Call it a sign of the times, but in the 1970s, people assumed the world was headed for disaster. Quite what that disaster was going to be varied. It might be a virus that wiped out the world’s population (cf Survivors), intelligent computers taking over (cf Colossus: The Forbin Project), man-made inventions (cf Doomwatch), complete ecological breakdown caused by over-population (cf Soylent Green) or the ubiquitous nuclear war – actually, that was more of a 60s/80s thing.
One thing that was very rarely seen as being a problem likely to cause the apocalypse, however, was magic. That was until the 1975 10-part BBC children’s show The Changes, based on Peter Dickinson’s The Weathermonger series of books.
Imagine waking up one day and suddenly every piece of machinery or technology in the country is emitting a strange noise, a noise that makes anyone who hears it – including you – become violent and destroy the machine. Well, that’s what happens to teenage schoolgirl Nicky Gore and, in fact, the rest of the world (or at least England). It doesn’t take long, but soon all of society falls apart and regresses to the middle ages, and even the mention of technology is forbidden.
The only people who appear unaffected by the noise are those who work on the land, very young children and Sikhs. Why? Well, it’ll take you 10 episodes to find out, or I’ll tell you after the jump.
Here’s a wee snippet and you can watch the entire series after the jump as well. Interesting title sequence twist: there were entirely different theme tunes for the start and end credits, one modern and exciting, one medieval-esque, and a new one again for the end credits for the final episode. Fun, hey?
Adapted by future BBC head of children’s programmes Anna Home, The Changes is a slightly loose adaptation of Dickinson’s books that sees Gore go on a quest to find her parents, from whom she is almost immediately separated once the noise starts. This quest takes her throughout the country, where she meets various different groups and we get to see how they’ve adapted or been changed by the reverse to the middle ages.
And it’s definitely not pretty, with witchfinders, burnings and more. The Sikhs really aren’t getting a lot of love either.
Along the way, we are given clues as to what the cause of the noise is and why it causes people to hate technology. There’s snow in the middle of summer, lightning on clear summer days and there’s talk of a necromancer.
Gore’s quest soon changes to become finding the source of the noise. Eventually, she finds it and it turns out to be Merlin – or a rock, at least – the spirit of which has been woken by a man trying to revert the world to a cleaner, better time. Gore convinces the spirit that it has woken too soon and the spirit ends the noise.
The final episode ends with Gore walking off happily into the clean Gloucestershire countryside… only for the credits to revert to pictures of dirty cities and a harsher industrial theme tune. Okay, we don’t want superstition, but do we want pollution? is the message.
The Changes is a fondly remembered show and one of the pinnacles of BBC children’s drama of the 70s. It was dark, spooky and quite nasty, and haunts you once you’ve seen an episode. Paddy Kingsland’s music has rarely been bettered and despite a slightly slow script, the direction is first rate.
Although diversity was something that the UK was struggling with at the time, the show was (and still is) practically unique in not only have Sikhsas heroes for a number of episodes but also exploring their culture and presenting it as a positive. Fans of the books have quibbled a little with the adaptation – I see to remember from my English classes that there’s no rock at the end, only Merlin, who’s been addicted to morphine by a doctor but I may be misremembering that entirely. Certainly, Home amalgamated a number of different characters to create Gore, who is the heroine in only the second book.
Unfortunately, beyond a repeat in the 90s on UK Gold, The Changes hasn’t seen much re-release love from the Beeb. Luckily, you can watch it on YouTube below, you nice people. Enjoy!