Saturday 26 March 2022


(Cafe Oto, London, Sat 20th Mar)

The last time I saw self-styled ‘free rock music’ collective Sunburned, nigh-on fifteen years ago, I wrote such a mini-review I may as well quite it in full: 

“This band has a cool idea (or at least an idea I took from them), to take the trajectory of the Sixties San Francisco sound and reverse it. While the original bands got more into the studio and ‘proper’ album releases, why not take it the other way and explore the ‘improvised happening’ angle instead? 

“The results were mixed, but with high points. The band seemed to need a beat going for something to play against, and sometimes floundered without this. And the ‘happening’ elements (brandishing lighted crosses etc) just seemed the wrong end of hippy – ostentatious and self-consciously ‘meaningful’.”

And stuff I’d heard on-line since then I’d liked more. And they have such a floating line-up, it’s unlikely two sightings will be similar. Besides, I haven’t been getting out so much lately…

Indeed, many of the details differed. But what was I to come away with but the same mixed response?

It was in a way summed up the the two vocalists. (Neither of whom, I think, were there last time.) One went in for the ‘outsider’ style often found in free impro music, guttural moans and wails which sound as much a stranger to standards speech patterns as singing conventions, surely too unmediated to be directed in any way, yet too perfectly matched to the music to be anything else. Further enhanced by his live electronic treatment of them.

Rarely were discernible words used, and when they were it was with destructive Dada intent. At one point he recited the well-known Karen mantra, “I want to speak to your manager”, until it truly became a mantra.

While the other vocalist recited his lines theatrically and ostentatiously, like the wrong side of Jim Morrison had broken free and gone solo. Yes, you were clearly not intended to take these altogether seriously. Still didn’t help.

Curiously then, the points where the two overlapped were effective in the extreme. Perhaps because they were doing such different things there was no risk of competition.

The guitar and bass were often restrained while insistent, contributing tones or pulses, sometimes just etherial shimmer. Which would sometimes build up behind the combined vocals, culminating into a cacophony, a soundtrack for the end times.

The accompanying film show had none of the standard morphing psychedelic colours, and was more devoted to juxtaposing images of flying with those of crashing or falling. The opening sequence was of a truck going into a giant-size shredder, a fairly audacious opening statement!

The gig was, I think, a siren attempt to draw you in before deranging all your senses as much as that truck got it. There’s a ‘devil clown’ vibe to it, enhanced by lines about melting faces and all the absurd gestures, such as the drummer sporting a horse’s head as he plays. The band name may be a reference to the price to be paid when gaining wisdom. (Well, either that or I’m just getting carried away.)

Yet again I’m reminded how strange it is that people think psychedelic music is all pastoral and twee, like fairy tales for grown-ups. Whereas it’s more exercised by the desire to drive you out of your senses. And being driven out of your senses every now and then is good for you. Free rock music!

Friday 18 March 2022


After recent endeavours, time we went back to a good old-fashioned polyglot playlist. No theme or scheme, just a bunch of great tracks collided together, all rapid fire from the left field. Because as Mclusky remind us great explorers know no boundaries.

The illo's of great explorer Henry Morton Stanley. And never did a man look more like he should be called Henry Morton Stanley...

Chumbawamba: Bankrobber
Jeffrey Lewis + The Deposit Returners: Carpe Diem
Julian Cope: Parallel University
PJ Harvey: Beautiful Feeling
Marlena Shaw: Woman Of The Ghetto
Moon Duo: Lost Heads
The Delgados: Thirteen Gliding Principles
The Magnetic Field: When My Boy Walks Down The Street
Pixie: Ed Is Dead
Richard Thompson: The Egypt Room
Mclusky: Your Children Are Waiting For You To Die
Zounds: Fear
Rhiannon Giddens + Francesco Turrisi: Little Margaret
The Imagined Village: Cold Hailey Rainy Night
Fucked Up: Tell Me What You See 

"She took my hand, and then she said to me
"There are things underneath, that you have never seen…”

(More Mutants Are Our Future next time…)

Saturday 12 March 2022


(Another instalment of Mutants Are Our Future, this time turning from comics and TV shows for some of that pop music the kids dig so much. You can read things from the top here, should you choose.)

