The Day of the Triffids (BBC 1981). Episode Six

triffids 06

Six years have passed since the events seen in episode five.  Bill and Jo now have a young son and Susan, the girl Bill effectively adopted, is growing up.  They, together with a blind couple who live with them, have managed to keep their small community ticking over.

There are problems though and these are mostly Triffid related.  Although they regularly destroy them, the Triffids always come back.  Bill has built an electric fence – but powering it constantly isn’t possible.  There’s a very effective sequence early on, when Jo opens the curtains to find a group of Triffids right outside.  Just the small glimpse that we can see of them makes them even more disturbing.

The unexpected arrival of Coker offers a way out.  He’s established a community of several hundred people on the Isle of Wight and since it’s an island, it can be defended against Triffids.  Coker asks Bill and the others to join them and work on a way to eradicate the Triffids once and for all.  He then talks a little about how the community functions.

Those of us all over there have all agreed we’re not out to reconstruct the world as it was.  We want to build something new, better.  Some people don’t agree with that, they want to keep a lot of the bad, old features.  If anybody doesn’t like us, or we don’t like them, we ask them to move somewhere else.

Shortly after Coker leaves, they are visited by a number of people in military fatigues headed by a man called Torrance (Gary Olsen).  The book makes it explicit that he’s the same red-headed man who shot at Bill and the blind people earlier in the story,  This doesn’t happen here, so you could be forgiven for thinking they’re two separate people.  Torrance wants to move another eighteen blind people into Bill’s community and whilst he admits that it’ll be hard work for them all to survive on the land for the next few years, after that he tells them they’ll be able to relax a little.

Bill comes to realise that Torrance is effectively inviting him to become a feudal lord.  Torrance, like Coker, is given a chance to outline how their community operates.

Supreme authority is vested in the council.  It will rule.  It will also control the armed forces.  Then, of course, there’s the rest of the world to consider.  Everywhere must be in the same sort of chaos.  Clearly, it’s our national duty to get on our feet as soon as possible and assume a dominant role and discourage any aggressors from organising against us.

It is the diametric opposite of Coker’s community.  Coker wants to build something new and different, whilst Torrance is seeking to rebuild the new world very much along the lines of the old.  Given that there’s been a general feeling throughout the story that any rebuilding must be an improvement on the old ways, it’s no surprise that Bill and the others reject Torrance’s offer and they leave him and his men to deal with the Triffids whilst they head for the Isle of Wight.

Earlier in the episode, Bill and Jo discuss exactly how the catastrophe happened.  Jo, like many people, believes that the comet was a natural phenomenon, but Bill isn’t so sure.

Do you know how many satellites were going round up there?  How many weapons?  Or what was in the weapons?  They never told us.  They never asked us.  I suppose one of these weapons had been specially constructed to emit a radiation that our eyes couldn’t stand.  Something that would burn out the optic nerve.  Suppose there was an accident.  This weapon would operate at low levels, only blinding people they wanted to blind.  But after the accident, it went off so far up that anyone on earth could receive direct radiation from it.

Back in 1981 this would have seemed horribly possible, so when you realise that it was part of Wyndham’s novel (published in 1951, six years before the first satellite was launched) it’s an impressive feat of prediction for him to anticapte the weaponising of space.  Torrance’s aggressive militarism seems set to repeat these same mistakes, so it’s understandable that Bill and his friends reject him.

In conclusion, this is a creepily effective serial that has only improved with age.  It naturally had a limited budget, so in earlier episodes it couldn’t show the devastation of London in any particular detail – but it did manage to efficiently imply it via sound effects (gunshots, cries, etc).  If you want to watch a faithful adaptation of the novel, then this is the only one to go for – as both the film and the 2009 TV version veer wildly from Wyndham’s original.

Something of a classic, this deserves a place in anybody’s collection.

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