Mind Over Matter

John Messenger, a big film-buff from England, watches old British science-fiction TV shows differently these days. After moving to Davie nearly a decade ago, he hooked up with a group of South Floridians who share his fondness for low-budget British sci-fi. The group, called TRI, was established in 1985 as a Doctor Who fan club that has since expanded its focus. TRI (the name is a vague reference to Doctor Who's time machine) meets at Broward County libraries, where members screen videos from their collections -- a wide assortment covering three decades' worth of aliens and adventurers, spies and space travelers.

Visitors are welcome to sit in on the screenings of episodes from TV shows like Red Dwarf, Blake's 7, Secret Agent, and The Avengers, which has been adapted for the big screen and opens in theaters next week. What makes the viewing experience so fun is seeing these, as well as more obscure titles, with fellow sci-fi fans, who don't hesitate to poke fun at a show's flaws, according to TRI president Laura Palmberg. The eerie creatures in The Prisoner, for example, are actually weather balloons bopping along the beach.

Shows often spark philosophical debates. In an episode of The Tripods, teenagers escape the mind control of aliens. Palmberg recalls that the question the show raised was this: Is it better to be "free" as a fugitive, or to live luxuriously under authoritarian rule?

Members agree that British sci-fi shows, in particular, offer variety and focus more on plot and characters than on splashy special effects. "Sometimes production values, due to budgetary limitations, are kind of low," Palmberg admits. "The major thing is whether you enjoy it. You just have to judge it based on all the elements of the story -- the acting, the plot -- not just on the effects."

She remembers one Doctor Who episode from the '70s featuring dinosaurs that looked more like plastic action figures than the realistic creatures seen in, say, Jurassic Park. "You could tell they were obviously low-budget dinosaurs," she says. "You sort of had to overlook that."

But by staying open-minded, you'll find plenty to enjoy, according to Messenger. British sci-fi, he says, is "usually extremely well acted and extremely well written."

-- Patti Roth

TRI's next meeting will take place from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, August 15, at the Deerfield Beach Library, 837 E. Hillsboro Blvd., Deerfield Beach. Call 954-360-1380. For more information e-mail the club at triserv@aol.com. .

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Patti Roth