”So I Turn Myself To Face Me…”

‘Hunky Dory’ (1971), David Bowie’s third album (depending how you count it) came between the mystic-folk-meets-primordial-heavy-rock of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and the snappy pop-rock of ‘Ziggy Stardust’. Each within a year of the next. But, bar odd tracks, and despite the Spiders From Mars being formed in all but name, it doesn’t sound like either. His voice is mostly accompanied by piano. Wrapped between a front close-up of a far-sighted Bowie and a handwritten back cover, it’s very much his singer-songwriter album.

Because of course those are all devices we associate with the personal voice, the raw unmediated truth, sung straight at us with no space for artifice. In ’Shock And Awe’ Simon Reynolds wrote “it resembled an existentialist Elton John”, and it often seems to be, in his own words…

“Written in pain, written in awe
“By a puzzled man who questioned
“What we are here for”

There’s even a direct tribute to the then-knighting King of singer-songwriters, Bob Dylan. Called, naturally enough, ‘Song For Bob Dylan’. Though it’s a mixture of tribute and barb, addressing him (as a disillusioned Lennon had) by his real name Zimmerman.

“We lost your train of thought
“Your paintings are all your own”

…was a none-too-subtle dig at his latest, underwhelming effort ’Self-Portrait’. In asking when we’d be getting the old Dylan back while knowing full well we weren’t, Bowie was clearly positioning himself as the great man’s successor. (Perhaps ironically, for an album which on release didn’t even chart.)

At this point Dylan’s run of late Sixties great electrified albums had only just happened. But Bowie skips over this creative peak, to go back almost a decade and focus on the righteous and dungareed spokesman for a generation with his Woody Guthrie cap and words of “truthful vengeance.”

Except Dylan performed those songs on guitar, the instrument of choice of protest singers, the one whose unadorned truth fascists were supposedly so allergic to. While Bowie’s on the piano. An instrument which can also signify ‘personal voice’, Joni Mitchell would swap between the two ambidextrously. But it’s as much associated with urbanity and verbal theatrics. (Perhaps because it’s less portable, or has a more dextrous sound.) And furthermore…

Audiences of the genre like singer-songwriters to be solo, or at least play the main instrument themselves, the way a painting is supposed to be all the artist’s own hand. They are even known to shout “Judas!” when they don’t think they’re getting this. But here even that piano is mostly provided by Rick Wakeman. (Who’d already played on ’Space Oddity’.) Bowie cheerfully conceded on that hand-written sleeve: “I played the less complicated piano parts (inability).”

And he plays into this, peppered the album with twists and turns on the theme. Even as he evokes “a voice like sand and glue”, he makes clear he’s as keen on greasepaint and glitter. “So I turn myself to face me”, could come from any singer-songwriter, making themselves their own inspiration. But Bowie quickly follows it with “but I’ve never caught a glimpse.”

’Quicksand’ refers to both Garbo and “the next Bardo”. Which could be, respectively, the wartime spy and Buddhist concept. Or perhaps the two glamorous actresses? People argue over which but… guys, really… twice in one song? Remember the sane/Seine pun from the previous album? He’s doing this deliberately, isn’t he?

‘Life on Mars’ is clearly Bowie’s zigzagged, idiosyncratic version of a protest song. While the two opening tracks, ’Changes’ and ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ would seem to be his take on the classic ‘Times They Are a-Changin’.’ (Perhaps the best-known early Dylan song after ‘Blowing in the Wind.’) Like their source they’re both ostensibly addressed disdainfully to an adult generation, telling them to get out our way (“don’t kid yourself they belong to you”), while of course they’re actually an anthem for marching youth. 

