SF Obscure: Ace of Wands

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Ace of Wands is an ITV fantasy show broadcast in 1971 to 1972. It’s technically a children’s/ family show, but it’s fairly sophisticated and one that held my interest. Ace of Wands ran for three series, however, only the third series remains. At the time, ITV wiped old series due to the high cost of production materials and storage.

Ace of Wands focuses on a stage magician named Tarot who also has psychic powers and works to develop his paranormal skills. In series three he is assisted by a sibling team Chas, a photographer, and Mikki a journalist. Mikki is interested in studying the paranormal and she is more readily able to accept the various paranormal happenings. She also appears to have rather strong potential abilities herself. Chas is the resident skeptic. I felt like his character was a bit extraneous  (perhaps a third wheel in the Tarot/Mikki dynamic) but I didn’t dislike him.  There is also an owl named Oxymandius. The Tarot character made me think of the show Jonathan Creek and I wondered if those writers were influenced by it.

There are six stories in season three, running about three or four half hour episodes each. The two that stood out for me were Peacock Pie and The Beautiful People. Peacock Pie features a man with very strong powers of suggestion: making people dream certain images, imagine blank paper is really banknotes, and getting people trapped in their own illusions. Mr. Peacock is a fascinating villain because he’s complex; you actually empathize with him in feeling trapped in a world that can’t really understand his power. What makes this show effective, despite few props and limited effects budget, is the acting-creating full bodied characters that move the story along. It’s almost like a stage play in its sparseness but effective.

The Beautiful People is another one that I like; mainly because it’s so odd with an unexpected ending. Tarot and company encounter a group of siblings who run invite -only street fairs for elderly people and people in need. It’s not nearly as altruistic as it appears. The siblings are pleasant on the surface with an ominous tone that underscores everything they do. This episode was written by PJ Hammond who later wrote for Sapphire and Steel so it has that sort of style.

I have to admit, I also like the Ace of Wands  theme song. It’s got that catchy hippies early seventies vibe and sticks in your head. The show ended abruptly to be  replaced by the original UK version of The Tomorrow People.  (which I covered in an earlier post) I liked this show better than The Tomorrow People.  It’s a bit dated, but I had a good time watching.

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SF Obscure: The Tomorrow People

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A few years ago, there was a TV show called The Tomorrow People which I only saw a few episodes of. It was a paranormal show in the midst of many paranormal shows, but in this case dealt more with telepathic and psychic sorts of powers. I remembered watching it and thinking…wasn’t there something like this before?

And I was correct. It was a remake-though really more of a re-imaging because the look and style is much different from the original.

The original The Tomorrow People was a British children’s SF show which ran from 1973 to 1979. The basic idea is that humans are reaching a new step of evolution and these new humans are developing various psychic powers- telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation  usually at the onset of puberty although a few are a bit older. Anyhow, there is an organization that tracks tomorrow people and helps them adjust. There is also a biological computer called TIM, and a secret base, and they sometimes deal with a galactic group that tracks telepathy all over the universe. The Tomorrow People (homo superior)  are fundamentally unwilling to kill and have to hide from those who want to exploit their powers. It was supposed to be the ITV answer to Doctor Who and it has that kind of SF, mystery, adventure sort of feel. The theme music is by Dudley Simpson who also did a lot of the Doctor Who music as well as the them music for Blake’s 7 and the very short lived Moonbase 3. 

It doesn’t age particularly well. Clothing. Hair. Limited budget and not-so-special special effects. The acting is…well…not exactly the best.  It does have a nostalgia value for a few episodes 🙂 And I have to admit, some of the plots were rather sophisticated and compelling.

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However, I realized this wasn’t even the version I was remembering. The Tomorrow People was revived in the 1990’s. It ran on Nickelodeon from 1992-1995. It’s similar to the original-though they had a psychic spaceship rather than the computer and they use their powers more freely, but still don’t kill. It’s one of the early roles for young Naomie Harris who has sent moved on to be Pirates of the Caribbean, James Bond, and an Academy Award nomination for Moonlight. 

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The newer 2013 version is more young adult than children’s show with edgier plot lines. Plus, the emergence of The Tomorrow People and the governement/military involvement is amped. It didn’t see very many episodes, but I think any alien invasions or Doctor Who-ish type plots are dropped.

Big Finish ran a brief audio drama series based on the original.

*By the time this finishes, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery will be finished and I can assess how I feel about it. I have been watching Star Trek: Voyager which I hadn’t seen in a while and forgot a lot of those first few seasons. It’s better than I remembered it even if there are a few clunker episodes. I also finally have a chance to watch Killjoys. It wasn’t broadcast overseas so I had to wait for Netflix. So far, it’s a fun one.

SF Obscure: The Tripods

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The Tripods TV series is a 1984-1985 YA SF series based on a series of books The Tripods by John Christopher. It ran for two seasons on the BBC. There are many changes from the books to the tv series though the basic concept remains the same.

The show begins in the future 2089. We see a pre-industrial version of England. Horse drawn carriages, family farms, etc. A young man in a suit is being congratulated by his friends and family for his “capping “ceremony. He takes off his hat to reveal his shaven head. Out of the sky comes a giant metal tripod, that lands in the lake and  pulls the young man up inside.

Apparently, the tripods are controlled by the Masters, an alien race that controls humanity through capping. When you turn 16 (14 in the books) you get a metal implant in your head-cap-that keeps you from independent thought. It gets rid of violence and greed and what not, but also free will. It also seems to dumb down society-hence the pre-industrial world. Humanity has largely forgotten technological progress. We later find out that many countries are now isolated to the point that no one travels outside their own country, learns another language, or even has the same currency. The caps create a xenophobia which prevents mixing with any ‘outsiders’ and this helps the aliens maintain control.

The focus is on two young men, Will and his friend Henry, who are almost at the age to be capped. Will is apprehensive about capping and what it does to people. They meet up with some of the uncapped/ those for whom capping didn’t work- who live as vagrants. One vagrant, Ozymandias, convinces them that they do have something to fear from being capped and need to escape. On their journey, they begin to figure out their idyllic world is based on mind control and they begin to resist it. There are also agents of the tripods, which chase the boys as Will, Henry, and a new friend  try to convince other young adults to join in and resist the Masters.

The books are a bit different-a prequel book explains the beginnings of the invasion and how the world came to be. The TV series ended without completing the book series due to budget issues.

On the whole, I found the premise intriguing. It does look dated…the clothes and dialogue are supposed to be pre-industrial but even then the episodes and dialogue can be a little stilted and slow. I don’t think a young adult would sit through it now especially with a diet of  faster paced shows.  It is interesting to watch if you want to round out your viewing of the cult classics- and the books hold up fairly well.