Out of the Unknown – The Uninvited


Written by Michael J. Bird
Directed by David Chandler

George (John Nettleton) and Millicent (June Ellis) are spending the last night in their old home before moving to Botswana. All of the furniture has already been removed, so the flat is bare. But as they settle down for the night, strange things begin to happen.

For a split second George suddenly sees the flat fully furnished again, but in a style he doesn’t recognise. Later Millicent finds a dead body in a trunk (which vanishes a few minutes later).

They both get back into bed and try to sleep, but then all the strange furniture returns and it appears to be daytime outside. The flat now seems to be occupied by a man called Donald Ramsey (Brian Wilde) and his wife Jessica (Hilary Mason) was the woman that Millicent saw dead in the trunk.

Here, she’s still alive, but clearly in danger from Ramsey. Neither Ramsey or his wife can see or hear them, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t in danger …..

The Uninvited was the second script for OOTU by Michael J. Bird. Although only the audio exists (and there’s very little photographic material) it appears to be a lot better than his previous effort, To Lay A Ghost.  As with To Lay A Ghost, this is very much a ghost story – but it’s played at a much more intense level than his previous effort.

Due to the lack of photographs, the surviving audio has been synchronized to a copy of the camera script. This enables the viewer to read the stage directions which explain what happens during the visual sequences (and it’s pretty much the easiest way to make things comprehensible – if only the audio was on the DVD it wouldn’t be at all easy to follow).

But with the audio running alongside the script (even though some of the pages are hard to read) everything makes sense. This story was later remade for the series Hammer House Of Mystery and Suspense under the title of In Possession, but going by the audio of the original, it had a creepy intensity that wasn’t bettered by the remake.

Out of the Unknown – The Man in my Head


Written by John Wiles
Directed by Peter Cregeen

A group of soldiers led by Brinson (Tom Chadbon) break into a Hydro Electric Plant.  They are members of a Strike Force, an elite group of soldiers who have had their orders subliminally implanted.  Until they receive the appropriate radio signal they don’t know where they are or what they have to do.

If they are captured, they can break a capsule which will automatically create a new reality that will prove to be unshakable under enemy interrogation.

At prearranged times their orders will be automatically relayed to them, but some of them begin to question the reason for the mission.  Or could it be that this dissent has also been programmed?  As these soldiers have had their memories wiped and then reprogrammed, can they tell which thoughts are their own and which have been created for them?

The Man in my Head, written by John Wiles, shares some similarities with another fourth series episode – Welcome Home.  In both stories we see how the human mind can be “reprogrammed” to believe that false memories are true.

Wiles’ script creates conflict between the soldiers, some of whom simply obey whilst others are more questioning.  And one of them, Fulman (Robert Oates), accidentally triggers his cover story, which drives him to the point of madness.

A large part of the story takes place in a single set, which looks very impressive (it has several levels, walkways and was designed to be shot at any angle through 360 degrees).  Although it’s fair to say that some of the CSO work (such as the soldiers climbing down the ladder) is much less convincing.  Tom Chadbon, a familiar television face, is good as Brinson, who like some of the others begins to doubt exactly why they are here and what it is they hope to achieve.  The answers are provided in the last few minutes and this wraps up the story quite well.

Although it teeters on the edge of melodrama occasionally, The Man in my Head is an efficient story – and sadly it’s the last surviving episode of OOTU (the remaining three were all wiped, although The Uninvited does exist as an audio recording).

Next Up – The Uninvited

Out of the Unknown – Welcome Home


Written by Moris Farhi
Directed by Eric Hills

Following a serious car accident, Dr Frank Bowers (Anthony Ainley) has spent a long time convalescing in hospital.  Eventually, he’s pronounced fit, so he discharges himself and travels down to join his wife in the country.  Bowers’ wife Penny (Jennifer Hilary) has bought a cottage at Castleforge and he’s looking forward to seeing it for the first time.  But when he arrives, he’s astonished to find that Penny apparently doesn’t recognise him.  And the man she’s living with is also called Dr Frank Bowers (Bernard Brown).

Welcome Home by Moris Farhi has an interesting premise.  Anthony Ainley is very good as Bowers One, a man who appears to have found a cuckoo in his nest, whilst Bernard Brown is icily efficient as Bowers Two.

Bowers Two wants to use a new drug called DK-5 on Bowers One.  DK-5 makes the recepient very suggestable to false memories implanted by the user.  Bowers One surmises that it’s already been used on his wife and a number of other people, which has enabled Bowers Two to take his place.  But for what reason?  Bowers One considers a range of possibilities, including alien invasion.

Bowers Two produces evidence that Bowers One is actually called Peter Johnson, a psychopath who never recovered from the trauma of being scalded with hot water as a child by his father.  Bowers One does have these memories, but are they real or just implanted by Bowers Two with DK-5?

Moris Farhi drew inspiration from revelations about psychiatric experiments with mind-bending drugs that were carried out behind the Iron Curtain.  For example, he cited the reports of Vladimir Bukovsky which became public knowledge at this time.

The setup of Welcome Home is good, and Ainley is convincing as a man struggling to make anybody believe that he is who he says he is, but there’s no denying that the story doesn’t end well.  This is a pity, because up until the last five minutes or so, it’s been an intriguing mystery.  It’s just that the resolution of the mystery is far too implausible.

