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Series / The Day of the Triffids (1981)

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The Day of the Triffids is a 1981 science fiction TV miniseries. It was adapted from John Wyndham's novel The Day of the Triffids, and aired in the 30th anniversary year of the book's publication.

The six-episode series closely follows the plot of the novel. Most of humanity goes blind after watching an unusual meteor shower, leading to the collapse of civilization. The calamity is worsened by the presence of the triffids, mobile carnivorous plants that had been cultivated for their oil, which escape and begin preying on humans. The situation is explored through the eyes of Bill Masen, who escaped being blinded by the meteor shower because he was in hospital with his eyes bandaged after being attacked by a triffid at the farm where he worked.

The Day of the Triffids was adapted for TV again in 2009, also by the BBC.

This series contains examples of:

  • Abnormal Ammo: An anti-Triffid gun which fires little spinning sawblades at the Triffid's slender stems.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: A mild one in the very last episode. The mysterious "comet debris" that caused mass blindness and a mysterious and deadly disease that almost wipes out the survivors were attributed to malfunctioning KillSats in the original book, which would have been a quite plausible bit of future prediction in the early 1950s, but the 1960s Outer Space Treaty banned the placing of weapons of mass-destruction in orbit even if anyone had wanted to do so.note  The TV series does a straight Setting Update to the 1980s, without changing this plot element. They get away with it because in both versions Masen is only speculating from the point of view of a somewhat informed layman, and what actually happened is left ambiguous.
  • All Asians Wear Conical Straw Hats: As The Narrator talks of how humanity discovered the triffids are Man Eating Plants and tried to eradicate them (before finding out how valuable they were) we have a scene of two Asian men in conical hats and holding long-handled scythes stalking warily through a rice paddy, followed by two men in anti-triffid suits armed with flamethrowers stalking through the English countryside.
  • Apocalyptic Logistics: Lampshaded by Coker, who says they've got to remember not only how to use and build things, but also how to find and shape the materials used to make them.
  • Battle Discretion Shot: In the final episode the triffids break through the farm fence. After a tense scene where the children are rescued, we then cut to Masen and Suzie with flamethrowers, striding through a field of scorched triffid stumps.
  • Cassandra Truth: Beadley doesn't see the need for Masen's anti-triffid gear; no-one else has seen them, so surely most of them are still fenced in. Masen points out that the triffids will have left the paved-over centre of London for the countryside where they can find it easier to (literally) put down roots—which is exactly where they're going.
  • Cliffhanger
    • Episode One: Masen discovers that Dr Soames is blind, then we cut to his friend Walter lying dead in the triffid farm as the triffids break through the fences.
      Dr. Soames: You've got eyes, dammit—use them! Can't you see I'm blind?"
    • Episode Two: Masen and Josella barely escape the triffids that killed her family, only to be trapped in their car with a crowd of desperate blind people trying to break into it.
    • Episode Three: Masen and Josella find refuge with Beadley's group. Then a fire breaks out and he rushes downstairs only to fall and be knocked out, waking up Tied To A Bed.
    • Episode Four: Masen tries to track down Josella, only to find the building she was in deserted...except that he hears someone walking towards the door.
    • Episode Four: Bill returns to the Tinsham group to find that disease has wiped them out, the place is overrun by triffids and there's no sign of Coker. Meanwhile triffids are gathering outside their own farm.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Characters and sub-plots are ruthlessly pruned to fit the whole story into three hours. Arguably an improvement, as the novel had a tendency to meander a bit.
  • Does Not Like Guns: Despite her experience of being kidnapped and beaten by a blind person, Jo refuses a Browning 9mm, despite being told that all she has to do is fire it in the air. She's already seen this tactic used to frighten off Croker's group of blind protestors and is not impressed.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: The last episode gave Masen much longer hair and a Time-Passage Beard of epic proportions as visual shorthand for their hardscrabble daily existence as subsistence farmers.
  • Face of a Thug: Bill is handcuffed to a couple of "hard men" whom Croker makes clear will get nasty if Bill doesn't help them. The bald-headed Alf who most fits this trope is actually the better of the two, passing on a message to Jo that Bill is alright, and shouting down the other man when he starts needlessly antagonizing the situation.
  • Gilligan Cut: Croker asks to Bill to wait for a day to see if the Christian commune can be made to work. We then see him lecturing the leader on what she's doing wrong while she listens in polite silence. "On the other hand, if we do as I say..." Cut to Croker and Bill driving off.
  • Hazmat Suit: The anti-triffid gear that Bill Masen wants to get his hands on includes an all-over plastic covering against the poisonous triffid stingers and a clear curved face mask to protect the eyes (the favourite point of attack for a triffid). We don't see it used often though, presumably because it's too uncomfortable for constant use.
  • Hell Is That Noise:
    • The knocking sound of the clackers the triffids use to communicate, and the whiplash sound of their stingers in action.
