Monday, 5 April 2010

These plants were made for walking...

The Day of the Triffids. 1981. UK.
Directed by Ken Hannam. BBC DVD. Region 2.

Over Christmas 2009, BBC broadcast a new 2 part “adaptation” of John Wyndham’s novel The Day of the Trifids. I’d always loved the sixties movie when I was a kid, and also admired this six part serial the BBC put on in 1981, which lead to me reading the original novel. It has to be said that my excitement at a new adaptation of Mr. Wyndham’s enthusiastic plant life was short lived... after I’d seen how awful the new 2009 version was.

A soulless adaptation containing no characters you can care for and some run of the mill CGI effects which just dragged the story down (what little was left of it after the new scriptwriters had finished ravaging the corpse of this classic novel) and outststayed its welcome after only a short time into the first episode.

So, to exorcise the memories of this new version, I went back the the 1981 version which I admired so much as a young ‘un and I have to say that, even after all this time, this earlier adaptation doesn’t dissapoint. Although the aforementioned sixties movie was fun, this first BBC TV version is easily the most faithful and the most gripping of the small batch of versions available.

The acting is, for it’s time, superb and the characters, therefore, never fail to engage your attention and make you care about thier collective fate. And if there was ever an argument for practical, in camera, man-in-suite prop-like special effects as opposed to flimsy, modern CGI... this 1981 version of The Triffids is it.

The only real clunkers are that... well it jumps around a lot in terms of time and location from one scene to the next at various points... but this in no way disorients you enough for you to lose what’s going on. The other problem it has is the wonderful looking anti-triffid gun that the main protagonist sports in his travels. A nice looking flying disc weapon that was featured heavily in publicity shots for the serial at the time on the cover of the Radio Times and on the tie-in re-issue of the novel, is only used the once (in episode 5) and when it is finally fired... a "BBC Micro" style white triangle effect comes out of it instead of a much needed metal disk. That’s probably the only bad thing in it... the Triffids themselves are superb creations.

At the time, the production values and acting on this serial made the contemporary shows of the time like Doctor Who and Blakes Seven seem seriously lacking... unfortunately, it also makes the new 2009 adaptation look seriously lame in comparison too!


  1. What a jewel of a find! Thanks! We were in London a few weeks before and saw the adverts, but had to leave before it arrived and I've never read reviews. The 6-part 1981 version has been aired on a few American stations over the years but not nationally for a decade or so.

    I have the 1960 radio 6-part series, too - very good, much like the 1981 TV series. And I think we also have the 2-part 2001 radio series, too. Not as good despite the superior 'technology'.

    1. Hi Chuck.

      yeah, but as innacurate an adaptation to the novel it is, I still love the movie version with Howard Keel. Love it.