John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids stands the test of time

WEIRD, isn’t it?

The video is the opening titles for an adaptation of John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, made in 1981 by the BBC. It is currently being repeated on BBC4 on Sundays.

In case you don’t know it tells the story of the human race – blinded by a meteor shower – struggling to survive while also being hunted by carniverous plants, the Triffids, with poisonous stings.

Back then I was 10 and I can remember being absolutely petrified by the titles of the show, which didn’t bode well for the rest of it. As it turned out, for consistency’s sake I was petrified by that too.

As a nipper, the whole man’s inhumanity to man plotline passed me by, as did some of the darker elements. Instead I was mesmerised by the Triffids. Yes, they look plastic, but the way they moved, the tapping of their stems, the stings was so creepy. (I know now they were powered by operators on little go-karts – so much for terror!)

I saw one in Chester Zoo once and demanded to be taken back to the car immediately.

Watching it again now, I was pleased to see how well it has stood the test of time. Of course, it helps that the story itself is such a great one – kudos to John Wyndham. (Read the book if you can – excellent storytelling and years ahead of its time)

But the Beeb, as they often did, made the lack of production values into a virtue by going down the ‘what you don’t see is scarier than what you do’ route, with the lack of people and action – as we would define it today – increasing the sense of silent, post-apocolyptic dread that Wyndham captured from the novel’s first line:

When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.

For large parts of the first show, nothing happens apart from John Duttine, as the story’s hero Bill Masen, lying in a hospital bed. That would be unthinkable nowadays, in our drive for momentum.

I think there is something about the film stock that the Beeb used for filming away from the studio then which is unnerving too – it just looks slightly off.

Whatever it is, the latest version of the story the Beeb is currently putting together faces an interesting challenge.

Just because they have the CGI power to make everything look whizzy and new, should they?

On a related note, here’s a link to an interview I did with Andy Sawyer, science fiction librarian at Liverpool University, which contains an original manuscript of DotT, including Wyndham’s hand-written notes.

2 thoughts on “John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids stands the test of time

  • Robin Brown

    on

    I remember being terrified by this. I watched it back with a friend in its entirety recently.

    It stands up because the lack of production values mean there's gotta be so much more to it, something the BBC keeps forgetting with its awful Survivors, Robin Hood and TW rehashes.

    The creepiness of the first episodes stands in stark contrast to the shiny emptiness of modern attempts to do similar shows.

    It makes me quite nostalgic for the these 60s/70s and 80s serials. Despite their obvious flaws, they'll stand the test of time. Will the new Survivors? I doubt it.

    PS Just remembered a really odd bit, where Duttine shoots a triffid with a special effect half way through.

  • @orange_monkey

    on

    I was loving this last night. It was surprisingly tough stuff as well. That rape from the drunk men certainly passed me by when I was younger.
    If you can get hold of the 1968 radio version as well that's well worth a listen.

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