Next Up – The Man In My Head

Out of the Unknown – Deathday


Story by Angus Hall, Adapted by Brian Hayles
Directed by Raymond Menmuir

Adam Crosse (Robert Lang) finds his life turned upside down when he discovers his wife Lydia is having an affair.  Lydia (Lynn Farleigh) is unrepentant and tells Adam that she’s not prepared to give her lover up – as he satisfies her in a way that Adam never could.

But she sees no reason for a divorce and believes that everything can carry on pretty much as before.  Her infidelity is the last straw for the mild-mannered Adam though and he brutally murders her.  He then puts his experience as a journalist to good use in order to produce the perfect alibi by creating an imaginary person called Quilter to take the blame.

Everything seems to be fine at first, Adam plays the bereaved husband very well and the police seem to be satisfied.  But then Quilter turns up ……

The only episode from the fourth series to be adapted from an existing story, Deathday was written by Angus Hall and dramatised by Brian Hayles.  It starred Robert Lang, who was one of those actors whose face and voice were instantly recognisable (even if their name might have been more of a mystery).

Rarely the leading actor in a production, he built a career out of well-played character roles.  Deathday allowed him the chance to tackle a meaty role and he certainly didn’t disappoint.  At first, the story seems like a very conventional murder mystery story as we know that Adam has murdered his wife, so the question seems to be whether or not he’ll be found out.

But as this is OOTU, there has to be some sort of weird twist – and this happens when Quilter (John Ronane) appears.  He’s someone who was created by Adam to take the blame for his wife’s murder, so how can he be here?  Further disorientating sequences (bizarre shots of naked secretaries at a weird approximation of Adam’s office) help to accentuate the feeling that he’s losing his grip on reality.

Although she only has a small part, Lynn Farleigh is perfect as Adam’s coldly practical wife who can see nothing wrong with cuckolding him.  John Ronane was an actor I was primarily aware of from Strangers, where he played a very conventional character.  Ronane is certainly not conventional here – his performance isn’t subtle, but it fits the mood of the story as events begin to run away from Adam.  Susan Glanville (as Joanne) is also effective as a woman that the newly liberated Adam picks up.  But she’s simply another step in his eventual downfall.

Deathday is a strong story, which although far removed from the SF tales which dominated the first three series, has a memorable plot and a satisfying climax.

Next Up – Welcome Home

Out of the Unknown – This Body Is Mine


Written by John Tulley
Directed by Eric Hills

Allen Meredith (John Carson) invites his boss Jack Gregory (Jack Hedley) to his home in order to explain about his latest invention.  It’s a device that will allow minds to be swopped between bodies and Meredith and his wife Ann (Alethea Charlton) plan to put it to good use.

Ann drugs Gregory and then Meredith and Gregory swop bodies.  Once Meredith is in the body of Jack Gregory he plans to transfer a large sum of money from Gregory’s company (to recompense him for all the work he considers he’s been underpaid for).  But Meredith finds Gregory’s world is more complicated than he’d bargained for.

And Ann, who’s left at home with the personality of Jack Gregory in the body of her husband, finds that to be an intriguing combination ….

This Body Is Mine is a neat tale that boasts an impressive core cast.  It”s difficult to imagine three better players than John Carson, Jack Hedley and Alethea Charlton – and they certainly help to sell the story.  In the hands of lesser actors it possibly could have fallen a little flat, but not here.

Hedley manages to capture the indecision of someone trapped in a strange body and unsure quite how to proceed whilst Carson projects the bluff bravado of Jack Gregory perfectly.  He might be in someone else’s body, but he plans to enjoy himself, which includes availing himself of Ann Meredith.

I’ve always tended to picture Alethea Charlton with grimy characters (possibly due to her two Doctor Who appearances in An Unearthly Child and The Time Meddler) but here she’s much more upwardly mobile and Ann is the character who’s responsible for the outcome of the story.  She respects, rather than loves, her husband but she quickly comes to love Jack Gregory when he’s in the body of her husband.  And as might be expected, this isn’t going to end well for everyone.

Next up – Deathday

Out of the Unknown – To Lay A Ghost


Written by Michael J. Bird
Directed by Ken Hannam

After Eric and Diana Carver move into their dream house in the country, Diana (Lesley-Anne Down) feels very happy, claiming a special connection to the place.  This pleases Eric (Iain Gregory) who is well aware of his young wife’s traumatic past.  Several years earlier, when Diana was still a schoolgirl, she was raped – and the effect of this experience is still felt very strongly by her (for example, she resists any sexual advances from Eric).

But their idyllic peace is shattered when they realise that they’re not alone.  The house is also inhabited by a ghost, which seems to have a special interest in Diana.  On several occasions Eric comes close to death at the hands of Diana (under the control of the ghost).  Paranormal specialist Dr Walter Phillimore (Peter Barkworth) is intrigued by the case, but warns Eric that both he and his wife are in danger if they remain in the house …..

The first surviving episode from the fourth and final series, To Lay A Ghost was written by Michael J. Bird, later to pen acclaimed series such as The Lotus Eaters, Who Pays The Ferryman? and The Aphrodite InheritanceTo Lay A Ghost has attracted a certain amount of notoriety over the years, and it’s not difficult to see why.

The story opens with scenes of the schoolgirl Diana being raped (although nothing graphic is seen, it’s obvious what’s happening).  Later in the story, Phillimore tells Eric that he’s been too considerate with his wife (implying that he should force himself on her).  Another implication is that the ghost (a 19th Century murderer and rapist called Thomas Hobbs) has been summoned due to Diana’s repressed desires.