Except Dylan’s song is full of quite Biblical imagery, floods and tribulations (“The line it is drawn/ the curse it is cast”). It opens with the proclamatory line “Come gather round people wherever you roam”, like a town cryer. While Bowie begins with “wake up you sleepy head”. His tone throughout is more intimate, conversational not confrontational. Even when he spies “a crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me” he doesn’t dramatise, in fact he could sing in the same voice about the postman having come.

While Dylan was always writing accusatory “you” songs (usually pronounced “yeeeeeew!”), the first personal pronoun on this album is inevitably “I”. It’s clear enough that here its inner change, personal transformation, that counts. Bowie sings “I’m much too fast to take that test”. The streets aren’t made for political protest, they’re there to be treated as a catwalk. The secret to life is realise that this is all a show. And those children that you spit on try to change their world, they don’t just bring change, they represent it. Don’t just change one thing for another, be change, swap fixity for fluidity.

Simon Reynolds also wrote:

“Bowie came along at a time when the idea of revolution or alternative ways of living proposed in the Sixties began to fade. The big trade-off that ensured was the shunting of ‘revolution’ out of the social-political domain and into the commercial-aesthetic zone, as well as into the private life… Bowie is the emblem for this individualised, privatised form of revolution.”

And the man himself said, two years later: “The revolution has been fought on an entirely different plane to the plane that I thought it should be fought on… For instance, like capitalism can be all right.” (Another reason, should we need one, not to treat the Tomorrow People trope as somehow inherently radical.) He’d reject in song “that revolution stuff” of the Sixties - “what a drag, too many snags.”

While, interestingly, the chorus to ‘Song For Bob Dylan’ makes Sandy Glue’s adversary not Mr. Jones or some other fusty establishment figure, but “the same old painted lady/ From the brow of the superbrain.” Wait, what, who?

A clue might have come from the track straight before, another personal tribute, this time ‘Andy Warhol’. The words to which read something like a Glam manifesto:

“Dress my friends up just for show
“See them as they really are
“Put a peephole in my brain
“Two new pence to have a go
“Like to be a gallery
“Put you all inside my show”

For Warhol was more than anyone the self-proclaimed antithesis of the confessional school of creation - art was artifice, appearance, effect. He described himself as a “deeply superficial person”, and insisted “if you want to know all about Andy Warhol just look at the surface, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” For the press release, Bowie called him “a man of anti-message.”

Julian Cope later wrote ‘Christ vs. Warhol’, conveying how torn he felt between the rival pulls of pop immediacy and lasting grandeur. And Bowie at this point seems very Dylan vs. Warhol, split between really meanin’ it man and the desire to dress up and put on a show. An approach he arguably kept up over the rest of his career. He was the Seventies artist who was effectively employed to shut the door on the Sixties, yet at the same time never fully crossed that threshold himself.

And after all, how different were they really? Bowie’s already reminded us Sandy Glue was just a stage persona for Robert Zimmerman. And a corduroy cap and an acoustic guitar can be as much a pose as a blonde wig, as Dylan surely proved more than most. He said himself: “You're born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself.”

His “you” songs rarely stretched to “we”. That was more the era of the agitational late Sixties, perhaps reaching its succinct epitome in Jefferson Airplane’s “your enemy is we”. But it was a distinction most failed to spot, and his consequent failure to support that agitation mystified them. Bowie then positions himself to be Dylan’s successor, but with the “I” presented as a twist. His relationship to his fans was by the same mass media, but it was to be one-to-one, kids alone in their bedroom hearing a transformative track on the radio.

”The Start of the Coming Race”

Yet at the same time as all this Bowie ups the ante with the line that took us here - “better make way for the homo superior.” We’re “the start of a coming race”, not just different to their generation, but of another kind altogether. “The Earth is a bitch” (famously censored in the Peter Noon cover), suggests we’re leaving mere physical existence behind.

