Out of the Unknown – Some Lapse of Time


Story by John Brunner, Adapted by Leon Griffiths
Directed by Roger Jenkins

Dr Max Harrow (Ronald Lewis) has been plagued by frightening nightmares in which he’s trapped in a strange primitive world and menaced by a mysterious figure (played by John Gabriel).  Dreams become reality when the man from his nightmare turns up outside his house, suffering from the same rare radiation-induced illness which was responsible for the death of his son.

The man (identified as Smiffershon) speaks in an unknown language and was found clutching a fragment of finger-bone (just as in Harrow’s dream).  Harrow is convinced that Smiffershon is a survivor from a future that’s been devastated by nuclear war (a belief that, naturally, isn’t shared by anybody else).  If this is so, how are he and Smiffershon connected?

Some Lapse of Time was one of the more contemporary stories adapted for OOTU as it was originally published in 1963, just two years before this dramatisation by Leon Griffiths (later to create Minder).  The first of two stories from Brunner to be used for the series (the second, The Last Lonely Man is the only complete story to exist from the third series) Some Lapse of Time is a dark, contemporary tale that has a strong anti-nuclear message.

The possibility that our future would be scarred by atomic fallout was a popular theme during the 1960’s and 1970’s and Brunner’s story taps into this anxiety.  Ronald Lewis is impressive as a man desperately searching for answers to impossible questions – particularly in the scene where he declares his belief that the world will return to cave-like primitivism to his appalled wife Diana (Jane Downs) and a colleague from the hospital, Dr Faulkner (Richard Gale).

Sound design is quite interesting – throughout the story there’s an ominous tolling sound which heightens the tension, especially as Harrow becomes more and more unhinged.  At the same time, the camera closes in on Ronald Lewis and the dialogue is given an echo effect.  All of these little touches work very effectively to highlight Harrow’s increasing instability.

Possibly the most noteworthy aspect about this production is that Ridley Scott was the designer, but given the contemporary setting there was little opportunity for Scott to produce anything particularly extraordinary on his sole OOTU credit.

Whilst it does feel a little drawn-out (although the last twenty or minutes or so really pick up the pace) it’s still a thought-provoking story that paints a stark picture of a future world virtually destroyed in a nuclear holocaust and the final twist ending works very well.

Next Up – Thirteen to Centaurus

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