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    Why the ITV series 'woke up' Doctor Who's killer The Tomorrow People was ahead of its time

    A scene from the 1975 film The People of Tomorrow. Credit & Copyright: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock

    The Tomorrow People, the teenage telepaths from the 1970s TV series, were created – or you might say sent through hyperspace – because of the poor quality of BBC children's programming. At the time, producer and screenwriter Roger Price – the future creator of Tomorrow's People – was working on a younger version of Point of View and recalls how young viewers slapped the BBC product in one killer episode. “They were not very flattering,” Price recalls. The kids loved Doctor Who, of course—the source of the kiddie clichés about hiding behind the couch—but Doctor Who wasn't technically a children's show. “All the kids' programs were a bit of 'eat your greens,'” Price recalls.

    A few weeks later, at an industry party, the head of BBC children's programming cornered Price and urged him to do better. to which Price replied, “Give me the time and the budget and I'll do it!” The conversation was overheard by Lewis Rudd, Thames Television's children's program controller.

    – Did you mean this? Rudd asked Price. Eager to leave the BBC for commercial television, Price readily accepted Rudd's dinner invitation. “One of the first things he said was, 'We're really looking for an answer to the Doctor Who question,'” Price recalls. “I said, ‘Well, Doctor Who is an old man [then Jon Pertwee]. Why don't we do something with little kids?”

    The Tomorrow People, which aired on ITV from 1973 to 1979, featured a gang of young people led early in the season by Stephen (Peter Vaughan Clark) and John (Nicholas Young), who are the next step in human evolution. Known technically as “Homo Superior”, they have special abilities: telepathy, telekinesis and – with the help of dainty belts – the ability to teleport or “walk” to other places through hyperspace.

    The Tomorrow People were also a progressive group: ethnically diverse and genetically pacifist—incapable of violence. “It was a message,” Price says.

    With the help of TIM, a living computer (voiced by Philip Gilbert), the Tomorrow People seek out other young people who are on the verge of discovering their powers – a process referred to as “breakthrough” like futuristic puberty – and save the planet from various threats: the werewolf robot , aliens, shadow intelligence services and – more than once – the latest fashion trends. Fifty years later, there's a lot of fun in its shaky sets, wobbly childish acting, and not-so-great special effects. “It was very cheaply made,” Price laughs. “It took about a fifth of Doctor Who's budget.”

    The idea, according to Price, was inspired by his post-war schooling. He attended a boarding school full of German boys. “Not long ago, our fathers tried to kill each other,” he says. “These were my classmates, my friends. We chased balls together, climbed trees, built fortresses in the forest together… We played model trains together on the floor of our room. I thought we kids must be at a different stage in the evolution of humanity because when I came home people were still talking about “fucking Nazis and Germans” and everything else.

    Another inspiration came from David Bowie. Price directed a show for Granada featuring Bowie. Around the time of his Ziggy Stardust phase, Bowie was influenced by an unearthly perspective. “He helped me a lot with Tomorrow's People,” says Price. “He was already aware of the message of the people of tomorrow. So something came from him.”

    The term “Homo Superior” appeared in Bowie's 1971 hit “Oh! You are cute things. “Let me explain,” Bowie sang. “You must give way to Homo Superior.”

    The cast of Tomorrow's People, 1975 Photo: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock

    The first series of three serialized stories in 13 episodes, was developed and co-written with Coronation Street writer Brian Finch. In the second series, Price wrote all but the first story himself.

    Along with Peter Vaughan Clark as Stephen (the glowing-eyed young hero) and Nicholas Young as John (the older brother of the Tomorrow People) were Sammy Winmill as Carol and Stephen Salmon as Kenny. Poor Kenny – the result of Salmon's less-than-convincing acting and backstage relationship – was reduced to being left in the lab, the headquarters of the Tomorrow People, while the rest went on adventures and were quietly dispatched. go to the Galactic Federation in the second series.

    The Tomorrow People were also supported by human “saps” (a pre-Muggle nickname for the common Homo sapiens) who gave muscle when the moment called for it. The original sappers were Jinge and Lefty, uncouth henchmen who defected to join the Tomorrow's People cause. They are a funny example of why the human race needs to evolve – Homo sapiens who are too stupid to understand what Homo sapiens even means. When Ginge (Michael Standing) discovers that TIM's computer can magically create things on demand, he asks for a pack of cigarettes.

    The early days of the show were a technical nightmare. ITV went into color just a few years ago, and Chroma Key's special effects – old-school blue screen technology – have proven challenging for some inexperienced team members.

    ” /> Nicholas Young and Mike Holloway in Tomorrow's People. Image Credit & Copyright: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock

    Some of the practical effects – check out the alien robot and the Cyclops alien from the first series – were even cooler, but no less cute, than what Doctor Who served up. Price admits that he had to rein in his own imagination and live up to expectations of technical possibilities. “I wish I had more money,” Price says. “But it was a children's show.”

    There was some interest from the American network ABC, who wanted to co-produce and invest in the series. “They wanted to be ten times over budget,” Price recalls. But the British bosses refused the money. “Management said, 'No, we don't want some fucking shit standing around telling us to say 'sidewalk' instead of 'sidewalk'!”

