most of all, he weeps for the Seventies.
"They turned into quivering jelly. And I hate jelly."
Watching this series again for the first time in close to thirty years, I find myself wistful that this is the end of the series. Set 3 culminates in a whimper and not a bang. Throughout these years, the stories for The Tomorrow People have not been the best in science fiction, drama, or morality tales. Every once in a while they would get things right, but on the whole, this show is just another odd entry into the great pantheon of cult shows. Why is it so beloved? Why is there still such a following? Why is there enough interest now to release these on DVD and create new audio adventures? I really don't know. But whatever is going on, I am affected and wistful. I'm sad it's over, that I have no more episodes to watch. In the vagaries of the unknown, in what touches our spirit and entertains and touches us, I find The Tomorrow People. It's less than a stellar show, but I miss it as much today as an adult as I did back when I was but a mere child.
Facts of the Case
Set 3 of The Tomorrow People on DVD contains seasons six, seven and eight of the show, which aired in 1977 and 1978. The classic series wraps things up with:
Continuing the format from Season Five, Seasons Six and Seven feature stories in easily digestible two-part episodes. Season Eight differs from the previous three by running one "big" story throughout the entire year. It's an abbreviated year, which is why the series closes out in only a four-part story.
I think the theme of Set 3 must be "cheese." Mmm, cheese. No not that cheese, but the cheese you get with silly little stories. This set contains three of the unwittingly cheesiest stories of the series: "Hitler's Last Secret," "The Living Skins," and "War of the Empires." Fans of the show might be shocked by the selection of two of them, but give me a moment to explain.
"Hitler's Last Secret" allows The Tomorrow People to venture into a favorite territory of science fiction. It is another attempt to posit that Hitler is alive, frozen in cryogenic sleep in some secret bunker, waiting for the right moment to be awakened to conquer the world! This time we get the twist that Hitler is really a shape-changing, evil alien known as Neebor. The icing on the cake for the episode, which actually features an impressive Hitler look-alike, is when we get a glimpse of Neebor's true appearance. It turns out it's a gooey, green, slimy blob without eyeballs. Adding a bit more fun to it is that when unmasked, "Hitler's" eyes slowly ooze down the alien's face. It's pure cheese. I'll be so kind as to not even mention the fact that Hitler and his youth death squad all speak English instead of German. Oops. I lied. Yet underneath this goofiness is a deep message. Utilizing the rising popularity of Nazism and its related apparel in England at the time, the show used this episode to remind people of the atrocities of Hitler and the SS. So buried in the cheese is a solid message.
Without question is "The Living Skins" not only the silliest story idea, but also the silliest implementation of an invading alien force. I remember from many a year ago when my friend and I somehow got the harebrained idea that the movie Dark Star was good. My friend loved its badness, but I just thought it was bad. I just couldn't digest the idea that a beach ball was a menacing alien. Now here I am, watching "The Living Skins" where the aliens are nothing more than oversized, flesh-colored balloons. (Yes, if you look closely you can see the knots.) Bouncing around, the Balboids strike fear into everyone, but I'm just sitting on my couch wondering why anyone just doesn't stick a needle into them and pop them! Then we get the cop-out resolution of a cold saving the planet. Ugh!
The series finale, "War of the Empires," is not meant to be silly. It's meant as a serious story of great danger facing Earth. Sadly, we have two grand cheese moments. First is the remarkable prescience of the series, depicting an idiot President of the United States as a mumbler from Texas. This President is a horrible presentation of a world leader, but let's remember this British show is just poking fun at its neighbor across the pond. You can see we had some slightly strained relations. Of greater cheese is our first witness of the Council of the Galactic Federation. There are either four or five members on this council, and each is wearing a rubber suit sillier than the next. This grand and august council is nothing more than a showcase of a restricted budget. The Galactic Federation is the crux of the story, but you can't take them seriously when the aliens look like rejects from Doctor Who.
If you're interested in The Tomorrow People, you're not in it for the technical quality of the DVDs. Good thing too, as the video and audio show their age. The full frame video is decidedly cleaner and better than any broadcast version, yet it's filled with dirt, scratches, artifacting, poor color saturation, color oversaturation, soft blacks, and a veritable cornucopia of other video hiccups. It's certainly not horrible, but we can't sugarcoat anything. For the audio track, most of the time you can clearly understand the dialogue, but it is often soft, hollow, and not as accurate as it should be. But let's keep in mind this is a low-budget children's show from the late 1970s.
The true weakness of the DVD releases has always been the bonus materials. Each of the prior two sets contained one audio commentary on the first episode, but sadly that tradition is not continued with this final set. That's too bad because I really enjoyed the cheeky (not cheesy) nature of them. They were honest, self-deprecating, and insightful. Instead, we got a crop of bonus items that are good—yet not so good. From my understanding, none of the included material was created specifically for the DVDs. Instead, it's material previously created that was tacked on here. Fortunately, the first item, the "Beyond Tomorrow" documentary (59 minutes) is excellent. Filled with all the information I never knew (like what happened to Stephen, as I pondered in my Set 2 review), the documentary has most of the original actors talking about the show, both good and bad. It's such a good documentary that I wanted more. I wish they could have grabbed the last few missing kids and had them share their thoughts. Next up are some interviews, the first with Nicholas Young (27 minutes)—John, the group's leader, then with Nigel Rhodes (24 minutes)—Andrew, the "lost" Tomorrow Person, and lastly with series expert Jackie Clark (8 minutes). Each is merely average, with Nicholas' the worst. Why? Simply because out of the total running time, he spends only 3 minutes talking about the show. Sorry, I really don't care that much about your career outside this show. There's not much to say about Nigel except, wow, love the hair. And with Jackie's, while the most enjoyable, it's also too short. Rounding it all out are the standard, text-based cast biographies.
None of this material was created for this release, but where did it come from? From my deductions, I believe Jackie Clark created all of this in some fashion. The documentary was filmed in 1997 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the show. And while I'm not certain of the exact "home" of the interviews, you can see they are homemade, as the Windows cursor arrow is clearly visible during one of the opening credits.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Mike. Mike. Mike. Why do you keep getting into trouble? You crash glider planes, you wear Nazi clothes, and you almost get roasted in a fire. Can't you stay out of trouble? Shouldn't you listen to John and not be so rebellious? Do you always have to be the center of attention? Oh, you do, and now I know why. I had no idea you were popular before joining the show. All the little girlies were fond of you. So in you came, became the center of attention, and away went Stephen. Love that television politics!
When it is all said and done, The Tomorrow People is a cult show that already has an established base. If you didn't grow up on this one, I cannot imagine trying to watch it now with our 21st century ideas and concepts and liking the show. It's a show that needed to seep into your skin thirty years ago and fester into a life-long, unexplainable guilty pleasure. During one of the interviews (I think with Clarke), it's said that an original fan began to show the series to her children, and they were as captivated now as she was back in the day. I can't believe that. She stated the slow pacing, full stories, and jaunting charmed her kids. I'd like to believe that, but I think she probably hovered over them and they just knew to say they liked it to appease her. But, that is neither here nor there. What I can say is that this set is for the fan. You'll already know if you want to pick it up. It's not a great set, but it has nothing wrong with it to stop you from owning it. And, that "Beyond Tomorrow" documentary is quite good.
The Tomorrow People are hereby found guilty of saving the planet from balloons.
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Scales of Justice
• "Beyond Tomorrow" Documentary
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