    • There's also the spine-tingling music used for the Title Sequence.
  • Hope Spot: In the final episode it looks like the farm might not be able to hold out under triffid siege, but then Coker suddenly turns up in a helicopter and asks them to join his group on the Isle of Wright. After he leaves however, Torrence and his men turn up in an armored car, and makes it clear they don't have a choice about joining his group...
  • Immune to Bullets: Zigzagged; Torrence uses a 9mm Browning to Coup de Grāce a blind man, but finds it ineffective against advancing triffids in the final episode. Bill however gets some shotguns and bandoliers of shells from a gunstore and uses one against a triffid later on. Explained in the book: The quickest way to render a triffid harmless is to cut off or otherwise destroy its flower and the stinger it contains, and shredding it with birdshot requires less skilled marksmanship than shooting through the stem with a single bullet.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Masen gets hit by a triffid stinger but survives because all the poison has been drained from it. Which, he points out to Josella, means that triffid must have already stung hundreds of people.
  • Large Ham: John Duttine as Bill Masen, in noticeable contrast to every other version.
  • The Magnificent: Torrence turns up as Chief Executive Officer of the Emergency Council for the South-East Region of Britain. Masen, who clearly remembers him as the hoodlum who opened fire on a group of blind and unarmed people, is not impressed.
  • Mr. Exposition: At the beginning, Masen is killing time in the hospital dictating about triffids into a tape recorder for a friend who is writing a book on them. Later he writes a Voiceover Letter for Josella (intending to deliver it should they meet again) about his daily routine in Coker's group.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The anti-triffid guns showed up in a lot of publicity stills, but only ended up being fired once on-screen. This was probably because the firing effect had to be done with CGI, which looked extremely unconvincing.
  • No FEMA Response: A plot point. The first third of the series is driven by the conflict between one faction of sighted survivors who are desperately trying to hold things together until an official relief effort of some sort arrives, and another group who have concluded that there isn't going to be one and they should salvage what they can and get out while the going is good. The second group turns out to be right, and the desperate attempts to keep hundreds of blinded and near-helpless people alive were all for nothing.
  • Oh, Crap!: In the second episode, Bill witnesses a number of these reactions when he meets individuals who realize that 99% of the population has gone blind, and they start thinking through the consequences. A medical doctor eventually jumps to his death rather than deal with the aftermath. Bill himself has a similar expression on his face as the father of a young, working-class family walks him through the implications.
  • People in Rubber Suits: Though only the flower head was rubber, the triffids were operated by a man crouched inside, cooled by a fan concealed in the fiberglass neck. The clackers however were radio-operated.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Some changes were made to reflect changes in societal attitudes since the 1950s. The slightly patronizing depiction of Coker is done away with, as is the whole Sex Is My Adventure sub-plot with Josella. The Baby Factory idea is presented by a woman rather than Beadley himself.
  • Reveal Shot: Bill Masen is lying in a hospital bed with his eyes covered in bandages that are due to be removed later that day, dictating a letter to a friend into a tape recorder. He remarks that he can't hear any traffic from the nearby main road so it must be somewhere in the small hours...and then the camera pans and zooms towards the window, showing broad daylight outside. A few moments later, he mentions in passing that a nurse comes in with a cup of tea and helps him to the bathroom at 7 AM on the dot... and the camera zooms in on the digital clock on the nightstand, which reads 7:53. And then a few exposition-via-flashback scenes later the clock chimes the hour, and suddenly the protagonist finds out what the audience already knew.
  • Ruins of the Modern Age: The last episode has a series of still shots of an overgrown London six years on.
  • Setting Update: It's not clear when the original novel is supposed to take place, but it was clearly Next Sunday A.D. from the perspective of The '50s. The producers took the decision to set it very definitely in The '80s instead, which was probably for the best.
  • Soviet Superscience: The controversial Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko is suggested to be the inventor of the triffids. While an appropriate Mad Scientist, in reality Lysenko was a crank whose "theory" rejected natural selection and even genetics in favour of a mixture of Lamarckism and ideologically-motivated Blatant Lies, and would have been rightly consigned to the dustbin of crackpottery in the Twenties if Stalin hadn't been taken in by it.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Invoked by Coker. Even though Masen is chained to two blind people, he knows Masen will be able to get free eventually, but that will mean abandoning everyone he's been looking after.
  • Tattered Flag: Our introduction to the Beadley Group is a shot of a British flag, already looking frayed at the edges presumably from not being taken down at night, flying over the University of London Tower.
  • That Woman Is Dead: Josella doesn't want to tell Bill her Back Story, as he might not like who she was, and it's not relevant to the world they're living in now.
  • Time Passes Montage: The last episode has a series of still shots of an overgrown London six years on.