Life Force

Monday, January 31, 2000 by

Children’s drama is reborn.

It feels such a relief to be able to say those words, especially after the recent false dawns – the global gloss of The Magician’s House, the multi-national nothingness of See How They Run, and (shudder) the slapstick abortion of The Ghost Hunter. But this 13-part series, with its bleak vision of a Britain 25 years hence where the very existence of human life is under threat, is the rebirth we’ve anticipated for years.

In Life Force, the polar icecaps have melted, the planet is flooded, much of Britain is under water, science is illegal, and both scientists and senders (people with telepathic gifts created by genetic engineering) are illegal – they are taken away and “disappear”, to use the euphemistic terminology of Communist regimes. It is the senders – Mai-Li, Ash, Greg and Karen – who are the figures of identification, the programme’s greatest strength. This background where crisis, if not apocalypse, is eternally possible, and the basis of “humanity” as most of us know it has been brutally, forcibly altered, has made the first four episodes almost continually on edge, as if they literally have to do this to live.

Episode four was a masterpiece – visceral, thrilling, emotional and challenging in equal measures. This really was drama, a concept which barely exists in most children’s TV now, killed by the crossover with comedy and the soapification of long-running series. Individual scenes – especially the ferocious guard dog and its “taming” by one of the senders – stick in the memory and won’t leave. It’s exactly the push, exactly the stimulus our anaesthetised children’s TV needs.

Unfortunately, the ratings-obsessed CITV executives have pulled Life Force from its prime slot, and confined it to the obscurity of Sunday mornings, plus Tuesday afternoons on ITV2 (not in Scotland). You must see it there, and experience the rebirth they don’t want you to see.


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