“The Tripods” – What if the Martians Won?

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What if the Martians from HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds were the victors at the end of the story? The Tripods is a series of novels by John Christopher that explores this idea and on September 15th, 1984 the first episode of the TV adaptation aired in Britain.


The story of The Tripods is a variation on post-apocalyptic literature, wherein humanity has been enslaved by “Tripods”: gigantic three-legged walking machines, piloted by unseen alien entities (later identified as “Masters“). Human society is largely pastoral, with few habitations larger than villages, and what little industry exists is conducted under the watchful presence of the Tripods. Lifestyle is reminiscent of the Middle Ages, but small artifacts from the Modern Age are still used, such as watches.

Tripods CapHumans are controlled from the age of 14 by implants called “Caps”, which suppress curiosity and creativity. Some people, whose minds are broken by the Caps, become vagrants. According to The City of Gold and Lead, Masters begin to believe that humans should be capped at an earlier age “because some humans, in the year or two before they are Capped, become rebellious and act against the masters”; but this cannot be done because Capping must wait until the braincase has stopped growing.

The show was jointly produced by the BBC in the United Kingdom and the Seven Network in Australia. Series one of The Tripods had 13 half-hour episodes written by the author of many radio plays Alick Rowe, covers the first book, The White Mountains; the 12-episode second series (1985) covers The City of Gold and Lead. Although a television script had been written for the third series, it never went into production.

Tripod willmasterThe series introduced several minor changes from the book, notably the shape of the Masters and Tripods, which have tentacles (although the Tripods do have a mechanical claw-arm that they sometimes use) in the book; the Black Guard was introduced to serve as a tangible human antagonist as overuse of the Tripods themselves would be expensive to film and undermine their dramatic presence; gravity inside the Golden City was increased artificially, which is not mentioned in the TV series; the introduction of “cognoscs”, spiritual life-forms vastly superior to the Masters themselves; and more other main characters, including love interests for both Will and Beanpole.

The original texts have few female characters. John Christopher was asked about this for an interview on Wordcandy, replying that at the time of writing the series, it was generally accepted that girls would read books with boy main characters, but not vice versa. He also stated that he felt the addition of an entire family of girls to the TV series was somewhat “over the top”. The series is also notable for featuring non-humanoid aliens, which was uncommon at the time.


Disney has owned the film rights to The Tripods since 1997. It was reported in 2005 that a cinematic version is in pre-production with Australian-born director Gregor Jordan signed on to rewrite and direct for Walt Disney’s Touchstone Pictures label. The film version was expected to be released in 2012, although as of 2015 the project is still listed as being in development, and no announcements about the cast or filming dates have been made.


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