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July 6, 2012 5:20 AM   Subscribe

"None of us are gods, evil, good, or any other kind of god. We are mortal. If I am cut, I bleed. If you are cut, you bleed. We are all flesh and blood. We are born. We live. We die. The only thing that makes us different is that we are a new kind of human being , One day everyone in the world will be like us. We are Tomorrow People, Hsui Tai, and you are one of us!"

1973. Western involvement in Vietnam was winding down in South-East Asia. Watergate. The Troubles continue in Ireland. There are coups in Greece, Chile and Afghanistan. The Yom Kippur War. A global energy crisis. The Three-Day Week. Unemployment and inflation are rife in the United Kingdom. Nuclear weapons and the Cold War overshadow everything.

It was a dark time, so ITV charged former hippie and a producer for the BBC's Junior Points Of View Roger Price to craft a low budget answer to ratings juggernaut Doctor Who for Saturday tea-time television.

The Tomorrow People were Homo Superior, the next stage in evolution with extraordinary abilities, typically telekinesis, telepathy and teleportation (here called "jaunting" from Alfred Bester's My Stars The Destination). Their name was inspired from (or perhaps inspired) lyrics from David Bowie's Oh You Pretty Things.

Between 1973 and 1979 The Tomorrow People banded together to help usher in a new, peaceful age, fighting despotic governments and strange alien invasions.

Aided by alien allies in the Galactic Federation, the Homo Superior, who were incapable of using violence to solve their problems, went head to head with a range of threats including their own government, the KGB, the Cyclops and his shape-changing robot Jedikiah, The Medusa, the arch-criminal Spiridon, Kulthans, Kleptons, Thargons, Sorsons, Ballboids, alien paintings, the Heart of Sogguth, and Adolf Hitler!

The Tomorrow People operated from their secret lab in a disused Tube station, with the aid of advanced robot clone TIM.

Sadly, the budget of The Tomorrow People was even lower than that of Doctor Who, although the "perfect dramatic expression of glam rock culture" was almost as popular at the time.

Price stuck with The Tomorrow People as its main script writer for almost all of its 68 episodes over 22 stories, some of which were more successful than others, but all of which showcased his anti-establishment views.

There are many episodes available on YouTube (despite the fact it is on DVD), but some two examples:
The Slaves of Jedikiah, the first story: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
The Blue and the Green is considered one of the series high points: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.
A Man For Emily is considered the most reviled of the series' original run for its high camp and perceived low quality, but is notable for being the TV debut of future Fifth Doctor Peter Davison in a blonde wig and barely-there costume.

After eight seasons the show ended with War of the Empires, by which time Price had moved to Canada and created an anarchic kids sketch comedy show called
You Can't Do That on Television. (Previously...)

There were plans for further stories, as indicated by this now missing fan site.

As the show aired before VHS was popular there were and comics in magazines such as Look In and TV Action. There was also an annual in 1979 which is available as a PDF.

Some say it has not aged well, others say it was never really that good anyway, but it lives on in DVD format. (Reviews here and here, for example).

In 1993, under the name Roger Damon Price, the show's creator returned from Canada and, with the aid of American money, created a new version of the Tomorrow People, a distinct but less successful show despite early hopes. TIM was nowhere in evidence, instead he was an alien ship buried beneath the South Pacific.

Price penned the new series complete run. It lasted just five stories, but Christopher Lee did turn up in The Rameses Connection as Sam Rees.

A Bad Dream Gets Real, the New Tomorrow People's unaired pilot, is on YouTube.

As with so many shows, it remains fondly remembered despite its foibles. While it lacks a large web presence there are several fan sites (Warning: plays jaunting sound) keeping the dream alive. You can even scope out some filming locations if you are in London, but Wood Lawn Station was demolished in 2000.
And here is an e-mail list archive of a fan lists from 1996/97 in case you want to know more.

Between 2001 and 2007, the original Tomorrow People continued as Big Finish audio adventures although the series audio is no longer available, as production ceased during the sixth series when Big Finish was unable to renew its licence. Trailers for many of the stories are archived.

The show has its own TV Tropes page too.

Bonuses: Billy Idol's Tomorrow People from his 1990s Cyberpunk LP.
Flintlock Dawn on Top Of The Pops with Tomorrow Person Mike on drums.
posted by Mezentian (32 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I have fond memories of watching Tomorrow People sometime in the 80s (sometime before my teens). I think it was on Nickelodeon or something.

Then, sometime in the netflix era, I tried to watch a disc of the show. I couldn't get through it.

And now I need some brain bleach to get rid of the image of Peter Davison in a blonde wig and barely-there costume.

