A long sought after classic from the golden age of British children’s television doesn’t disappoint, as the BFI brings to DVD this ten episode series from 1975. I stress ‘doesn’t disappoint’ because nostalgia can be a funny thing, and rose-tinted memories from nearly forty years ago can by brutally shattered by the miracles of modern technology making such material available again for examination. The only time I watched THE CHANGES was on its original broadcast (I would have been seven years old) so I was concerned it might not be deserving of the near-mythic status it has subsequently attained. I needn’t have worried.
In the UK of 1975 Something Weird happens - a combination of freak weather conditions and a peculiar, alien sound - that causes people to destroy all machinery, from bicycles to locomotives, household gadgets to entire factories. Teenager Nicky Gore (Victoria Williams) gets separated from her parents when her family decides to escape to France, and the rest of the series details her adventures as she passes through a changed and broken Britain.
THE CHANGES was one of a number of excellent television series made in the mid-1970s (many of them by HTV’s South West division, although the BBC, who produced this, had their fair share too). They tended to depict well-spoken older children exhibiting remarkable resilience and coping skills while under duress, and subsequently were remembered with extreme fondness by those of a certain age. As the comedian Stewart Lee quite rightly observed a few years ago, if you were a lonely teenager in the 1970s this sort of television was just what you needed, as opposed to more modern-day teen-orientated fare such as SKINS (2007 onwards) which seem designed to make alienated children feel even more so.
The palpable sense of anarchy and impending apocalypse in the first episode of THE CHANGES scared the hell out of me as a child, and I was pleased to discover that it’s still capable of raising a shiver of Peter Watkins proportions. Of course, I’m now old enough to appreciate that the scenes of mass destruction at the beginning are actually stock footage intercut with, of all things, a few scenes from Hammer’s QUATERMASS & THE PIT, but even that feels like a nice touch. After the opener the series quickly calms down and becomes a fine example of mid-1970s pastoral post-apocalyptic SF. To be honest, no-one would have imagined post-apocalyptic 1970s Britain to look much different from normal 1970s Britain, and so that’s pretty much what we get here - isolated villages and farms filled with suspicious (and increasingly superstitious) locals.
THE CHANGES is very much John Wyndham by way of Alan Garner. The three books on which the series was based were written by Peter Dickinson, who never achieved quite the popularity of Garner, but certainly wrote a trilogy worthy of the treatment it receives here. The pace is quite leisurely, allowing the Sikh community Nicky finds herself travelling with to have an enjoyable SEVEN SAMURAI-style adventure, and as well as there being a pleasingly strong anti-racism vibe (the ITV sitcom LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR was still hugely popular at the time) there is also an anti-misogynist and anti-religious fundamentalist tone to the proceedings that’s obvious while never feeling preachy.
So, if you are still in any doubt, THE CHANGES is excellent - ten half-hour episodes of 1970s BritSF at its best. Hugely ambitious - all shot in colour and on film, with a big cast, large-scale scenes of conflict and devastation, and excellent, pretty much wall-to-wall, location work. Fans of the era will delight in spotting familiar faces like Edward Brayshaw (Harold Meaker from RENTAGHOST), Jack Watson from Pete Walker’s SCHIZO (1976), Zuleika Robson from Sidney Hayers’ REVENGE (1971) and dear old Roy Evans from every British horror film ever. The only extra is a short film about Asians adjusting to life in 1980s Britain, but there is a very nice booklet with writing about the show, including a contribution by Paddy Kingsland who wrote the music and went on to work on THE HITCH-HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. Highly recommended.
The BFI is bringing out Peter Dickinson's THE CHANGES on a Region 2 double-disc DVD set on 25th August 2014