‘The Day of The Triffids’ was one of the Christmas shows that the BBC promised. The BBC, it has to be said, are usually very good with their novel adaptations. Their 1981 Day of The Triffids is still regarded as a classic, and is available on DVD, and although the low-tech triffids now seem a tad unrealistic to some, the show was carried by pace and drama and varied little from the original novel.
My fears began when a magazine promised the sight of ‘twenty-foot carnivorous plants rampaging across Britain’. Mmmmm.
It is a sad fact of life that Science Fiction novels, no matter what their historical or literary merit, are never treated with the same respect as their mainstream counterparts. One would never imagine for instance, that a BBC producer would suggest updating ‘Pride and Prejudice’ to the Noughties, or setting ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ in Thatcher’s blighted Britain of the Nineteen Eighties.
Genre novels, however, are fair game for the most annoying of writers to ‘improve’, and usually writers who have only a cursory acquaintance with SF. One only has to look at the recent cinematic versions of ‘The Time Machine’ or ‘War of The Worlds’ to understand the extent of the travesties that result from such decisions.
One would have thought that the BBC would know better. Unfortunately, it seems not.
Yes, ‘Day of The Triffids’ has been set in the present day and the basic framework of the novel has been retained, although the spirit and indeed, the basic point of the novel have been completely lost.
In the original, the triffids were a genetically engineered species some of whose seeds were stolen. The plane in which the seeds were being carried was shot down, but in the process, the box was shattered, and the triffid seeds scattered to the far winds. Thus, not long afterwards, strange plants begin growing across the world, and it is discovered that they produce a very fine oil, but also, that they can walk, on three rudimentary rootlike feet and can also kill, via a stinger from the large lilylike orifice at the top of their stalk. People find that the stinger can be docked and many people keep triffids in their gardens. Undocked species are kept in farms and their oil harvested.
Dr Bill Masen was stung as a child and so has a fascination with the creatures, and has become a scientist researching the beasties.
In the new version, triffids are a natural species, originating from Africa where Masen’s parents were studying them. Masen’s mother was killed by a triffid and his father genetically engineered the plants to produce the oil which replaced carbon fuels.
Ridiculous premise 1: No one, it seems, knows what triffids look like, since they are locked away in farms.
Ridiculous premise 2: The triffids are voraciously carnivorous which begs the question ‘What are they being fed on, in order to produce the environmentally sound oil?’
Ridiculous premise 3: The triffids have prehensile roots which allow them to grip humans so tightly, they cannot break free.
One of the factors of the original novel, which is what makes the story so chilling, is that the triffids are biologically feasible, and had become such a part of the background of our society that we had become used to them. Thus, when the catastrophe occurs (again, the writers felt it important to take it upon themselves to change the meteor showers to a solar flare which again ruins one of the premises of the novel) the sighted survivors find it hard initially to take Masen seriously when he maintains that triffids will become a serious danger.
And, disappointingly, the much-hyped CGI triffids were a bit of a laughable anticlimax. Looking rather like a cross between an aloe vera plant and a Harry Potter dementor being pushed along on castors the triffids are rather too slow to be taken seriously. Again, returning to the original novel, the triffids could work up a bit of speed when travelling in open country and were seen worrying a flock of sheep across a field at one point.
These triffids have all the lumbering urgency of a Nineteen Thirties mummy.
One imagines that the casting of Jason Priestley as Coker was in an attempt to sell the mini-series to the US, since the assumption seems to be that Americans will not watch anything that does not contain a home-grown accent somewhere.
The most glaring annoyance however, is the repeated scenes of Masen’s memories of Africa and his mother’s death, in which he is presented with a wooden tribal mask.
Now, one has to explain that, in both versions, Masen is hospitalised having been stung in the eyes with triffid venom. The hospital consultant explains that Masen has a fifty/fifty chance of regaining his sight.
At the denouement, which is similar to the novel in that the survivors are in a farmhouse surrounded by triffids, Masen suddenly picks up the African mask and remembers how he can escape from the triffids.
The answer is, bafflingly, illogically and really annoyingly, that the family drip triffid poison into their eyes in order to fool the triffids into thinking they’d been stung already. How will they not be poisoned? The idea is simply ludicrous, as is the idea that Masen has only just remembered that this is what an African native did to him when he was a child to lead him past the local triffids.
You should hang your heads in shame, BBC, at wasting money on such a travesty.