(in case it's not apparent, thanks for this post!)
posted by jepler at 5:36 AM on July 6, 2012

Don't forget Ziggy.
posted by crunchland at 5:36 AM on July 6, 2012

In the US it was on Nickelodeon, as part of the Third Eye show.
I neglected to include that link.
Sorry about that, North America.
posted by Mezentian at 5:45 AM on July 6, 2012

Between this and X-Men I'm curious as to what selective pressures lead to the development of telepathy.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:01 AM on July 6, 2012

As much as I love Bowie (as you might guess), there's prior art for "Homo Superior" in The Uncanny X-Men, which also pioneered the idea that the baby boomers contained the next step in human evolution. Psychic powers, secret headquarters, always on the lookout for new mutants... check, check and check.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:02 AM on July 6, 2012

I loved this show so much when I was a kid. I used to lie in bed at night, straining to hear other people's thoughts -- I just knew I was a tomorrow person, deep down inside. My friend and I wrote little fan fiction stories and passed them to each other between classes. Sigh.

My daughter turned 11 this year, and seriously waited to get her invitation from Hogwarts. She didn't talk too much about it, but I know she felt disappointed. I knew EXACTLY how she felt.
posted by Malla at 6:08 AM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

X-Men didn't get big until Giant-Size X-Men in 1975.
I can't speak for what comics from Marvel were in the UK at that time, but I suspect it was limited.
I'm not sure where the phrase 'homo superior' came from, but I'll take

As to the telepathy thing Pope Guilty mentioned, it's not the Jean Grey style, but more communal think-speak ala The Chrysalids, which was published in the fifties, where you could only communicate from other telepaths. I'm sure there's a rich history in trying to figure this aspect out alone.

But basically: The Bomb.
posted by Mezentian at 6:08 AM on July 6, 2012

I knew EXACTLY how she felt.

I was right there with you.
I even had my jaunting belt ready. I think I even wore the thing to bed, along with my red (Tom Baker-esque) dressing gown a few times.

Because you could never to too prepared.
posted by Mezentian at 6:10 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

More so than the Doctor Who shows from this era, The Tomorrow People managed to convey to me a particular feeling of uneasiness and dread. I'm sure the music for the show, courtesy of Delia Derbyshire and her fellow BBC Radiophonic workshoppers, had a lot to do with those feelings of mine.
posted by stannate at 6:33 AM on July 6, 2012

I'm not sure where the phrase 'homo superior' came from

Olaf Stapledon's Odd John, as near as I know.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:37 AM on July 6, 2012

Very significant squee upon seeing this in my RSS feeds. I can't wait to get home from work this evening to look through it. I was majorly into Tomorrow People when I was a kid, and it definitely was my personal childhood version of "Y'ur a wizard, Harry!". Thanks for this post, Mezentian.
posted by WCityMike at 6:41 AM on July 6, 2012

Peter Davison in a blonde wig and barely-there costume.

Negligibly Sexy, Future Who
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:44 AM on July 6, 2012

Roger Price is on record somewhere saying that Bowie's song was the inspiration for the original series.
posted by Helga-woo at 6:46 AM on July 6, 2012

Huh! I am pretty sure I saw this as a kid but had no idea what it was.
posted by Calzephyr at 6:51 AM on July 6, 2012

I'm sure the music for the show, courtesy of Delia Derbyshire and her fellow BBC Radiophonic workshoppers,

I knew it was Dudley Simpson, did not know Delia Derbyshire was involved. I swear that woman is the greatest musical influence in my life, and the entirely of modern music owes her a debt of some sort.

Roger Price is on record somewhere saying that Bowie's song was the inspiration for the original series.

Since Price appears to be MIA most of the time (or crazy) it's hard to tell, there are conflicting reports he has never clarified, but it seems as if Bowie was a spark.

Negligibly Sexy, Future Who
That story saw him meet and marry Sandra "Trillian" Dickinson, which ended up leading to the birth of Georgina "Jenny" Moffett, which ended up in David "Tenth Doctor" Tennant marrying his own daughter. After a fashion.

I should add: I own the DVDs and have watched them all, and the commentary tracks are well worth if, mostly. They flirt with the politically incorrect at times, so if you are easily offended by the odd gay or racist jape they might not be ideal.
But they basically MST3K their own work.
posted by Mezentian at 7:03 AM on July 6, 2012

I've been meaning to get these DVD's for a while - I saw this on Nickelodeon as a kid, and am still haunted by my most vivid memory, the shot of a unwilling KGB spy leaping out the window and while plummeting to the ground, bursting into flame from the explosive in her neck. At least that's what I remember, god I hope it's really that good....
posted by pupdog at 7:27 AM on July 6, 2012

We weren't allowed to watch this because mum said ITV programs were “common”.
posted by scruss at 7:54 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

As I remember, a fan managed to track him down for an interview about 10 years ago (maybe more - perhaps for the 25th anniversary?) and he said it then. The discussion is probably on the xmission archive somewhere...
posted by Helga-woo at 8:00 AM on July 6, 2012

Damn, the last time I tried searching for this all I could find was a lone fan page.

