Way back in the misty depths of time on this here blog I talked of a show from my youth called The Tomorrow People, and of how my Mother would often proclaim that 'it's not as good as the original one.' I didn't believe her of course, because at the time, the thought of wanting to watch some hoary old relic of a show that was canceled before I was even born was laughable. Of course, at that time, my life hadn't yet been swallowed up by The Quest.
I bought the 70's version of The Tomorrow People on DVD back in the MVC days. I would usually pick up a couple of stories a month, when I got paid, although the last few seasons were picked up in one go, and dirt cheap, in the somewhat regrettable closing down sale. (I do miss MVC) Unfortunately, I only got as far as watching the first 4 seasons before my epic 'moving home more times in 2 years than the 25 years previously' kicked in and the discs got boxed away. Never to be seen again.
Cut to about a fortnight ago and my Mother, hateful harridan that she is, is moving home herself and lo and behold, what should she discover in her loft but, wahey, The Tomorrow People! I can finally finish watching it. Yipee. It's been so long though, that I decide a catch up is in order, before delving into the unseen eps and I decide that I'll watch S1-3 (commentaries only) and then watch S4 (eps and commentaries) and that should get me back up to speed before embarking into the unknown with S5. A sound plan, I thought. And so it proved to be. The show is still as bad in places as I remember it, and the 'comedy' elements are still as cringe-inducing as ever but what the re-watch reminded me of, more than anything, was just how bloody funny the cast are in the commentaries.
Nicholas Young (who played John) and Peter Vaughan-Clarke (Stephen) lead the way, appearing for every commentary (although I'm assuming Vaughan-Clarke will disappear when his character does), and invariably drag the various other contributors down to their level. Or up to their level, depending on what level you think they're operating on. Personally, I love it.
They get off to a cracking start in S1, with a slightly cruel (in a tongue in cheek way) massacre of the acting of Stephen Salmon (Kenny), in particular his tendency to be totally sidelined by the writers and his deathless reading of the line "I think they're dead Tim."
S1 also sees the beginnings of two major running gags; Nicholas Young's obsession with how colourful Tim's 'Balls' are in any given episode, and the quite possibly slanderous but still extremely funny insinuation that show creator Roger Price had something of a fascination with scantily clad young boys being chained up. That one never goes away, and never stops being funny.
As the series progresses we get a running tally of which of the 'very pretty' guest stars Young and Vaughan-Clarke fancied, Young never misses a chance to have a pop at the security guards at the Thames TV Studios, and of course we get all the lurid details of how co-star Mike Standing (Ginge), 'got his end away' with one particular guest star.
The commentaries are very rude, it has to be said, with moderator Nick Briggs stating of Young at one point, "You know, if we just let you speak, it's actually quite disturbing what comes out." And he's right.
S4 does see a slight upturn in actual discussion of the making of the show, as new boy Michael Holloway (Mike) comes in and tries, shock horror, to stay sensible. It's a brave, if ultimately futile effort, and he's soon chortling away at Young and Vaughan-Clarke's assertions that he got the role after a private meeting with Roger Price, nudge nudge wink wink.
Amidst the slanderous accusations of sexual misconduct, filthy innuendo about the set design and copious amounts of bile venting regarding the way Thames Studios was run, the commentaries are actually quite affecting at times. There is an obvious easy chemistry between all of the participants, and the fun still allows a level of emotion as discussion turns to Vaughan-Clarkes eventual departure, which was handled somewhat shabbily, by all accounts. He jokes about it now, and takes the good natured ribbing in his stride but it's obvious that there was genuine ill feeling. His story of being thrown out of the rehearsal rooms one day, when he popped by to say hello is particularly telling. "You do something for five years, see them every day, and then..."
The show itself is a little rough around the edges; and the problems you don't spot, Nicholas Young will be happy to point out to you; but I can get past that and still have fun with them. Even if you can't though, the commentaries alone mean I have no trouble recommending them. You'll laugh, I guarantee it.
In all, I think that these are probably the ultimate example of what a commentary track can be. Enthusiastic participants who have, for all their griping, a genuine affection for the material (both now and back then) and a real camaraderie between themselves, coupled with a degree of separation afforded by the passage of years, will always give better value for money than the inevitable PR puff pieces that can often result from contracted writers/performers doing commentary on a show they only finished filming a week ago and that they're due back on in fortnight. Plus, immediate commentaries are unlikely to have any stories to tell about child actors growing up to run fetish shops. So, you know...
One last point before I let you escape from my incessant ramblings; S3 provides a story entitled A Man For Emily. It contains 5th Doctor Peter Davison's first ever television work, in which he spends half his time in his underwear and the other half wandering the streets dressed as a cowboy.
It's as ridiculous as it sounds and he joins the regulars on commentary to relive every mortifying moment. Brilliant.