This seems to be confirmed when Diana says to Eric that if he wants her to do something then he shouldn’t ask her – he should make her.  From this, Eric concludes that Diana enjoyed the rape and has subconsciously wanted it to happen again ever since.  Eric is unable to treat her roughly, so he leaves.  Diana is left alone, waiting on the bed for the ghost to appear.  Her last words are identical to those she spoke just before she was raped – which is a clear indication of what will happen to her after the credits have rolled (and explains the double-meaning of the title).

Apart from the controversial nature of the story, it’s a fairly static and underwhelming production.  The seventeen year old Lesley-Anne Down looks lovely (but is rather wooden) whilst Iain Gregory also gives a somewhat indifferent performance.  Things do pick up when Peter Barkworth appears, as he adds a touch of class to proceedings.

Whilst the ending is memorable (if somewhat questionable) the rest of the story is less engaging.  To Lay A Ghost isn’t totally without merit, but it’s certainly something that it’s difficult to imagine being broadcast on mainstream television today.

Next Up – This Body Is Mine

Out of the Unknown – The Yellow Pill


Story by Rog Phillips, Adapted by Leon Griffiths
Directed by Michael Ferguson

Dr John Frame (Francis Matthews) is asked by Detective Inspector Slinn (Glynn Edwards) to examine Wilfred Connor (Stephen Bradley) who is accused of three murders.  Slinn isn’t sure whether the man is mad or simply the world’s best actor.

Initially it seems that Connor is in an advanced state of hallucination – he denies that he’s in Frame’s consulting room, instead he insists that both he and Frame are in a spaceship and that they’re colleagues.  Connor then states that he didn’t murder any people – instead he shot three space creatures.

Connor’s fantasy world should be easily dismissible, but Frame starts to doubt his own sanity as Connor knows things he really shouldn’t.  And when Connor tells him to take one of the yellow anti-hallucination pills (which Frame had never seen before) Frame does, with unexpected consequences.

The Yellow Pill was a short story by Rog Phillips, originally published in 1958.  It’s a fascinating tale, which asks us to consider what is fantasy and what is reality.  Leon Griffiths’ adaptation is more ambiguous than the original short story – as there’s more of a question about whether what we saw at the end was the “true” reality and if everything prior to that had been an illusion.  Phillips’ original story seemed to be clearer on that point.

The Yellow Pill is the third missing story from series three which now exists only as an off-air audio.  The audio has been matched to the available photographs from the production to produce a very decent reconstruction.  Because the majority of the story is set within one location (Dr Frame’s consulting room) and the cast is quite small, this benefits the reconstruction (a story with many locations, actors and effects would be more incomprehensible in this format).  The audio is very clear (although as with the others, there are the occasional off-microphone noises).

Whist Glynn Edwards (Slinn) and Angela Browne (Frame’s secretary and lover, Helen) both have some decent scenes, the bulk of the story is really a two-hander between Francis Matthews and Stephen Bradley.  Matthews was something of a national treasure and had a long and impressive acting career.  Bradley’s television career seems to have been much shorter (his first credit is in 1967 and his last in 1973) but they’re very much equals in this story.

Matthews gives a fine performance as someone who begins to doubt the reality of what he can see, hear and touch whilst Bradley plays his part with absolute conviction – even when handcuffed to a chair, he doesn’t deviate from the notion that he’s a man from the future.

Given the limited sets, small cast and lack of special effects, this might not be a typical OOTU, but it’s a gripping 50 minutes of drama, thanks to Francis Matthews and Stephen Bradley.

Next Up – To Lay A Ghost

Out of the Unknown – The Little Black Bag

black bag

Story by Cyril M. Kornbluth, Adapted by Julian Bond
Directed by Eric Hills

Roger Full (Emrys Jones) used to be a doctor before he was struck off for killing a patient whilst under the influence of alcohol.  He’s still an alcoholic – but when a mysterious medical kit falls into his hands, he sees it as a way to make amends for his past misdeeds.

The black bag has accidentally travelled back in time from the far future.  It’s an amazing device, able to cure any known disease.  Roger comes to believe that it should be used for the benefit of all, although his business partner Angie (Geraldine Moffat) disagrees and their argument will have consequences for both of them …..

The Little Black Bag was written by Cyril M. Kornbluth and was originally published in 1950. Approximately twenty eight minutes of footage from this episode of OOTU exist – comprising scenes 9 – 23. There are 26 scenes in total, so both the beginning and the end of the play are sadly missing.

The material missing at the start is mainly concerned with revealing how the black bag was transported back in time. Mike (James Chase) is demonstrating a time machine that he’s built to Dr Gillis (Robert Dean) and Dr Hemingway (Dennis Bowen). After Mike leaves, the two Doctors decide to test it and place their medical kit inside. The bag duly vanishes, but then they realise they can’t get it back – and neither can Mike, since the time machine only works one way.

The missing material from the start of the story isn’t summarised on the DVD, which is a bit of a shame – although it’s fairly easy to pick up the thread of the story, as there are later scenes set in the future where they discuss the bag. Instead, the DVD version opens with a drunken Full being plied with drinks by Angie, who sees him as someone who can make her very rich.

Emrys Jones and Geraldine Moffat are centre-stage in this story and both give strong performances. Jones (who had played the Master in the Doctor Who story The Mind Robber the previous year) is convincing as a man who sees the bag as a chance to make amends for his past. Moffat contrasts nicely, as his partner who is only interested in profit (humanitarian gestures aren’t really her thing).