You could play compare and contrast to another great piano song, from the previous year - Neil Young’s ‘After the Gold Rush’. Which portrays the present as an impasse, a “burned out basement”, stuck between a Medievalist golden age and a silver science-fiction future, with spaceships to ferry to us to the stars. It’s eschatological, an SF retelling of the end-times, with aliens replacing angels to take the nice folk like us out of a place like this. (And remember “tall Venusians passing through” had appeared in Bowie’s earlier ‘Memories of a Free Festival’.)

Ever the early bird, Bowie was getting in ahead here. In the well-known tale he picked up the phrase “homo superior’ from meeting Roger Price in a TV studio. Yet, as we saw last time, Price’s ‘Tomorrow People’ series didn’t debut for another two years.

But this was another way he was still channelling the Sixties, for this cosmic mysticism had always been part of the hippie mentality. Once it had co-exited with fervent insurrectionism. But as the possibilities for radical social change faded, it was able to hog more and more of the stage. George Harrison had said in ’67 (quoted in Clinton Heylin’s ‘The Band You’ve Known For All These Years’): 

“I read somewhere that the next… Messiah, he’ll come and he’ll just be too much… The majority of people are going to believe and they’ll be digging everything and he’ll come and say ‘Yeah, baby, that’s right’, and all those other people who are bastards, they’re gonna get something else.” 

It’s a kind of inverted Calvinism, with the sober-minded short-haired businessman the damned and the indolent long-hairs the UFO-hopping elect. But it’s the same rigid division into saved and consigned. This is precisely what Nigel Kneale satirised with the Planet People in ‘Quatermass’. 

Yet that “I” reasserts. The track which most aligns with ’The Tomorrow People’ is ’Pretty Things’, and that only comes as close as the plural “you”. ’Tomorrow People’s whole sell had been plugging into the we - you didn’t just join a gang, you became permanently telepathically linked. The teleological optimism of their premise was much more post-Sixties than Bowie. Questions like the role of violence in social change are literally not even questions for them, the answers seen as innate.

Bowie is much more personalised, more egotistical and at the same time more fractured. And it would be this less utopian take which would come to win the toss in dramatising the spirit of the often-contrapedal Seventies. Naming an album after a slang phrase for feeling good, that’s a surefire way of spelling out it won’t be very feelgood.

And significantly this album, which bombed on release, is not considered a classic. Bowie is often seen via his trailblazing influence on those who came after him. While ’Tomorrow People’ has become almost a byword for retro chic.

Which leads us to…

”If I don’t explain what you ought to know…”

’Quicksand’ is the album track of the album, not the one you went to it for but the one that keeps you there. Somewhat self-disparagingly, Bowie said he wrote it while still pretending he understood Nietzsche. But it’s more about not understanding Nietzsche, having a head full of half-digested notions of the ubermensch, stewing with some semi-masticated Cowley and chewed Buddhism. There’s a long list of characters, but they all seem to exist only in Bowie’s head. He described it as an “epic of confusion”, representing a “cacophony of thought”. 

It reminds me most of student life, picking up one author and being swayed almost just by touching the cover, then trying another and being immediately converted, transferring your allegiances so often you get giddy. It’s the perspective of a young man, his voracious but magpie reading eye always bigger than his word-digesting brain, so constantly getting sucker-punched by erudition. Ultimately, it’s about having a reading hangover. The song we all struggled so hard to understand in our teenage bedrooms is ultimately about struggling so hard to understand. The war imagery, so pored over when Bowie attracted his own flock of magpie readers, stems from there.

But the album’s magic happens when these three themes intersect. Bowie was at this point coming up with songs at a rate of knots, so was free to choose what went with what for each album. (Many Ziggy songs were at this point already written, but saved till later.)

This doesn’t make it coherent, just cohesive. If he sang of being “torn between the light and dark”, that doesn’t map precisely to Dylan vs. Warhol. But 'Quicksand’ still internalises the conflict staged elsewhere, relocates Young’s “burned-out basement” inside his brain. While singing of a “crack in the sky”, he was only a few years from drawing a dividing line down his own face and in-so-doing creating the most potent self-image of his career. He’s not hoping the rest of the elect pick him for the team, he’s quizzing himself what his nature might turn out to be.

