DAVID BOWIE’S COKE-ADDLED mid ’70s phase influenced many areas of popular culture, though perhaps the most unexpected change was wrought on the medium of independent children’s science fiction telly, which took one look at the thin, dead-eyed Dame with the otherworldly messiah complex and thought, “We’re having some of that!” Roger Price got there first, half-inching Lord Gnome’s Nietzchean concept of the ‘homo superior’ and lashing it to the back of his DOCTOR WHO-baiting intergalactic teenage runaround THE TOMORROW PEOPLE. But Who scribes Bob Baker and Dave Martin, they of the increasingly weird Tom Baker adventures, went one better, and served up CITV’s very own Boy Who Fell to Earth.
Played by the chiselled MARC HARRISON, Sky would cinch Look-In dreamboat status were it not for his flour-whitened countenance and solid blue eyeballs. Sky’s tale of telepathy, future catastrophe and untameable forces of nature was complex, nebulous and doubtless proved beyond most kids’ grasp. It’s one of those children’s dramas that wears its research on its sleeve, filling long and earnest chats between the obtuse Sky and his reluctant underage west country wards (including RICHARD ‘TOMORROW PEOPLE’ SPEIGHT) with references aplenty to Gaia theory, the Green Man legend and good old Stone’enge. For the more impatient child, these acted as a cue to switch over and see what jumper John Craven was wearing this week. But for others, the weirdly hypnotic Harrison and quietly effective building atmosphere of dread kept them glued.
All the elements of a classic children’s spookathon are present and correct: rural unease, a creepy thin man, impenetrable jargon, those stuffy adults just not getting it, a disturbing lack of obvious heroes and villains, and standing stones aplenty. The various plot elements – the slowly dawning nature of the catastrophe and the closing in of Sky’s equally mysterious rival, the sinister Goodchild – don’t so much coalesce as stick together like veteran humbugs, but even when sense deserts the screen, atmospherics are firmly in view. The gloomy British countryside is milked for all its eerie worth, and even when Harrison’s doing nothing more than being imprisoned indoors feeling pale and wan, he exudes intimidating charisma by the skipful.
Special effects were kept as minimal as Sky’s spaced out dialogue (the title sequence featuring Sky materialising out of a swirling pile of forest detritus was as efficient as it was simple – the good old ‘turn on the leaf blower and run the film backwards’ ploy), and the odd period relic aside (Sky was truly the boy with the bluescreen eyes) the only dated element is the omnipresent soundtrack combination of tentative solo oboe and plinky-plonky xylophone to signify suspense. For a mindbending encore, Baker and Martin went on to create KING OF THE CASTLE, an even more claustrophobically deranged slice of thoughtful underage fantasy.