A brief audio clip from the closing moments of the story exists and this (together with reused video clips) have been used in order to create an ending. It’s a bit abrupt, but it does give a good idea of how the story concluded.

Next Up – The Yellow Pill

Out of the Unknown – The Naked Sun


Story by Isaac Asimov, Adapted by Robert Muller
Directed by Rudolph Cartier

Earth detective Elijah Baley (Paul Maxwell) and his robot colleague R. Daneel Olivaw (David Collings) are sent to Solaria to investigate a murder.  Nothing unusual there, you may think, but Solaria is a closed community, with a deep distrust of Earth.  They also despise personal contact, preferring to communicate only by holographic projections.  And as Baley is unable to speak to anybody in person, this makes the case much harder …..

The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov was originally published in 1957.  It was the second of Asimov’s robot novels, following the publication of The Caves of Steel in 1954.  Like the first book, The Naked Sun is a detective novel with a SF setting, so Robert Muller’s adaptation had to balance the dual themes of science fiction and detective fiction.

The taboos of the Solarian society are quite interesting, but they feel a little underdeveloped (probably due to the problems in reducing the novel down to a 50 minute television play).  The whodunnit part of the story works better, although again, given the limited time there’s not really the space to examine in detail the motives of all the possible suspects.

Paul Maxwell sounds pretty good as Bailey and the ever-reliable David Collings (last seen in Level Seven) does a decent job as Daneel, even though his part feels a little underwritten – there’s only a few occasions when the fact he’s a robot comes into play, for example.

The Naked Sun has a very strong supporting cast (Frederick Jaeger, Ronald Leigh-Hunt, Neil Hallett, Erik Chitty, amongst others) but the paucity of available photographs means that they tend to be somewhat anonymous.  Because of the lack of photos, composite images have been created (where the image of a character is overlaid onto a newly created background).  And since no pictures of certain actors (like Neil Hallett) exist from this story, headshots of them (from other productions) have been inserted into the new backgrounds.  This does mean that Hallett’s head is rather obviously perched on top of someone else’s body, which is a little distracting.

The audio isn’t too bad, although a little indistinct in places.  There are a few sections where no audio exists – so subtitles help to explain what’s happening during those parts.

Due to the lack of photographic material and the compromised audio, this is a slightly harder viewing experience than Beach Head and it’s undeniable that some of the complexity of Asimov’s original novel has had to be sacrificed in order to cut it down to a 50 minute teleplay.

Next Up – The Little Black Bag

Out of the Unknown – Beach Head


Story by Clifford D Simak, Adapted by Robert Muller
Directed by James Cellan Jones

Tom Decker (Ed Bishop) is a veteran of space exploration and at first, planet 0243/B seems to be just another regular mission.  0243/B is the 37th such planet that Decker has landed on, and on all the previous planetfalls he says that there has been “no discovery, no phenomenon, that has not had a logical or a technological cause or explanation”.

The job of Decker and his crew is to land, establish a Beach Head (a protective ring of steel) and then collect data about the planet which is then transmitted back to Earth.  But things begin to go awry after Decker starts to act oddly, which concerns Dr Jackson (Helen Downing).  Then the crew encounter a native life-form, who tells them that “You cannot leave. You will never leave. You will die here”.

Beach Head by Clifford D. Simak was originally published in 1951 as You’ll Never Go Home Again.  In many ways it works as a dark precursor of Star Trek.  Unlike Star Trek, the crew here are unable to deal with the “strange new world” which helps to highlight that the universe is a dangerous place and human intelligence won’t always win through.

Thanks to his starring role in UFO I’ve always loved Ed Bishop and one of the chief pleasures of Beach Head is Bishop’s portrayal of Decker’s gradual disintegration.  I can’t put my hand on my heart and claim that Bishop was always the most subtle or nuanced of actors, but his performance works here, where probably a more naturalistic interpretation would have been less effective.

When the BFI announced they were releasing Out of the Unknown, it was a six disc set with no special features and no remastering.  Very quickly, they received a number of emails from people (like myself) who were pleased to hear that this classic series was finally getting an official release, but also asking if the various clips and audios which existed could be included.

The BFI were also contacted by professionals, such as members of the Restoration Team who had worked on the Classic Doctor Who DVDs (they were able to do a very decent clean-up job on the episodes).  Toby Hadoke contacted them on spec to see if they were interested in commentaries – the BFI were, and within a very short space of time Hadoke (and producer John Kelly) had pulled together an incredibly impressive list of commentators on a number of episodes.

If all this wasn’t enough (as well as a new documentary) the set includes four reconstructions of missing episodes, of which Beach Head is the first.  All four were created by Derek Handley and like all the other special features they had to be produced within a remarkably short time.

Given the time-frame, it’s a very impressive effort.  The number of publicity photographs that exist of Beach Head isn’t particularly large, so the same shots do have to be repeated again and again, but after a while the quality of the story carries you along – so this isn’t a problem.  The story also benefits from CGI work by Stuart Palmer, which helps to fill in some of the more visual sections of the soundtrack.

As for the soundtrack itself, it’s of pretty good quality.  It appears to be a microphone recording rather than direct input (so there are background noises on occasion) but given that until fairly recently it was believed that only a thirty second audio clip existed, the inclusion of a full audio is one of the many highlights of the DVD.

Whilst no recon can ever hope to totally recreate the original broadcast, Derek Handley’s reconstruction of Beach Head does give a very good impression of what it was like and whilst some people may find the reuse of stills to be a problem, it’s worth persevering with as it’s a chilling story, enlivened by Ed Bishop’s performance.

