Bates commissioned the composer Ken Freeman to produce music for the series after hearing his work for a BMW commercial (Dead Cars). Freeman had long been fascinated by new musical technology and had himself constructed an early strings synthesiser for the 1971 Frankfurt Music Fair. But he was relatively untried in television, and it was a bold move on Bates's part. It was also a luxury to go beyond the Radiophonic Workshop, which would probably have given the show a typical mid-1980s Doctor Who treatment, simply for lack of time to do more. Freeman recalls:
It would indeed have been much cheaper to use the Radiophonic Workshop... I have great respect for all the writers [but] they had inferior equipment and less time. My studio, although it was in my front room, was financed by my work in the advertising industry so I could afford to buy better gear. The Synclavier alone cost almost as much as my house.
The main titles took about six weeks to come together, helped by having begun with the incidental music to the first episode:
My most important musical device was the sound effects for the Capping ceremony, a much shortened version of which can be heard at the start and end of the title music.
(The thumping sound of Tripod footsteps and the occasional hunting wail are also worked into the soundscape.) Each episode took two to three weeks, only barely enough time to record a dense soundtrack, sometimes of fifteen tracks and in music cues lasting over a minute at a time. It became an obsessive process and Freeman remembers this as "the most productive time of my life". The directors, Theakston and Barry, were impressed, having expected something more traditional. They would visit Freeman at his house bringing time-coded video tapes, indicating where music was wanted, and talk about what might work; as Christopher Barry recalls, "this was often little more than agreement with his suggestions". The end result was that by television soundtrack standards Freeman had considerable artistic freedom and a vast canvas in front of him.
[Added in post-production: titles and shadow-play. In 1984 it was very difficult to do this]
The opening and closing titles were commissioned in the style of computer-generated animation, framing the show in what was for the times a futuristic look. (Much as Doctor Who had gone over to an apparently computer-generated title sequence a few years before, though it had in fact been painstakingly faked by human animators.) The onset of the opening titles was delayed in the first episode to emphasise the contrast between the apparently historical setting and the sudden appearance of the first Tripod.
[The Masters travel in spinning prisms of light]
Remaining video effects were added at the BBC Video Effects Workshop. In series 2, for instance, the BBC had "the only video rostrum camera in Europe that has a 700-frame store" ("Broadcast", 15 November 1985) which was needed to construct the image of the spinning alien pyramidal craft in series 2. By similar means the Tripod images were matted on to landscape film and shadowing was added.
[Wow, look at the Arc de Triomphe]
Even some entire locations were artificial, as for example the ruins of Paris:
The bits where we were supposed to be in Parisian streets were filmed on a deserted airfield and we had to say things like "Wow, look at the Arc de Triomphe" pointing at nothing. The White Mountains are the Alps: we went to Snowdonia and they put the snow on top after. For the close-ups we had fifty square feet of foam for snow.
(Ceri Seel again). And here is John Shackley on filming the Cognosc scenes in series 2, which take place in a surreal, bare white non-place:
I remember being in TC1, the biggest studio at Television Centre, and half of the studio was taken up by a rostrum covered in reflective silver paper... To show a reflection, of my body, they had to cover it in the same sort of paper. So there I was against a CSO backdrop, sitting on this wall with cameras everywhere, alone on a huge stage. Another time I had to walk 35, 40 feet listening to and speaking dialogue, all by myself.
Another post-production enhancement turns up as a teaser on the rarest piece of film made for the show, which seems only to have been broadcast once, on the original BBC1 showing. This was a brief recap of series 1 before the first episode of series 2, narrated by John Shackley; it ended with the last moments of series 1 as the camera turns to the free men's plain model of the City. For just a second or so, the "real" City (as it would be shown four episodes later) is merged into the shot of the model, with pyramids and laser beams alive.
Summing up, Richard Bates commented that
The BBC was the only place in the world that I could have made this series on video, because of its huge resources and expertise.
"The Tripods Are Coming" was the cover story of Radio Times (the BBC listings magazine, and the most popular magazine in the UK) for 15-21 September 1984, under a full-page photograph of a Tripod, shot from below. This was something of a coup for the programme, since at the start of the autumn season Radio Times can only make one show its cover story, and producers have been known to lobby very hard for it. The first programme, when shown, was indeed received very well.
To coincide with the beginning of the series, Puffin Books (the juvenile imprint of Penguin) re-issued the the trilogy of novels, as three individual books and for the first time as a consolidated edition. (This last edition can still be found in bookshops today.) The covers used rather dull publicity stills of the principal actors huddled beside rocks, or walking down an airfield, though the back covers at least showed a Tripod.
In the UK, series 1 was broadcast on BBC1 between Saturday 15 September 1984 and Saturday 8 December 1984; series 2 between Saturday 7 September 1985 and Saturday 23 November 1985.
The series has been widely shown worldwide. A co-production with Australian and American money, it was initially also sold to France, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and Belgium. In the U.S., it was taken up by 41 broadcasters and "achieved a 45 percent penetration in syndication in America" ("Broadcast", 15 November 1985), whatever that means.
Series 2 was being written as series 1 was being produced and broadcast, and the writer in question was Christopher Penfold, a convinced believer in serious science fiction as a TV genre. (Alick Rowe had stepped aside partly to adapt the Welsh drama series Morgan's Boy.) Penfold had, of course, read the scripts for series 1, but hadn't yet seen the episodes -- they were still unfinished.
Penfold worked as a media arts journalist in Australia and then became a full-time writer in 1972, working almost single-handed on a short-lived show about RAF Bomber Command called Pathfinders (13 episodes, 1972-3). He then wrote a musical screenplay for Cliff Richard, but in the mean time had met Gerry Anderson and joined the team defining the sequel to UFO, which would become Space:1999.
Penfold served as script editor for series 1 and is credited with seven episodes, while contributing to numerous others. He was a particular upholder of the rather English character of Professor Victor Bergman (the required "Mr Spock", expert on any scientific topic that might arise), writing much of Bergman's distinctively cerebral if wooden dialogue. Together with Johnny Byrne, who was to become a fine writer of early 1980s Doctor Who, Penfold deserves much credit for Space:1999's greatest virtue: a sense of mission which, even if it tips over into the solemn and humourless, more or less carries the day.
Penfold left the programme when it became clear that the former Star Trek executive Fred Freiberger was going to remove Bergman and populate space with bug-eyed monsters, who would run up and down a lot waving their mandibles. Bergman was replaced with two younger, more generically American sidekicks, and significantly there was no replacement scientist. As everyone working on the show, from the cast to the writers, had predicted, this damaged the concept irretrievably. The second series was mostly atrocious and there was never a third.
While The Tripods' second series was in production, scripts for the third and final series (an adaptation of "The Pool of Fire") were being undertaken by Alick Rowe, and were completed just as the cancellation was announced. Nothing of them was filmed.
Some notes on the writer and scripts for series 2 are on another page, to avoid giving away too much plot here.