Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Archive: Ringing the Changes: A Production History of the BBC's Adaptation of Peter Dickinson's 'The Changes'

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Archive: Ringing the Changes: A Production History of the BBC's Adaptation of Peter Dickinson's 'The Changes'

Article excerpt

Adapted by Anna Home from three interlinked novels by young adult author and mystery writer Peter Dickinson, The Changes (UK 1975) is the oldest surviving example of sf television produced by the BBC and scheduled exclusively for children. Originally aired between 6 January and 10 March 1975, the ten-episode serial was 'the most ambitious production.. .tackled by the BBC Children's Department' at the time of its broadcast (McGown and Docherty 87). As such, it represented both the Department's increased aspirations and the internal pressures the Department experienced as a consequence. Until now, however, its historic and cultural significance has been largely overlooked. Using archival documents this article addresses the first aspect of that oversight. A related piece, also published in this issue, analyses the serial's cultural significance, exploring its engagement with contemporary anxieties regarding race, gender and the emergent self-sufficiency movement.

This article provides a critical account of the serial's development, production and initial broadcast to explore how The Changes epitomises the gradual maturation, particularly during the mid-1970s, of BBC children's television drama under Monica Sims, Departmental Head from 1967 to 1978. In so doing, it reveals the dedication of Children's Department staff to creating high-quality productions that fulfilled the Reithian principles of educating, entertaining and informing the audience, sometimes in conflict with the Corporation's apparent indifference towards children's drama. More specifically, it identifies The Changes as the first genuinely speculative British sf television drama for children, and one that established a trend for adapting contemporary young adult sf: Southern Television adapted John Rowe Townsend's Noah's Castle (1975) in 1980; the first two volumes of John Christopher's 'Tripods' trilogy (The White Mountains (1967), The City of Gold and Lead (1968), The Pool of Fire (1968)) were televised by the BBC as The Tripods in 1984-5; and John Wyndham's Chocky (1968) was adapted by Thames Television in 1984, followed by two original sequels, Chocky's Children (UK 1985) and Chocky's Challenge (UK 1986).

Prior to The Changes, and beyond the monolithic presence of the family- oriented and scheduled Doctor Who (UK 1963-89, 2005-), the BBC's commitment to sf programming for children was sporadic at best. Stranger from Space (UK 1951-2), produced by the newly formed Children's Department, was the first sf television serial for children as part of Whirligig (UK 1950-6), a fortnightly Saturday afternoon 'variety magazine' programme catering to young audiences.1 Its 11 ten-minute episodes (none of which survive) 'followed the adventures of a friendly Martian marooned on Earth who is befriended by a young boy' (Chapman 2). The Department's The Lost Planet (UK 1954) and Return to the Lost Planet (UK 1955) were scheduled fortnightly in the same Saturday 5.00-6.00 p.m. slot but were conceptually more ambitious. The first two novels of Angus MacVicar's six-volume 'Lost Planet' sequence2 provided the source material for each six-episode serial, which recounted adventures to, and on, the titular world of Heskios. Space School (1956) was notably less imaginative and expansive. Produced for Children's Television and broadcast on Sundays between 5.00 and 6.00 p.m., the four-part serial followed the experiences of the Winter children who 'live in one of the little houses on the inside rim of earth Satellite One' ('Space School' 14). It was, essentially, a 'futuristic semi-educational serial' with a didactic objective (McGown), more soberly Reithian in its presentation and objectives. With the exception of Doctor Who, the BBC would not produce another sf-themed serial for children or family audiences until the six-episode Mandog (UK 1972). Scripted by Dickinson and produced and co-directed by Home, one of the key developers of BBC's Jackanory (UK 1965-96, 2006), it recounted the adventures of three children caught up in a conflict between warring factions from the future. …

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