Next Up – The Naked Sun

Out of the Unknown – The Last Lonely Man


Story by John Brunner, Adapted by Jeremy Paul
Directed by Douglas Camfield

In the future, death no longer holds the same fear that it used to.  Now when people die, their personality and life experience are automatically transferred into the mind of a nominated host.  James Hale (George Cole) is a devoted family man with a wife and two children who’s already become the host of his late father’s personality (which he sometimes has to battle against) and he’s a staunch advocate of the process – known as Contact.

So when he meets Patrick Wilson (Peter Halliday) in a bar and learns that Patrick doesn’t have Contact with anyone he agrees to “take him on until he can can get fixed up with a friend”.  But soon it transpires that Patrick has had Contact with many people – all of whom terminated their link once they became aware of exactly what sort of person he was.  James attempts to do the same, but he’s too late – Patrick shoots himself and all of his thoughts are instantly transferred to James, who starts to act in a very uncharacteristic manner …..

The Last Lonely Man by John Brunner was originally published in 1964.  It was the second story by Brunner to be adapted for OOTU (following Some Lapse of Time from series one).  The Last Lonely Man is certainly the lesser of the two tales, as whilst it has an interesting premise the logical flaws are very apparent.

It is addressed in the story, but the notion of people inheriting multiple personalities is a bizarre one.  It must surely lead to schizophrenia or as in James’ case, we see his warm and friendly personality submerged by the less attractive characteristics of Patrick.  That’s the crux of the story, but his experience can hardly be an isolated case, can it?

There’s another odd scene where James and his wife Rowena (June Barry) go the cinema to see a film which was made in pre-Contact days.  Everybody (including James and Rowena) roar with laughter at the scenes of people dying – presumably because their thoughts wouldn’t be transferred to somebody else.  This just rings false – it’s difficult to accept that people’s personalities would change so much that they’d find death to be amusing.  There seems to be a satirical point that’s being made, but it doesn’t come over that well.

The Last Lonely Man was directed by Douglas Camfield, one of British television’s finest television directors between the mid 1960’s and the mid 1980’s.  But apart from a very striking opening sequence shot on film where we see a couple killed in a car accident (which we later learn was a government information film) there’s not a great deal of opportunity for Camfield to produce anything that noteworthy.

The rest of the story is studio-bound and fairly low-budget (the Contact machine looks uncomfortably like a hairdryer, for example) so it’s pretty much rescued by the cast.  George Cole (already a familiar face from films and television but still a decade away from his career-defining role in Minder) gives a fine performance as a decent, family man whose only mistake is to try and help someone.

Peter Halliday (cast a year earlier by Camfield in the Doctor Who story The Invasion) does play broader, but given that there had to be a clear divide between James and Patrick that’s reasonable enough.

Although the story doesn’t make much sense, it’s still worth a look for Cole’s performance.  However, given the range of stories that were made during the third series, it’s a bit of a shame that this is the only one to exist in its entirety.

Next Up – Beach Head

Out of the Unknown – Tunnel Under The World


Story by Frederik Pohl, Adapted by David Campton
Directed by Alan Cooke

When Guy Birkett (Ronald Hines) and his wife Mary (Petra Davies) wake up they are perturbed to find that they’ve had the same nightmare about being caught up in a huge explosion.  They dismiss it as a strange coincidence and attempt to enjoy their breakfast.  But it’s difficult for them to find any peace and quiet since they’re constantly interrupted by annoying advertising jingles from a variety of sources (on the radio, via the post and from loudspeakers attached to cars).

The odd thing is that whilst today is June the 15th, the next day is June the 15th again. So we see the Birketts repeat everything they did the previous day (although they’re unaware of this).  And the next day is June the 15th once more.  Eventually, thanks to the intervention of Swanson (Timothy Bateson), Guy learns the horrifying truth.

The Tunnel under the World was a short story by Frederik Pohl which was originally published in 1954. Like many of the story themes adapted for OOTU, the concept of this story (annoying advertising) is just as valid today as it was in 1954 or back in 1966, when this episode was transmitted.

The various products – Chocobites, Marlin cigarettes, Frosty Flip, Feckle Freezers, Crunchipops – all have catchy slogans, catchy jingles or unique selling points (for example, Marlin cigarettes contain a special anti-cough ingredient!).

Ronald Hines (a familiar television face from the sixties) is perfect casting as the cog in the wheel who rebels. And Timothy Bateson (always such a dependable performer during numerous decades of television and film appearances) gives another good turn here, as the man who helps Birkett to understand exactly what’s happening to all of them.

The twist ending (indeed the double twist ending) is one which I doubt many would have predicted on their first viewing. There’s also a robot which pops up at the end and is, interesting, shall we say – but it doesn’t really derail the story (by this point the viewer might expect almost anything to happen).

A biting satire about advertising and big-business, Tunnel Under The World is a more outlandish and fantastic story than the hard-SF stories which make up most of the extant episodes from the first two series.  Given the depleted nature of series two, it’s a story that I’m happy escaped the archive purges.

Next Up – The Last Lonely Man

Out of the Unknown – Level Seven


Story by Mordecai Roshwald, Adapted by J.B. Priestley
Directed by Rudolph Cartier

Level Seven is 4,500 feet beneath the Earth’s surface and it’s designed to be the last line of attack in the event of a nuclear war.  Above them are six other levels – the first four are for civilians, the fifth is for the Government, scientists and the military whilst the sixth houses Defence Command.