I even had my jaunting belt ready.

Wait. What? Did they sell those?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:03 AM on July 6, 2012

I've always meant to go digging around and learn more about this show. I remember it being on Nickelodeon, but don't recall why I didn't really watch it - whether I was a touch too young, or something else. Either way, I did end up having seen enough snippets to have little bits stuck in my head. Not due to watching it through, but out of context pieces that never went away.

About all I recall now is something about a bunch of dangerous balls bouncing down a set of stairs into a room (probably the Ballboids linked to above), a scene with a balloon in a vacuum chamber and the threat of someone being put in there, and enough of a memory of the title sequence to recognize it upon watching the intro of one of the episodes above. I also remember that something I saw had me scared enough that I used to be creeped out about it at night.

I really should watch enough of it just totake those little clips that have always stuck around in my memory, and finally put them into some context.
posted by evilangela at 8:16 AM on July 6, 2012

Whoa! Never knew about the Tomorrow People and You Can't Do That On Television link!
posted by kuppajava at 8:29 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Paging phobewonkenobie to the thread.
posted by The Whelk at 8:38 AM on July 6, 2012

I was a kid, and was fascinated by it, but never saw enough of it to follow any of it, and was generally just creeped out.

There is something about BBC-style production (no foley, empty rooms of people talking, things talked about instead of shown due to budget, etc) that is just raises the creepy factor. At least when you're very young and can't really connect the talked-about dots.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:33 AM on July 6, 2012

I bleed rainbows and fart glitter. Do YOU?
posted by stormpooper at 10:35 AM on July 6, 2012

Oh yeuch. It used to be on on Saturday mornings while I was waiting for Space:1999. Made the wait seem so much longer.

I hated The Tomorrow People when I was 7, and I wasn't wrong.
posted by tel3path at 1:26 PM on July 6, 2012

THAT FUCKING EVER-OPENING HAND used to terrify the bejesus out of me. I'd hide behind the couch until it was gone.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:04 PM on July 6, 2012

You and me both, sebmojo.
posted by Sparx at 3:22 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

At least that's what I remember, god I hope it's really that good....

Others may differ, but that episode is about as dark as it got. And that was pretty damn grim.

Tonally, the show can be incoherent, but if you leave your adult brain in the fridge when you get out the bottle of wine, it hangs together well enough most of the time.

Plus, there are shots of '70s London, which I found pretty amazing.

Wait. What? Did they sell those?

Sadly, no. I doubt they even made them on Blue Peter. But I had a belt with a similar check pattern. And that was all I needed.
posted by Mezentian at 7:36 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is awesome. This was one of those shows where I only ever saw one episode here and there, so was never able to follow the plots. But some of those single episodes really stuck with me, like the first part of "Blue And Green" with the changing paintings, and the 20th century Roman empire bit.

Just watching the "Jedikiah" one now, some things that leap out. How on earth was anyone expected to believe John was 17, the actor was about 30? Keystone cops villains, in this first episodes. But nice occasional shots of 70s London, looks like a lot of the outside shots were done around Hornsey/Crouch End (you can see the Alexandra Palace in one shot.)
posted by pascal at 8:57 AM on July 7, 2012

How on earth was anyone expected to believe John was 17, the actor was about 30?

At the time it seemed possible. Of course, it was the style of the time to cast older. And that lasted well into the Beverly Hills 90210 era.
I was also five.

Keystone cops villains, in this first episodes.

The traffic inspectors in A Man For Emily are worse.
All they are lacking is the Benny Hill music.
posted by Mezentian at 9:39 PM on July 7, 2012

ooh, pupdog, that's my most vivid memory of the Tomorrow People too.

I highly, HIGHLY recommend listening to the commentaries on the DVDs. They're very entertaining. There is drinking, and badmouthing the show and each other's performances, and talking about which directors liked close-ups of which adolescent actors, and so on. Peter Vaughn-Clarke who played Stephen now has a lovely deep voice and an infectious chuckle, and this is nothing at all to do with the fact that I had a major crush on him when I was eight.

Also, best theme tune ever.
posted by andraste at 4:26 PM on July 8, 2012

talking about which directors liked close-ups of which adolescent actors, and so on.

For ".. and so on" you mean placing teenage actors in wet tighty-whiteys.

best theme tune ever

It is up there, isn't it? Right up there. So spooky and so confusing, and not so terribly dated like, say, Space 1999.
posted by Mezentian at 12:22 AM on July 10, 2012

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