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Tomorrow People is a homo superior kind of drama

In his 1971 song Oh!

TODAY'S PEOPLE: Robbie Amell, Aaron Woo, Luke Mitchell and Peyton List.
TODAY'S PEOPLE: Robbie Amell, Aaron Woo, Luke Mitchell and Peyton List.

You Pretty Things, David Bowie sang about the homo superior. "Don't you know you're driving your mothers and fathers insane?" he said. "Let me make it plain: Gotta make way for the homo superior." Two years later, a new science fiction series began on ITV. "We're homo superior," said the lead character. "We're the next development of the human race."

Even though the Bowie song was released in 1971 and the television series, The Tomorrow People, began in 1973, there is some doubt about who came up with the phrase 'homo superior' first. According to some stories, Bowie and Roger Price, the creator of the Tomorrow People, met years before either the song or the show and Price told him about the idea he had for a television show for children. The story goes that Bowie liked the phrase homo superior and incorporated it into a song later on. According to other stories, it was Bowie who used the phrase first in the song and Price heard it and used it in his show.

Whichever is true, homo superior is a fantastic idea, or a deeply disturbing one, depending on your point of view. And now it is back on television in an American remake of the original 1970s British drama. The basic premise of the new show is exactly the same as the old one and the first episode of the reboot is remarkably similar in many ways to the first episode broadcast in 1971: slicker, more expensive, slimmer and more buffed up but otherwise the same.

The story begins when teenager Stephen Jameson starts hearing voices and behaving strangely. Before long, he is contacted by a group of other young people who tell him he is special: a member of homo superior, or The Tomorrow People. In the original series, Carol, one of the leaders of the group, tells Stephen he is part of a group of humans that are developing faster than everyone else. In the new series, Stephen is told the same thing. "You think you're a freak," he is told, "but you're not. You're on the brink of becoming someone truly extraordinary."

Danny Cannon, the executive producer of the new version, which starts on E4 tonight, thinks this sentiment of the show - feeling different from everyone else - was tapping into something teenagers always feel, but were particularly feeling in the early 1970s.

"The show's creator, Roger Price, saw a shift in the youth in the mid-1970s compared to the youth of the 1960s," says Cannon. "He noticed how the youth were feeling empowered. The 1970s were all about not cutting off your hair and going into the army. Everyone was experimenting and moving forward.

"There was also a sense of freedom and I really related to that. The youth of the 1970s was rebelling against the short hair, post war, public school world. They were experimenting with drugs and experimenting with their sexuality. Bowie was revelling in that."

In the original Tomorrow People, there is quite a lot of this alternative-society sentiment. At one point Carol says to Stephen: "Imagine your mind is a fist. Now let it open slowly. Don't let any other thoughts come into your head. Just think of the fist opening slowly."

It sounds like familiar 1970s trippy, meditative philosophy, although you could also put an entirely different interpretation on a beautiful blonde like Carol talking about the emergence of a superior race. "We can take over and put the world in order," she says.

Danny Cannon, who grew up in north London, saw none of the more sinister side of the homo superior and remembers connecting with the sentiments of the original programme. He also remembers something else about the programme, which was fairly groundbreaking at the time: the fact that some of the teenagers on it spoke like him.

"The Tomorrow People was about kids from a normal neighbourhood I recognised, and the kids had London accents I recognised," he says. "Watching the show as a kid, it felt like I was watching people down the block from me. It felt like I was watching people I knew. I related to the characters. They were everybody. There were no leotards and there was no special weaponry."

What the character in the show also had to face was the process of "breaking out", or discovering their gifts, and the remake uses this to explore the process and emotions of adolescence and the feeling of disconnection that can create from adult society. It's not pious though and has clearly been made to appeal to comic book fans.

Comic book fans, such as writer Michael Coen, from Paisley, remembers loving the show the first time round. "The Tomorrow People suggested you might be uniquely gifted without you (or indeed anyone else) realising it," says Coen. "An intriguing prospect for most kids, as I was when the show launched in 1973.

"And reading minds, teleporting or 'jaunting', travelling to distant planets with a bunch of pals - it was all grist to the mill in an era when limited budgets and some occasional broad acting were par for the course."

And there was something else for a lad from Glasgow. "If that strong basic premise wasn't enough then the story entitled The Blue And The Green - where aliens entice the nation's children to join gangs based around those colours - had an additional, and I assume unintended, resonance 'round our way."

The Tomorrow People, E4, 9pm, tonight

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