Review: Jaunt – An Unauthorized Guide to The Tomorrow People / Author: Andy Davidson / Publisher: Miwk Publishing / Release Date: August 21st
With the all-new glossy American reboot of The Tomorrow People looming over the horizon, Andy Davidson’s comprehensive look at the original 1970s kid’s TV series – often dubbed “ITV’s answer to Doctor Who” – and its associated remakes and comic strips is nothing if not timely. The original series, chronicling the adventures of a group of ‘homo superior’ teenagers, the next stage in human evolution with special powers of telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation (or ‘jaunting’ as they themselves referred to it – hence the name of the book) ran for 79 episodes between 1973 and 1979 and yet was never beloved or cherished by its makers at Thames Television. The show was underfunded and often underwritten (all but four of the episodes were the work of the show’s ambitious creator, Roger Price) and the show, resolutely aimed at children thanks to its weekday teatime timeslot, was never able to achieve the acclaim or popularity of the BBC show it had been created to challenge. But despite creaky special effects and even creakier acting from its often experienced young cast, The Tomorrow People the show was a massive success beyond even Price’s wildest dreams.
The secret of the show’s popularity and its enduring appeal (and the catalyst for its reinventions) is surely in the wish-fulfilment promise it offers its audience. The Tomorrow People, ordinary kids like its viewers, were instantly identifiable and relatable and their abilities and adventures reflected the dreams and fantasies of imaginative 1970s children. The viewers wanted to be heroes, they wanted to be able to do a amazing things, they wanted to stand up against authority and right wrongs on an often cosmic scale. Whereas 21st century teenagers are obsessed with getting the thumbs-up from Simon Cowell or marrying a footballer, the children of The Tomorrow People generation, especially those who felt they were different or just didn‘t fit in with their contemporaries, could take comfort in the adventures of an entire group of outsiders who always made good in the end and whose exploits encouraged even the most socially adrift of viewers that they could eventually find their place in the scheme of things.
What’s really remarkable about Jaunt is the fact that no one’s done it before. Davidson explains the background to the series and its creation, the aspirations of Price as he struggled to bring the show to the screen against initial apathy from the ITV Network, and the struggle to launch a high-concept science fiction adventure series which was never shy of going to places its budget couldn’t properly realise on little more than TV loose change. The meat of Jaunt is the author’s examinations of the show’s mythology; his chatty prose (which has a tendency towards repetition – some anecdotes and pieces of information see the light of day on several occasions) covers the main beats of each of the televised stories, followed up by trivia comments and observations and his own ‘review’ of each story. The storylines themselves aren’t presented in huge detail, so those unfamiliar with the series might find themselves a bit lost (although the book seems designed as a companion-piece to a marathon re-watch of the entire series – imagine that!), but Davidson is to be commended for his determination for completism in examining each of the 34 comic strip adventures printed in the Look-In, the ‘Junior TV Times’ magazine of the era, and the books and novels based on the series. Davidson is rightly dismissive of the short-lived 1990s reboot which ditched much of the mythology of the original show and his examination of the Big Finish audio series, abruptly terminated when Fremantle, the show’s copyright owners, withdrew the company’s licence, reveals a Tomorrow People series horribly misinterpreted, replacing lively and imaginative sci-fi adventures with angst-ridden character drama and relationship turmoil. Roger Price could surely have never approved.
Jaunt is worlds away from the style of some of the academic tomes written about Doctor Who, Star Trek, The Prisoner and dozens of other better-regarded fantasy series. But then The Tomorrow People neither requires or deserves such attention; the book’s a heady, invigorating and occasionally fascinating look (the entire script for an unfilmed adventure, Mystery Moon, is presented) at a show often dismissed as cheap and childish but which may yet, if the new CW series can hold its nerve and not betray the show’s endlessly enthralling premise, carve out a respectable niche for itself in the history of sci-fi TV.