“I'm not a prophet or a stone-age man
“Just a mortal with the potential of a superman
“I’m living on”

And this creeps into other songs. ‘Pretty Things’ is more complex than the glam anthem it might appear, however proto-Ziggy that rousing chorus. Though thought to be written before his first child was born, “wake up you sleepy head” suggests that’s who its addressed to. The man who shortly would become a transexual alien saviour is here a father; at a time of great generational conflict he’s trapped between the sides. “Look at your children… Don’t kid yourself they belong to you” could be addressed as much to himself as some squaresville grown-up.

When that sky cracks and the hand points down to him, there’s no real telling which side of the divide he’ll be falling on. Let’s remember that ’Cygnet Committee’ two albums back, ostensibly a state-of-the-Sixties song is effectively about a parent/child relationship in which Bowie also gave himself the parent role.

Faulkner famously wrote “the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself”. Which is ultimately where ‘Hunky Dory’ is at, the befuddled mortal and the would-be superman in symbiotic struggle.

Saturday 5 March 2022


(This third helping of Mutants Are Our Future compares the story scenarios of the original Marvel comic strip ‘The X-Men’ with the British kids’ TV show ‘The Tomorrow People’. Previous part here.) 

The classic Lee/Kirby era of ’The X-Men’ (effectively the first nineteen issues) essentially features two types of story, themselves determined by two types of antagonist. Handily, they arrive consecutively. Following Magneto’s appearance in the first issue, bad mutants become the good mutants’ default foe. While Marvel usually rotated their rogue’s gallery, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (Magneto, plus his henchmen) came back in issues 4, 5, 6 and 7, and were already being called ‘The Evil You-Know-Who’ on the cover of 6. 

Adjacent panels often juxtapose the fair-play teamwork of the X-Men against the fractious world of the Brotherhood. Who represent about every way to fail to form a brotherhood; the imperiously commanding Magneto, the obsequious Toad (whose excessive fawning even gets on his master’s nerves), the scheming underling Mastermind, and Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, trapped by their misapplied sense of duty to Magneto.

Then, as if suddenly noticing how reliant on the Brotherhood they’d become, Lee and Kirby put them out of harm’s way by splitting them up in three different directions. And segue straight into the first Sentinels story. This is clearly intended as something of an epic. It’s not just the first three-part run, even the next issue is largely devoted to the battle’s aftermath.

The Sentinels, as we all know by now, were designed precisely to eliminate the mutant “threat”. Public fear and distrust of the super-powered had long been a distinct feature of Marvel, distinguishing it from DC. Now it comes into its own.

Except here it’s specified precisely as public distrust. Crowds in the street are likely to degenerate into anti-mutie lynch mobs at any sign of unorthodox behaviour. This includes cops, but government and military... they clearly know better. In issue 10 Professor X says casually “Washington has already contacted me” about the latest drama. So the constituency of their designer Trask isn’t ranting Republicans but the salacious popular press. He even launches the Sentinels on live TV.

As robots tend to, the Sentinels then rebel. But this is because they decide the best way to carry out their orders, to protect humanity, is to subjugate them. The story them becomes a parable about the rise of, but also the inherent deficiencies with, machines. They’re often depicted neatly lined up, like beans on a shelf, while their plot is essentially to make more of themselves. But they’re also shown lacking the basics of gumption and initiative.

‘Mutant’ would seem a very science fiction word. But there’s only one alien in the whole Lee/Kirby run, the Stranger, who appears in ’The Triumph of Magneto’ (11). Both sides assume him to be a mutant and so set about trying to win him over to their camp. Only to discover he’s not just literally but conceptually alien, outside their common frame of references. (“Have I not said I am… a stranger?” he asks, channelling Leonard Cohen.) His only interest is in collecting specimens of mutation for study. He picks Magneto, for plot convenient reasons.

