Nicky Gore (Victoria Williams) is an ordinary British schoolgirl in an ordinary British city, doing her homework before tea as her father (Bernard Horsfall) smokes his pipe and reads the newspaper and her mother (Sonia Graham) tells her she shouldn't study so hard when she is so good at English lessons anyway. Her father begins to complain of the close atmosphere and her mother observes the weather seems to be rather thick with heat and humidity, but nothing prepares them for the sudden sense that overcomes Nicky's father: he tries to tune the television which appears to be on the blink then smashes it to pieces in a fit of inexplicable rage. Before long, the whole family are destroying anything electrical or mechanical, and the city outside is doing the same...
The whole of Britain as well, in one of the more legendary of the children's television serials of the nineteen-seventies, and to attain that kind of status they mainly had to be one thing: scary. They may not seem much to modern eyes, but the likes of Children of the Stones, Sky, Doctor Who of course, and that one where the kids made their own audience for a play they were putting on out of bric-a-brac and the inanimate figures suddenly burst into life and started chasing them, whatever that was, were often quite terrifying for the innocent minds of that decade. The Changes was more renowned than many for being so little seen since its original broadcast, leaving vague but arresting memories of people rioting in the streets or the lead character in fear of her life from superstitious backward-thinkers.
The reason for those plot points was that a strange dementia has settled over the land, and the first episode details its effects as most of the population of the United Kingdom flee to France, seemingly leaving behind a group of stalwarts for whom medieval times would be a step too far towards the modern era. Fifteen-year-old Nicky, left behind by her parents in the confusion, must negotiate a world that was cosily familiar not so long ago but is now harsh and unfriendly, mirroring the way Britain was heading towards economic disaster, though not as radically as this adaptation of Peter Dickinson's trilogy of novels delineated. Dickinson belonged to a group of writers for children such as Alan Garner, Nicholas Fisk or John Christopher who no junior section of a British library would be without, and producer Anna Home, something of a legend herself in TV, adapted here with fair, if not exactly smooth, success.
She overhauled the source material to make more of a straightforward narrative, though even then it was idiosyncratic in a manner that a series not designed by committee can be, making Nicky the main character; actress Williams, four years older than her role at time of filming, continued to work on television for most of her career, largely in bit parts though she did get a more substantial role a couple of years later in sex education comedy It Could Happen To You. You won't be surprised to know it's still The Changes she's best recalled for if she's recalled at all, and she offered a performance typical of juvenile leads of the day: well-spoken, earnest, nothing too outré so the target audience could have a stable personality at the heart of drama that was otherwise fantastical. Although this was a fairly expensive production for a children's programme, special effects were at a minimum aside from a colourful freakout come the last episode where all is revealed.
Lasting ten weeks, this was also significant for beating another science fiction series for adults to the screen by a good few months, as Terry Nation's Survivors became better known in 1975 with a premise that also saw the U.K. back in the Bronze Age thanks to a disaster. Yet The Changes was as socially responsible as that, if not more so, as Nicky joins up with a party of Sikhs who reluctantly allow her to tag along with them as they search for a place to live in the countryside, unaffected by the weird effects of the nationwide noise and therefore treated with hostility by the locals. This becomes a running theme, the fear of the other as exhibited by those who would set to build themselves up in a position of power by contrast; when Vicky spends a large chunk of the story fleeing villagers who absurdly believe her to be a witch, we are in no doubt that blind, irrational prejudice and victimisation is A Bad Thing. And also that progress in itself is not, as for all its flaws it's preferable to the primitive alternative in an earthy and hard to forget fantasy drama. Electronic music by Paddy Kingsland.