Long nights in Belgium hotel rooms on business are giving me the opportunity, should you want to call it that, to catch up with some of the DVD box sets I have had lying around for a while. I know, that based on what seems to be the hot ticket seems to be at the moment that I should be watching Breaking Bad or maybe The Walking Dead. But no, in the face of all the arguments I’ve been ploughing my way through The Tomorrow People. Notably the original and best (although the last descriptor has to be qualified as we will see) version from the 1970s, all 68 episodes of it (yes really, they made that many).
For those that are blissfully unaware, this is a kids series for Thames television that revolves around, at least in theory, a bunch of teenagers who are the next stage of human evolution (God help us) Homo Superior. They have telepathy, telekinesis (where the plot requires it) and can jaunt (i.e. teleport) all by force of mind alone (and some technological help, again, when the plot requires it).
They cannot kill (they keep having to remind you of it) but that’s alright because, with a rather shocking exception or two, most of the adversaries are rubbish. Plus our heroes have TIM on their side – who I remember loving as a kid – the friendly bio-computer who is probably the best written character in the show.
It’s rubbish of course. The acting is appalling (it really stands out when someone with talent – a very young Nicholas Lyndhurst for instance – turns up. But I shouldn’t criticise too much – the scripts are worse. The special effects makes contemporary Doctor Who look like Gravity and the tone is dreadfully uneven with the serious stuff mixed up with entirely unfunny slapstick humour. Main characters come and go with no warning and often no explanation, while through it all John, the eldest tomorrow person, looks on and the actor Nicholas Young, puts in a stoic performance as everyone’s serious big brother and the least convincing teenager ever portrayed – even at the beginning of the long run.
So why do I have a huge soft spot for tosh like this?
Well, first off it is hilarious.
Real laugh out loud ‘what? Really? You’re kidding’ sort of stuff. The fashions in particular are worth the price of entry alone, and it is hard to believe that some of the stuff they have to wear was ever trendy even back then (another series worth watching again for the fashion victim factor is Buck Rodgers in the Twenty-Fifth Century with the truly awful 80s idea of future fashion – hint, ladies assume its skin tight and/or very short and made of foil). No one in it seems to take it seriously – really, most people seem to be having a laugh (which jars terribly in the one episode where a sympathetic character actually dies). And buried in this are some actually good story ideas, and as the series goes on they do get better. And the title sequence and music, by Doctor Who veteran Dudley Simpson, is still brilliant and chilling. Look it up.
In the end it is mostly pretty positive stuff, and two things I still love. One is the late Philip Gilbert, who is the voice of TIM and later turns up in breathing form as Ambassador Timus of the Galactic Federation in numerous stories. Both characters – clearly connected, are effectively the Doctor in some ways; a bit like the friendly uncle in an Enid Blyton book who you know can fix everything but has to leave it to the kids because he has to be elsewhere. The actor clearly loves the part and milks it for all that it is work, and the series is better for it. He even gets the very last line, and it is a positive one too.
The other thing is the one story that gave me nightmares back in the day, and on seeing it again, it still stands up. The Living Skins is from the last series and details the efforts of balloon aliens to take over the world by turning themselves into one piece jump suits that you never want to take off – because they have taken over your mind. There is one sequence when a couple of the jumpsuits attack the youngest – who was my age at the time, always helps with impact – Tomorrow person and TIM, and while it sounds ludicrous, it is incredibly creepy.
So I suggest you take a long, hard look at your oh so comfortable onesie.
Did it just twitch there in a sinister way?