Worst to Best
The Tomorrow People

October sees the launch of a new US remake of The Tomorrow People, a programme about the next evolutionary stage of mankind. It's the second remake of the programme, after a version starring Kristian Schmid in the early 90s.


However, what about the original show, which also celebrates its 40th anniversary this year? Containing some of the finer TV SF I've seen, as well as some of the very, very worst, join me as I rank the original stories...

22 A Man For Emily (1975)

Almost inarguably The Tomorrow People's most famous episode, this is the one where Peter Davison appears as a shirtless cowboy in a curly white wig alongside Sandra Dickinson. It's unfortunate, as it – like around half of the stories – cements the series' rep as a tacky, cheesy show.
     In the defence of A Man For Emily, it rarely drags and is hardly ever boring in a conventional sense, but it's appalling television. There's a temptation to try and reclaim it as a "camp classic", but it's so astoundingly awful it doesn't hold up to such revision. As serious, thoughtful children's television, The Tomorrow People had a lot going for it... as a comedy series, it shouldn't have even bothered to try.

21 The Thargon
Menace (1978)

Star Wars was a bad influence on a lot of UK TV SF at the time, causing a lot of post-1977 series – including The Tomorrow People – to try and emulate it. Without the budget to compete, and scaling down its maturity to reach the more science fantasy nature of the Hollywood film, it frequently ended up looking silly and inept. Achilles Heel did, at least, have the grace to show a character reading the novelisation onscreen as a fun acknowledgement of the source... The Thargon Menace has no such defence. Featuring a clear parody of Idi Amin attempting to get rich with the knowledge of the Thargons, Roger Price somehow thought this was worthy of a sequel... seven months later he introduced the rivals of the Thargons, the Sorson – basically penile Daleks. Such ideas – or even just the idea of an alien race being called something as childishly pulpy as "the Thargons" – show a series that has lost all credibility and faith in its once-mature realisation. That dreadful sequel is the next story in the ranking, incidentally: War of the Empires...

20 War Of The
Empires (1979)

The Tomorrow People was reputedly produced on a budget of just £5000 per episode (less than a paltry £22,000 in today's money) and for a lot of the time, it shows. Not that the expense of a show should outweigh the ideas, but for all the good in The Tomorrow People – the central idea, and the killer theme and titles – it's dragged down by the sillier episodes, and the amateurish acting of many of the leads. While maybe only a handful of stories fully achieved the programme's full potential, for the first seven seasons only three or four of the stories were genuinely poor. War of the Empires, however, is a story that cements The Tomorrow Peoples' bad reputation, an utterly appalling and childish bow out from a once-worthy series.
     The reasons for the series ending are varied, with suggestions of strikes and late 70s inflation leading towards it being axed. However, star Nicholas Young (John) believed the show wasn't axed, merely that creator-writer Roger Price had run out of stories for the concept. And so the final shots of The Tomorrow People are of Nigel Rhodes accidentally looking into camera, a silly puppet alien and Philip Gilbert camping it up to the hills as Timus. Young's own take on the final serial was that "I was embarrassed to be associated with it."

19 Hitler's Last Secret (1978)

In which Michael Sheard appears as Adolf Hitler... who is really a shape-changing space alien. Fortunately for Hitler, Nazi uniforms have become the new chic and all the kids, including Tomorrow Person Mike, are wearing them... while Nicholas Lyndhurst and the bloke from Three Up, Two Down are loyal neo Nazis. However, when Mike reveals the true nature of Hitler, all is well, as the kids realise: "That... that thing. To think I nearly made it a hero." Does this sound misguided, almost to the point of being completely offensive? And yet, at the same time, immensely watchable for all the wrong reasons? That's probably a fair summation of Hitler's Last Secret.

18 Into The Unknown (1976)

Although Roger Price co-wrote the first season with Brian Finch, this is the only story to be written by someone else without his involvement. Jon Watkins takes up solo writing duties for Into The Unknown, and it makes that fatal error that virtually none of Price's stories, no matter how bad, did: it's boring. With The Tomorrow People trapped in a pocket universe behind a singularity, Elizabeth is stuck delivering exposition, while TIM is now such a silly character he tries singing a pop song with Mike. Not even Geoffrey Bayldon can enliven proceedings in this soporific outing, which lasts for four episodes but seems more like forty. After this experience Price was reluctant to let anyone else try writing for the series again, though he's not entirely without blame here... he was the director.

17 Worlds Away (1975)

As the voice of computer TIM(!) then Philip Gilbert was a fine addition to the series' cast, even if the part did get slightly more comedic as time went on. However, as maverick Galactic Federation diplomat Timus Irnok Mosta he gives an over-ripe, camped-up performance that sees him enjoying himself far more than any unfortunate viewers who happened to tune in. Quite what he thought he was doing isn't clear, but it points to a series losing its grip on credibility.
     The actual plot of this one sees Timus take the Tomorrow People to an alien planet, and winds up as one of those tediously pulpy "aliens created the pyramids" pieces of nonsense... with Keith Chegwin. Most inappropriately humorous dialogue exchange in this era of pre-PC is where Timus tries to explain why Elizabeth can't take part in the adventure and Stephen shockingly fills her in: "There is an interesting variety of skin colour amongst your species. But I'm afraid there is no one on Peeri with your pigmentation." "He means you can't go cos yer black!"

16 A Much Needed
Holiday (1977)

Featuring thieving aliens known as the Kleptons, this is pure kid's fare, shockingly so given that it followed The Dirtiest Business. Crammed with an unbalanced ratio between incident and exposition, it's tedious stuff, though passable if you're really in the mood. Yet one thing that may shock modern viewers, particularly in the current climate, is how often the child stars were called upon to appear in states of undress during the programme. Although some of the cast members are sometimes jokingly unkind about how they perceived creator Roger Price (Dean Lawrence talked about how Price attended his audition by hiding behind a door, while the engagingly outspoken Peter Vaughan-Clarke said his first impression was that he was possibly a "bit of a nonce") there's no real reason to suspect that this is anything more than a product of its time.
     Yet A Much Needed Holiday is probably the worst offender of the entire series, not only having Mike Holoway appear in swimming trunks, but featuring a group of underage kids in slave outfits being tortured by electro devices. It possibly says less about the series itself, and more about the way attitudes have changed that such things feel uncomfortable today. Although it's arguable the children aren't being sexualised (though Mike Holoway was a teen heartthrob) and it's all made out of innocence, the high number of incidences of this type do seem unusual for any TV show on the air, even of the time. And although The Tomorrow People was great fun to watch as a kid, rewatching stories like this as an adult can make you feel a little uneasy. To compound such feelings, Mike does a celebrity impersonation in the first episode... and it's of Jimmy Saville.

15 The Vanishing
Earth (1973)

The first story to feature the Galactic Federation, a race of alien telepaths who enlist the Tomorrow People, and in so doing, make the series far more of a generic sci-fi show than the original premise it started out with. Their presence here isn't as felt as it would be later, however, as this story gives way to the Tomorrow People's biker friend "Ginge" being caught in a honey trap in Clacton... then discovering an alien dressed up as a member of the KKK lives underneath the funfair.
     The idea of the Tomorrow People befriending a couple of bikers – Ginge brought along "Lefty", too – was a novel one. Sadly, this being kid's TV, the two actors involved had to give very "toned down" performances, and it was all a bit, well... kid's TV... in its depiction. Things got more straightforward in the second season when Ginge broke his leg in real life, and he was quickly replaced by Chris Chittell as Ginge's brother, who was afforded a more realistic characterisation.

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