X127 (Keith Buckley) is one of a select number of operatives charged with pushing the buttons that will release the missiles of death and destruction on the enemy.  X117 (David Collings) works alongside him, but questions the reason for Level Seven’s existence.  Whilst X117 runs foul of the authorities, X127 has met and married R747 (Michele Dotrice).

Eventually the order to attack is given and X127 and the new X117 (Sean Arnold) fire every last missile.  The General (Anthony Bate) tells them that the war is over and they’ve won – but what price victory?  Slowly it becomes apparent that everybody in the world is dead or dying and whilst it was predicted that Level Seven would be immune, that isn’t the case.  There is no hope at all, so all they can do is to wait for the inevitable end.

Level 7 was a novel by Mordecai Roshwald which was published in 1959. Shortly after its publication it attracted the attention of J.B. Priestley who called it “‘the most powerful attack on the whole nuclear madness that any creative writer has made so far”. Priestley began work on a script for a proposed film, but for various reasons the film wasn’t made, so his screenplay was adapted for this episode of OOTU.

It goes without saying that it’s fascinating to have a writer of Priestley’s stature contributing to OOTU. Priestley’s abhorrence of nuclear weapons was well known (he was an active CND member) and in the play this is best given voice by a man and woman who venture up to the surface after the attack and report back to Level Seven what they’ve seen.

So listen to us, you people down there in the caves.  There’s nothing to see here, but twisted metal and radio-active dust.  Nothing, no birds are singing.  No flowers growing, no trees, no fields.  No men, no women, no children.  Bare burnt earth, tortured metal, murderous dust.  Nothing to see, nothing to hope for, nothing to love.  The world is like a scorched ship, abandoned by the crew.  It still revolves.  There’s day and night, sun, moon and stars, but that’s all.

Keith Buckley and Michele Dotrice are both very good as the lovers who end up as the last people alive in Level Seven.  Even better though, is David Collings as X117.  Collings would make a habit of playing characters who have some flaw in their character which proves to be their undoing – and so it was here.  X117 is eventually removed from his position due to insubordination and when we see him later he’s been reduced to working as a member of the cleaning staff and unable to remember X127 and the events that led to his “treatment”.

Anthony Bate gives a typically solid performance as the base commander, the General.  The General has an unswerving belief in the right of his side in any war and the cracks only start to appear when he realises that everybody in Levels One – Six are dead and that maybe victory over a dead planet was no victory at all.

Level Seven was directed by the legendary Rudolph Cartier.  Cartier had produced and directed Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass trilogy during the 1950’s and the two had also collaborated on the acclaimed adaptation of Nineteen Eighty Four in 1954.  As with Quatermass, Cartier favoured music from The Planets Suite by Holst (the inclusion of excerpts from Mars, Bringer of War were particularly apt).

There are lengthy film sequences throughout the episode, probably to show the large number of people working in Level Seven (we tend to only see the full compliment of crew on film).  The substantial amount of filming helps to give the story an extra sheen and given the involvement of Priestley/Cartier it’s possibly not surprising that the production team pulled out all the stops to make this as good as they possibly could.

Level Seven was a missing episode for decades and was only returned to the BBC relatively recently.  We can be thankful that it was recovered – as it’s a powerful anti-war story dramatised by one of the greatest British playwrights of the 20th century.

Next Up – Tunnel Under The World

Out of the Unknown – Lambda 1


Story by Colin Kapp, Adapted by Bruce Stewart
Directed by George Spenton-Foster

In the future, conventional travel has been rendered obsolete by the TAU craft.  It doesn’t travel on or above the Earth’s surface – instead it travels through it.  The TAU craft operates under four atomic modes – Gamma, Delta, Epsilon & Omega – with Gamma being the safest and Omega the most dangerous.

A routine passenger craft (the Elektron) slips into Omega mode and becomes trapped in solid rock with seemingly no means of escape.  UK TAU controller Paul Porter (Sebastian Breaks) has a personal stake in ensuring the craft is recovered – his wife Julie (Kate Story) is aboard.  So Porter is persuaded by Eric Benedict (Ronald Lewis) to pilot the Lambda 1 craft on a hazardous rescue mission.

Lambda 1 is something of a shambles.  There’s the germ of a good idea but the production is so flawed that it only works intermittently.  At the start of the story we’re given a great deal of information about the TAU system, the various atomic modes it uses and are introduced to numerous characters.  The problem is that there’s too much information and too many characters – so there’s not a great deal that makes a lasting impression.

As time goes on it becomes clear that Paul Porter will become an important character, but it’s not initially obvious that he’s based in the UK and isn’t on the stricken ship.  Although the action cuts back between the ship and the UK command base, it takes a while to differentiate between the two.

Charles Tingwell is good as the boozy Captain Dantor and Michael Lees is quite effective as a twitchy passenger, Ferris, but the rest of the cast don’t make much of an impression.  George Spenton-Foster’s direction is somewhat loose – cues are late, the camera positions are sometimes a little off and there are occasions when a retake would have really helped the production.

The sequences when Porter enters Omega mode and is beset by strange hallucinations work very well and they’re easily the best part of the story.  But the problems with the script, direction and performances do tend to dissipate the audience’s goodwill, so that by the end it’s difficult to imagine many people will really care about the fate of the ship and its passengers.

Certainly one of the least engaging of the surviving episodes, Lambda 1 was probably a victim of its own ambition.  By over-reaching, it ends up as a rather unsatisfying experience.

