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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.

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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.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Some changes were made to reflect changes in societal attitudes since the 1950s. The slightly patronising depiction of Coker is done away with, as is the whole Sex Is My Adventure sub-plot with Josella.
  • 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.
  • Time Passes Montage: The last episode has a series of still shots of an overgrown London six years on.

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