Whereas, as we’ve seen the Tomorrow People comes with a plot contrivance where the whole concept of bad Tomorrow People, in brotherhoods or otherwise, is blocked off. Instead, with their first story ’The Slaves of Jedikiah’ (1973) their antagonists are established as aliens.

While Magneto tries to misuse the power of the mutants he manages to pick for his side, Jedikiah tries to limit his, with the recurrent one-eyed motif, with constraining anti-telepathic headbands and the like. There’s a moment where Stephen, rather half-heartedly, Refuses The Call and sulkily claims he’s not a real Tomorrow Person after all. But the premise is auto-inoculated against him voluntarily taking Jedikiah’s side.

Jedikiah turns out to be the henchman of a bigger baddie called (confusing our comparison) the Cyclops. Except, in the very last episode he suddenly switches to sympathetic. As it turns out, his spaceship was broken and he really just needed the psychic equivalent of a push to get him home again. This becomes something of a show staple - not resolving conflicts so much as wishing them away, making it never-was. And one way to manage this is to decide at the last minute the bad guy was just misunderstood. The Prime Barrier perhaps necessitates this. They can’t fight a deciding battle because they don’t fight, so everything has to just turn out to be okay.

There’s some suggestion the Cyclops was simply scared of us (“your planet has an evil reputation throughout the galaxy… you are always at war”), which might be more convincing if he hadn’t recruited human henchmen. In a vain bid to keep the story propulsive, the antagonism abruptly switches to Jedikiah, who in short order is revealed as a robot, goes mad and starts rampaging round Cyclops’ spaceship. (Some robots revolt. Others go mad. Them’s the breaks.)

As we saw another time, the monsters in ’Dr. Who’ tend to be human foibles, which are magnified, externalised and then stuffed in a rubber suit. The penchant of ’Tomorrow People’ is for more generalised social ills which turn out to be the fault of menacing aliens; gang warfare (‘The Blue and the Green’), the fashionability of fascism (‘Hitler’s Last Secret’) and so on. Except, as we’ve seen, they’re not really the aliens’ fault either. They shilly-shally between manipulative monsters and the equivalent of the Stranger.

Human hostility is established. Well, mentioned. Told the TPs can’t make war, Stephen asks the not-unreasonable question “what if someone makes war on us?” While the Cyclops warns them: “Arm yourself against your own species. They will kill you if they find you out.” But unlike the X-Men, unlike every Marvel hero ever, this secrecy doesn’t apply to their own parents. It’s taken for granted Stephen’s must be told.

Human mistrust only really appears with the biker gang who aid Jedikiah. Except ‘aid’ is a loose term, and he’s forever telling the serial bunglers “no more incompetence will be tolerated.” Which makes you wonder why he thought he needed them in the first place.

Their outlaw attire suggests that rather than adult authority figures they’re ‘bad kids’, the delinquent hooligans who plagued Seventies popular culture. They even have laddish nicknames, Ginge and Lefty. Which leads to an emphasis on brains triumphing over brawn, as if they’ve been set up to fail. There’s a scene where the TPs repeatedly jaunt out of their charging way, leaving them to fall in lakes and other hilarious consequences, which recalls the ghost cat taunting the live dog in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon ’The Funky Phantom’.

We’re told rather late on that they were recruited ideologically, told “you lot were just a bunch of freaks”. But this shows up out of nowhere, and is used as a convenience for them to swap sides, following the show’s No True Villains rule. Like school bullies, they’re tauntingly confrontational on the outside but really need the nerd kids’ help. From that point on they reappear as the pacifists’ handy contracted-out muscle, a little like the Ian role in ’Doctor Who’.