Next up – Level Seven

Out of the Unknown – The Machine Stops


Story by E.M. Forster, Adapted by Kenneth Cavander & Clive Donner
Directed by Philip Saville

The Machine Stops is set in a future world where the majority of the population live underground and in isolation – with all their needs catered for by the omnipresent Machine.  Vashti (Yvonne Mitchell) is content with this existence, but her son Kuno (Michael Gothard) isn’t.

As long as the Machine works, then everything is fine – but Kuno tells Vashti that the Machine is slowly dying and nobody knows how to repair it.  As their civilisation has become totally dependent on the Machine, how will they be able to survive if it’s not there anymore?

The oldest story adapted for OOTU, The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster was published in 1909.  Given the period it was written in, there’s a considerable amount that has become true (effectively Forster predicted the internet and instant messaging).  It’s certainly a story that has even more resonance today than it did a century ago – with our ever increasing reliance on technology, how would we be able to cope if all of our machines stopped?

The message in Forster’s story (technology is bad) isn’t particularly subtle – but it’s a thought-provoking idea that is dealt with effectively in this adaptation.  The Machine Stops is a rather different OOTU.  The first series tended to have stories that were driven very much by dialogue and character.  This one has a much smaller cast (only two main speaking parts) and much of the power of the piece comes from the visuals.  Given that OOTU’s budget wasn’t huge, this was potentially a problem – but overall it works pretty well as the sets look solid and are well-designed.  It’s also handled impressively by director Philip Saville (especially the scenes where Kuno ventures outside for the first time) and he was able to cast two quality actors as Vashti and Kuno

Yvonne Mitchell (Vashti) had appeared a decade earlier in the Cartier/Kneale production of Nineteen Eighty Four alongside Peter Cushing whilst Michael Gothard (Kuno) would enjoy success in films such as The Devils and For Your Eyes Only before his untimely death in 1992.  Although neither has the most naturalistic sounding dialogue to deliver, they do manage to make their characters come alive (their final scene, for example, is very touching).

For the visuals and the story concept, The Machine Stops has long been regarded as one of the best episodes of OOTU.  It’s played at a more heightened pace than the majority of the first series, so some may find it less rewarding – but it’s a very worthwhile adaptation of a classic piece of literary science fiction.

Next Up – Lambda 1

Out of the Unknown – The Midas Plague


Story by Frederik Pohl, Adapted by Troy Kennedy-Martin
Directed by Peter Sasdy

The Midas Plague depicts a society where robots are responsible for producing all the goods that the human population could ever need.  The problem is that the robots are producing them at a faster rate than they can be used, so people are trapped in an ever-increasing cycle of consumerism.

The poorer you are, the more goods you have to consume – so the larger your house is, the more cars you own, etc.  But as you move up the social scale, you are allowed to consume less – until you reach the very top where you can live a live of simplicity, unfettered by the useless trappings of society.

Morrey Anderson (Graham Stark) is a typical example of a lower-class worker.  He lives in a large house, staffed with a huge number of robots and along with his wife Edwina (Anne Lawson) they are surrounded by more furniture, food, drink and other products than they could ever hope to consume.  But he has a plan.  In his spare time he’s been working on a way to adjust his robots so that they can help consume some of the Anderson’s quota of products.  This he does – leading to the incongruous sight of drunken robots! But what will the authorities do when they find out?

The Midas Plague was written by Frederik Pohl and was originally published in 1954.  The satirical point it makes is pretty broad and this is broadened even further in Troy Kennedy-Martin’s adaptation.  Kennedy-Martin was a writer of some repute (he had already created Z Cars and would later be responsible for The Italian Job and Edge of Darkness) which does make him something of a left-field choice to adapt this type of story.

There’s plenty of humour in Kennedy-Martin’s screenplay and it’s pushed even further by director Peter Sasdy.  The opening scene has jaunty music by Max Harris which instantly tells us that this isn’t going to be the most serious of stories.  Casting Graham Stark in the lead role (already a familiar face from tv and film comedies) was another sign that this would be an episode of OOTU in a light-hearted vein.

Whilst not everything works (Harris’ music remains relentlessly jaunty, which begins to pall after a while) there’s some lovely moments of comedy which do hit the mark.  Most of these are concerned with Morrey’s robots once he’s turned them into avid consumers.  Whilst the robot costumes are pretty low-rent (intentional or budget related I wonder?) after a while that isn’t a problem and good actors like Anthony Dawes (as the most prominent robot, Henry) are able, even behind inflexible masks, to give performances of character.  I love the scene where he ambles into a bar and asks for a drink.  The robot behind the bar refuses to serve him and a fight breaks out, so Henry ends up in the dock!

Sam Kydd (as Fred) is good value as a house-breaker who doesn’t steal things, instead he’s paid by people to take their stuff and put it into other people’s homes.  John Barron (as the prime-minster, Sir John) has a small, but telling, role.

The Midas Plague is a fairly broad comedy and probably won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but there’s a lot to enjoy and it’s certainly different from the majority of the stories from the first series.

Next up – The Machine Stops

Out of the Unknown – Thirteen to Centaurus


Story by J.G. Ballard, Adapted by Stanley Miller
Directed by Peter Potter

Thirteen to Centaurus opens on a space-station which is run by a crew of thirteen.  It becomes clear quite quickly that all of them, apart from Dr Francis (Donald Houston), have had their minds conditioned.  But Abel (James Hunter) is beginning to rebel and questions why they are here and what they are doing.

