The BFI’s admirable commitment to preserving classic items from the British film and television industry’s past brings this DVD release of The Changes, a TV serial from 1975. Based on a series of books by Peter Dickinson, adapted by Anna Home and directed by John Prowse, The Changes explores a vision of 1970s Britain shorn of modern conveniences. After a sudden strange noise causes everyone to smash up all technology, society collapses to the point that…well, actually, outside of the emptying of the cities, not all that much seems different. Given the premise of the series you might be surprised by how often the protagonist finds old men in flat caps drinking pints of ale in the sunshine outside pubs.
That protagonist is Nicky Gore (Victoria Williams), a young girl who finds herself abandoned by her parents in bizarre circumstances during the mayhem. She wanders across the south of England, regarding the new world with a placid, incurious eye. Finding a surrogate family in a band of travelling Sikhs, Nicky is later tried as a witch by a gang of little Englanders and has a variety of other small, largely uninteresting meanders. It’s not until part seven (nearly three hours into the series) that it occurs to Nicky that she might investigate the cause of “the changes”. As a whole, The Changes isn’t an unjustly-forgotten gem. It has an interesting ending which feels very much part of the British fantasy and science fiction canon of the mid-century, but the show doesn’t build to a finale so much as stumbles into it.
There’s so much purposeless walking around that it’s difficult not to draw the conclusion that the decision to find 250 minutes of material for this show was made by someone who wasn’t working in production. Not a great deal happens in the first five episodes. Mostly people ask each other questions, repeat the answers back at them, walk around a bit more, have the same conversation again. Nothing is particularly exciting and little is particularly detailed. The Changes is very much of its time in terms of its tone and look, but there are plenty of other BBC productions which offer those pleasures and a great deal more. After setting that initial, techno-phobic premise in the first five minutes the series does far too little to engage with its ramifications in an way other than “people are scared of change”. From its frankly revolting bongo-and-synthesiser theme tune to the glacial pacing and woolly plotting make The Changes a surprisingly tedious watch.