’Secret Weapon' (1975) is the nearest to a Sentinels-like story. Opening the third season it again introduces a new Tomorrow Person who’s conveniently ‘breaking out’, Tyso. Who’s wanted by a secret Government department, to make him the secret weapon of the title. The distinction between him and them is established with a first shot, a toff car appearing on the road behind other gypsy kids as they play. And of course experiments on gypsies recall Nazi horrors. 

The story’s tension lies between Professor Cawston and Colonel Masters, scientific curiosity against military instrumentalisation. One is handily colour-coded black and the other beige, against the Tomorrow People’s perpetual white. And like Jedikiah though he seeks to harness their powers, Masters spends virtually the whole time dampening them, giving Guards “dope guns”, placing Tyso and Stephen in comas.

In this way it’s almost the inverse of the Sentinels, the military being informed becoming the very problem. “Can you imagine living your whole life in a tribe of monkeys?” Cawston asks Masters. “With your very survival depending upon their not finding out you’re a human being, a superior creature?” But Masters’ reaction to their powers is not so much fearful as avaricious.

Writer and series creator Roger Price was in many ways an old Sixties radical, and the story resounds with anti-establishment and internationalist pacifism. Though he’s careful enough to portray Masters as sincere in his beliefs, however ruthless, allowing him counters in a stand-off argument with Elizabeth. (When he asks what would happen if such powers were to develop in Russia or China she replies there’d simply be more Tomorrow People like us, perhaps the series’ ethos encapsulated.)

But then the finale is a let-down even by the standards of the show, whether measured dramatically or politically. They essentially defeat military intelligence by going to its manager, leading to the so-bad-its-great line “what’s the Prime Minister doing here?” To get to the PM, they need to jauntingly kidnap him, which luckily he is rather sanguine about. See, kids? The system works.

Worse still, Chris, not a Tomorrow Person, can be presented as less enlightened, a slightly less street-level Ginge and Lefty. He’s essentially the hot-headed agitational radical, the peace hawk, against John’s sober-minded faith in reason. He’s even willing to threaten the old boy with a “Martian ray gun”, only for John to give the game away. Yet it’s him who cooks up this half-baked plan in the first place!

And the two most interesting features of the story, that the Tomorrow People initially underestimate Masters’ threat, and that his assistant is herself a telepath, are essentially orphaned by this rubbish resolution. Her powers seem lesser than the TPs, and are limited to telepathy, but still seem to grant her greater empathy than Masters. This is eventually explained as her being a kind of forerunner, who failed to fully break out.

And while Tyso may seem another point won for diversity casting, his actual role in the story is so slight he’s effectively a boy damsel in distress. He really does spend most of his time asleep, so much that he nearly gets forgotten at the end. And his Romany family are portrayed absurdly, his father even willing to sell him to Masters! The message would seem to be that we are such generous and tolerant folk, we even apply it to these backward Gyppo types.

Which shouldn’t surprise us. Frequently referred to as a critique of racism, this trope’s perhaps worse than useless for that. It exists to flatter its audience, convincing them it works as some sort of anti-racist credential, like those diversity training certificates workplaces give you. The truth is, people follow this stuff because they like to see some bigged up version of themselves, particularly with bigged up brains and hearts.

Being part of a band of elite pariahs, the tension over this trope is how much it can be a fantasy and how much a phobia. Witch-like powers come with witch hunts, after all. (As future instalments in this series will show, a feature of this trope is the way it weaves between kids’ TV shows and outright horror films.) This can be used creatively, making the dish into a sweet and sour.

’X-Men’ got this at some level, ’Tomorrow People’ less so. True, it suffered from cheap budgets even if compared to the often-mocked ’Doctor Who’, and from often-excruciating child acting. But chiefly it feels auto-inoculated against everything which might make its own scenario involving. Its utopianism may seem distant from us now, so it’s tempting to frame the problem as to do with eras. But it was dramatic too, forever presenting us with an enticing situation of conflict then whisking that conflict away. It took a great premise and fumbled it with wooly well-meaningness.

Coming soon! More mutants, more future...