Dr Francis takes Abel into his confidence and tells him that they are actually on a “multi-generation space vehicle” which is traveling from Earth to Alpha Centauri.  Given that the ship can only travel at sub-light speed, it will take hundreds of years before the ship makes planetfall and Dr Francis explains that none of them will ever set foot on the new planet – this is a privilege reserved for future generations.  The truth is rather more complicated though and once Dr Francis has encouraged Abel to think for himself, the young man is dogged in his determination to discover all of the answers.

Thirteen to Centaurus was a short story by J.G. Ballard originally published in 1962.  The story, and of course this episode of OOTU, has a major twist – which for those coming to it for the first time I won’t reveal.  It certainly pushes the tale in a different direction and poses some interesting questions.

The conditioning (or effectively brainwashing) that the ship’s crew are subjected to is an intriguing part of the story.  Early on we see some of them working out in the gym and chanting “There is no other world than this. There are no other creatures but the chosen and their children shall inherit the Universe”.  This is an unsettling moment (absent from Ballard’s story) which is creepily effective.

As Abel’s reasoning grows, he begins to question more and more and effectively reverses the pupil/master relationship between himself and Dr Francis.  Like the majority of the crew, James Hunter is somewhat wooden as Abel (we could assume this is intentional – due to the conditioning he’s been subjected to).  Donald Houston as Dr Francis is pretty solid, although his performance isn’t, at times, particuarly subtle (see Moonbase 3 for more examples of Houston’s unsubtle acting choices in a sci-fi setting).

Back on Earth, there’s some quality actors (John Abineri, Noel Johnson, Robert James) who debate the future of the ship and the fate of the thirteen people onboard.  The decision is out of their hands though – it rests with Abel who has taken control of the ship.  The last few minutes are riveting and it’s certainly an ending that lives long in the memory.

Possibly the strongest of the surviving episodes from the first series, Thirteen to Centaurus is a quality production adapted from a strong story which still packs a punch today.  For anybody who wants an introduction to OOTU this is an ideal episode to start with.

Next Up – The Midas Plague

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

Out of the Unknown – Sucker Bait


Story by Isaac Asimov, Adapted by Meade Roberts
Directed by Naomi Capon

An expedition has journeyed out to a distant planet to try and discover why, a century earlier, an attempt to colonise the planet failed – resulting in the deaths of all the colonists.  On-board is Mark Annuncio (Clive Endersby) of the Mnemonic Service.  Mnemonics are special people – isolated from normal human contact from an early age, they are capable of retaining vast amounts of information (something which is impossible for a ordinary person).  In effect, they are human computers.

Although Mark is chaperoned by Dr Sheffield (John Meillon) he still manages to antagonise the majority of the crew – such as the microbiologist Rodriguez (Tenniel Evans) – by telling them that their views are essentially worthless.  Naturally, the experienced scientists have no time for somebody they view as little more than an annoying child.  But this strange, gifted teenager may be the crew’s only hope to save all their lives …..

Sucker Bait, a novella written by Isaac Asimov, was originally published in 1954 across several issues of Outstanding Science Fiction.  The story translates quite well to the OOTU format, although it is one of the lesser stories from the first series.  One of the problems is that Mark Annuncio is a fairly annoying character – this is part of the reason why he’s a gifted mnemonic, but dramatically a slightly more human and engaging personality would have worked better.

The scientists are all fairly one-note as well, although their ranks are swelled by good actors like Tenniel Evans and Burt Kwouk also has a decent role.  It’s a dense, wordy, scientific story that does sag a little towards a rather anti-climatic end.  And there are times when the production shortcomings are very apparent – the surface of the planet appears to be made from polystyrene, for example.

Not the strongest episode then, but the source material from Asimov is sound enough and the mystery of the planet (whilst quite low-key) is reasonably intriguing.

Next Up – Some Lapse of Time

Out of the Unknown – Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come ….. ?


Written by Mike Watts
Directed by Paddy Russell

Henry Wilkes (Milo O’Shea) loves his wife Monica (Christine Hargreaves) and he loves his garden.  Nothing unusual there, you may think – but his garden is unusual. It’s full of plants that almost seem to be intelligent and they appear to respond when Henry talks to them.  But things start to go awry when the plants attack a rather annoying boy (Jack Wild) and then Monica’s dog goes missing – and it was last seen in the garden …..

Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come ….. ? was written by Mike Watts and was the second original story from the first series of OOTU.  As the brief synopsis above indicates, this is something of a comedy – although events do take a very dark turn.

As so often with episodes of OOTU (and indeed with television drama of this era) the cast is first-rate.  Milo O’Shea gives a fine performance as the mild-mannered Henry, who loves to talk to his plants and even give them a little tickle from time to time! Christine Hargreaves (one of the original cast members of Coronation Street) is also very good as a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown – brought on by the strange goings-on in the garden.  Eric Thompson (responsible for the voices on The Magic Roundabout) and Patsy Rowlands also impress, whilst the ever dependable Bernard Kay pops up towards the end as a police officer who’s somewhat out of his depth.

The garden is very well designed and it’s probably just as well that the more animated sequences were shot on film (this would have allowed greater flexibility in shooting the various plant movements).  Director Paddy Russell handles both the effects and the human drama with aplomb and whilst it’s a slowly paced piece, the scripting and acting are sharp enough to not make this an issue.

Another sideways story in a series that already has demonstrated you can never be sure what you’ll see next – Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come ….. ? is another stand-out tale from the early episodes of OOTU.

Next Up – Sucker Bait