When you see a thing of beauty, a thing you love, you anticipate its appearance; when you see that it has been made into something it is not, has been made ugly, been defaced, you feel a little rage.
It's maybe not the most important thing in life that you could get enraged about, but it's important to me. Last night I watched the recent American attempt
to remake 'The Tomorrow People'
. I find it hard to articulate just how angry I am with it.
Having been intellectually precocious as a small child (a phenomenon which is not at all uncommon in my type of brain illness), memories of watching the original 'Tomorrow People' are among the happiest ones I have of that time of my life - I was nine when the show was discontinued. It may be coincidental, but that sad day came in 1979, the year Britain considered its future and decided it lay in the past. When its leaders are stale and old and full of old ideas, not necessarily wanting to turn back the clock two hundred years but quite happy to see it happen if it keeps the unions down, a culture might not have much time for a show about a group of clean-cut, intelligent, extremely gifted young people capable of saving the world without adult supervision.
Looking back, it was inevitable that someone would revisit it, try to bring it 'up to date'. Roger Price'
s original premise was so clever, so original, that an age like ours, in which the quality of the culture has deteriorated so sharply over the forty-one years since Thames TV first screened 'The Tomorrow People', could not resist latching onto it as it latches on to every original idea that anyone has ever had, presumably in the hope of cash and ratings. In the case of 'The Tomorrow People', understandably fond nostalgia might also have played a part in its resurrection - the name of Danny Cannon
was writ large across the credits. I have often thought it might get the big screen treatment sometime, which is, in my view, nothing less than what Price's vision deserves; but that was not to be.
Instead, it got the usual troupe of unrealistically chiselled, overly hair-lacquered, unfeasibly attractive and nauseatingly angst-ridden troupe of adolescent characters. I'm sure the actress who plays the character of 'Cara' is a perfectly pleasant young woman in reality; however, her part requires her to depict the same type of stale, barbaric, Barbie-esque, torn-faced concrete cupcake that has littered our television screens for decades. I just don't know what it is about this type of female character that makes American TV producers think that their audiences will find them sympathetic. They're not, they're loathesomely unattractive, and writing parts that require very pretty and talented young actresses to play that sort of character is deeply misogynistic.
Yet the character of 'Cara' embodies everything that's wrong with this show - and although there are many other aspects of this revisiting that are uncomfortable, it is this character's treatment that shows it as being not merely unworthy but degenerate.
Those behind the revisiting sure know their 'Tomorrow People' mythology. Homo Superior can't kill? Check. They can teleport (the original's marvellously British 'jaunting' is here replaced with 'jetting' - presumably 'jumping' was avoided for legal reasons), are telepathic and telekinetic? Check (one of them seems to have the same ability to stop time that Hiro had in 'Heroes' - maybe the new show's producers have forgotten that the TP can also induce hallucinations, which was how Andrew Forbes was discovered). They have a subterranean HQ and a computer named TIM? Check. I haven't heard mention of watchdog satellites yet, but maybe they'll get round to it. Yet they have something new, something which certainly wasn't in the original - violence.
The character of 'Cara' was shown as having 'broken out' (evolved into a Tomorrow Person) while fleeing a boy who was trying to rape her after the prom (ah, the bloody prom - do TV producers think American teenagers have any lives outside the prom, are like some kind of vanishingly rare insect that must live a lifetime in one night?). And if it wasn't the prom, it looked like the prom. The circumstances in which the character of 'Carol', Cara's analog in the original show, broke out were rather different.
She broke out while playing rounders during a PE lesson (I told you I was a fan; and if you don't believe me, go back to the novels. That's canonical).
Given the original's wholly non-violent content - it was a children's TV show, broadcast between four and five in the afternoon - the degree of violence in the revisiting is atrocious, even disturbing, so wholly at odds with the original's spirit is it. Biographical details for Roger Price are thin, but if memory serves, at the time he created 'The Tomorrow People' he either was or had been a commune-dwelling hippy. Put bluntly, 'The Tomorrow People' is hippy sci-fi. The original Tomorrow People might have been as likely to smoke pot through the barrels of their stun guns as they would have been to actually fire them. If you're a fan of 'The Tomorrow People', you will know that Homo Superior cannot kill. Those responsible for the remake have certainly grasped this part of the original - so why do they show Tomorrow People engaged in chopsocky guff with other Tomorrow People? Violence is precisely not what 'The Tomorrow People' is about - so why was any need felt to show Tomorrow People being violent? To each other? Why? Sure, it'll grab the 'X-Men' demographic, but that's about it. The original Tomorrow People resolved every situation they found themselves in through intelligence and guile, and violence makes a travesty of what the concept is about.
(Regarding the use of violence in televised science fiction, Roger Price was not merely on the same wavelength as Gene Roddenberry, he was in many ways streets ahead of him, an achievement for which he receives little credit.)
What is equally disturbing is its apparent paranoia. The revisiting's core plotline is that the Tomorrow People are being hunted down by other Tomorrow People working for a government agency. This was not the case in the original. I sometimes wonder whether all those hours that TV producers have spent on analysts' couches have had the effect of actually magnifying any latent paranoia they might suffer from rather than alleviating it. It would be sad to think that the only context that can be provided for a wonderfully original premise like the 'Tomorrow People' on American television is one which involves the different being hunted by agents of their own government. If that's the case, that might be a commentary on American society and culture that I for one am not qualified to make - but if it were, as I say that would really be quite sad, even depressing.
There is one area in which the revisiting exceeds the original - the quality of the special effects. Those who know the original know that its effects weren't very good. So what? The show was still great. Special effects are like any other form of art - they have merit if they are original, well-made, meaningful and enduring (and if you don't think they can be enduring, ask any male over the age of ten to name the colours of lightsaber blades). The gulf in technique between the original and the revisiting is vast, not unlike comparing the works of Giotto with those of Canaletto. That's perfectly understandable, given the passage of time and the development of available technology. Yet by and of themselves they do not add anything - they are still a constant in the show's merits, not a value-adding variable. The new show would be subpar even if the effects made you think you were jaunting, sorry, 'jetting' into the story yourself.
In that glorious period of creativity from 1963 to 1983, works of science fiction were created for British television that will always endure in the canon - 'Blake's 7', 'The Tomorrow People' and the daddy of them all, 'Doctor Who', still going strong at fifty. They aren't just bubblegum TV science fiction, they are artworks of considerable merit. Ars gratia artis, for sure, and the originals will never be diminished - yet as far as the revisiting of 'The Tomorrow People' is concerned, it says much both about the people who have made it and the market for which it was made that an event which was portrayed as happening during a PE lesson in the original should need an attempted rape in the remake. The original Tomorrow People saved the world many times over, God love them. It's sad to see them entangled in the culture wars.
Labels: Bubblegum TV Science Fiction, Vultures In The Culture