    Comparisons to Doctor Who were, of course, inevitable. When The Tomorrow People launched, Jon Pertwee posed for pictures with the original Tomorrow People kids. And it's undeniable that their nemesis, the bearded werewolf Jedikiah (first played by Francis de Wolfe), clearly resembles the Master. There were also connections behind the scenes: the original director of The People of Tomorrow, Paul Bernard, directed several of the Who series. And the touching melody The Tomorrow People, which even now sounds a nightmare, was composed by Dudley Simpson, the musical maestro of Doctor Who.

    But Tomorrow People itself remains an important part of British science fiction – and it certainly was a hit. Price recalls a press release that touted The Tomorrow People as the most popular and best-selling children's show overseas. “I thought it was a little far-fetched, but maybe it was true,” Price laughs. “Doctor Who was ahead of the curve in all these things, but it wasn't officially a children's show.”

    Steven (Peter Vaughan Clark ) and John (Nicholas Young) directed the first seasons of Tomorrow's People. Credit: Fremantle Media/Shutterstock

    In Adrian Sherlock's recent book on the series, Paul Finch, son of writer Brian Finch, recalls that Tomorrow People was a popular playground even before the series aired. Part of the attraction was the granting of superpower wishes – any normal kid in any normal school could suddenly discover latent telekinetic abilities. The concept, according to Price, was designed to “give hope to the child at home.” He adds: “It's also meant to get attached, to resonate with the feelings of doubt and insecurity that come with puberty. And like every show I've ever tried to make for kids, to convince kids they're okay.”

    While Tomorrow's People was catching up with Doctor Who in some areas, he was way ahead in terms of cast diversity. The ever-changing line-up of The Tomorrow People included blacks, Japanese, Russians and gypsies.

    “There were no black kids on TV,” Price says. “I knew kids needed to see themselves on TV — that's one of the reasons for the success of Tomorrow's People. They were real kids. And they were chosen to be real kids.” Price recalls a behind-the-scenes battle over the initial cast of black actors. “I had to threaten that I would go on foot,” he says. “I said, 'I'm not making a superman show – the next stage of human evolution – and they're all white.' I won't do that, goodbye.”

    As Price's business manager is fond of saying, “Roger woke up before it was even said.”

    Misako Koba, Elizabeth Adair and Michael Holloway starred in Tomorrow's People. Photo: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy Stock Photo

    Just as Doctor Who drew large audiences whenever the Doctor was revived, Tomorrow's People attracted viewers by debuting a new Tomorrow's Man at the start of each new episode. This is also one of the most powerful stories. At the start of the second series, “Blue and Green” (which Price wrote and directed), a young schoolteacher named Elizabeth (Elizabeth Adair) is added in a story about a global war between blue and green badge bearers spread by violence. – the schoolboy alien moves. At the start of the third series “Secret Weapon”, Taiso (Dean Lawrence) is introduced to a British dark ops conspiracy to use the Tomorrow People for general warmongering.

    The beginning of the fifth episode – a fan-favorite story called “The Dirtiest Business” – stunned viewers by killing a new recruit, a Russian girl named Pavla (Anulka Dzyubinskaya), whose brain is blown out by a miniature bomb planted by the KGB. “I don't know of any other TV show that would actually kill a young man,” Price says. (Indeed, it was five years before Doctor Who killed Adric's unpopular baby-faced companion.)

    Some of the stories now seem overwhelmingly poignant for children's television. In “Hitler's Last Secret”, the kids are fascinated by the quirk of wearing Nazi uniforms – a precursor to the return of Hitler himself, who turned out to be a one-eyed stupid monster, and the rise of the Fourth Reich from SS kids (including a young Rodney Trotter). Tomorrow Person Mike (played by popster Mike Holloway) sees no problem in going to a disco with a swastika on his arm – “It's just fashion, that's all,” he says. “Many kids wear this” until he sees Hitler's true form.

    As with Doctor Who, not all Tomorrow's Men stories are old classics. “Some of them were fucking awful,” Price says. “And some of them were really fantastic.”

    After several series, Price, who also created the children's sketch shows You Must Be Kidding (featuring a young Pauline Quirk) and You Can't Be Serious, was looking for new things. “I wanted other adventures,” he says. He was in demand overseas and eventually went to Canada to produce children's television.

    Price continued to write stories but handed over other duties. “If I hadn’t stood by, they didn’t seem to be able to do it right,” he says.

    Tomorrow's People ended in 1979, though Price revived it in 1992 – this time starring Naomie Harris before Miss Moneypenny and Neighbors heartthrob Christian Schmid. This has also continued in a series of audio adventures created by Big Finish, best known for its long-running series of Doctor Who audio stories.

    In 2013, The Tomorrow People was rebooted by the American network The CW. – looks more like a fake X-Men. It broke the fundamental rule of non-violence and only lasted one season. “A lot of violence,” Price says. “Typical American s…. Needless to say, I wasn't too happy with it, and the fans weren't too happy with it.”

    Price says it could be revived again, though he thinks it should be British. – Producer and with an international cast.

    The fact that “People of Tomorrow” keeps coming back says something about the concept's versatility – how it permeates the cultural mood or anxieties of any time – or how it appeals, perhaps telepathically, to a young audience. “It's also personal anxieties,” says Price, “that are timeless.”

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