Extras announced for the BFI DVD of Out Of The Unknown (due Oct 2014)

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An impressive list of extras have been announced for the BFI DVD of Out Of The Unknown, due for release in October 2014. In addition to the twenty surviving episodes –

Return of the Unknown (2014, 42 mins). All-new documentary with cast and crew interviews, and clips from lost episodes.

11 audio commentaries with cast, crew and experts. Moderated by actor-comedian Toby Hadoke.

Archival interview with director James Cellan Jones.

Episode reconstructions for Beach Head, The Naked Sun, The Yellow Pill, and The Uninvited.

Film insert from Deathday episode.

Seven extensive stills galleries.

Fully illustrated booklet with essays by Out of the Unknown expert Mark Ward.

Out Of The Unknown was a ground-breaking BBC science fiction anthology series that ran between 1965 and 1971. OOTU adapted stories from the likes of Frederick Pohl, E.M. Forster, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and John Wyndham with an impressive roll-call of talent both in front of and behind the camera.

Acting-wise, George Cole, Wendy Craig, Graham Stark, Rachel Roberts, David Hemmings, Warren Mitchell, Hannah Gordon and Burt Kwouk were amongst the featured players whilst Ridley Scott was one of a number of designers who brought the series’ future visions to life.

Initially this was going to be a fairly bare-bones release, but the BFI were amenable to consider various proposals regarding extras.  For example, Toby Hadoke (an experienced commentary moderator on the Doctor Who DVDs) approached them on spec and the result is a series of commentaries that should be one of the highlights of the release.

This looks like it should be one of the best Archive TV releases of the year.

A brief history of OOTU is here with a full DVD review to follow in October.

Out Of The Unknown (BBC2, 1965-1971)

 

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Out Of The Unknown was an anthology programme that ran for four series between 1965 and 1971. Whilst the majority of the episodes were adaptations of already published stories, others (particularly those in the fourth series) were original works.

The first three series concentrated on science fiction stories, whilst the fourth and final series had a broader remit – covering psychological horror and supernatural themes.

Like most programmes of the era, many episodes were wiped following transmission. Of the 49 episodes, only 20 now remain complete in the archive.  In addition to this, a thirty minute section of The Little Black Bag exists, whilst there are shorter clips from The Fox and the Forest, Andover and the Android, Satisfaction Guaranteed, Liar! and The Last Witness.  Complete audio soundtracks also exist for The Naked Sun, Beach Head, The Yellow Pill and The Uninvited.

With a seven disc DVD due to be released shortly by the BFI, this would seem to be a good time to take a brief look at the production history of the series.

Background

Irene Shubik had joined ABC Television in 1960, working as a story editor on Armchair Theatre under producer Sydney Newman.  Both were keen on producing a SF version of Armchair Theatre, so Out Of This World was born.  It was transmitted on ABC in 1962 and was presented by Boris Karloff with Leonard White producing and Shubik acting as story editor.

Like the later Out Of The Unknown, the series was a mixture of adaptations and new stories.  Short stories were adapted from writers including Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick and Clifford D. Simak.  The series was also noteworthy for including the first original SF script from a young Welsh writer called Terry Nation.  A year later he would contribute the second story to a new Saturday tea-time series for BBC1 called Doctor Who, and his creations – The Daleks – would remain iconic figures to this day.

Shortly after the transmission of Out Of This World, Sydney Newman moved to the BBC to take up the post as Head of Drama.  He would take many colleagues from ABC with him, including Shubik.  Shubik agreed to move provided she was promoted to producer within a year.  Newman agreed, and Shubik joined the BBC in 1963.

Her first job was as story editor on Story Parade.  This was designed to be the main drama strand on the new channel, BBC2, and was an anthology series that adapted some popular modern novels.  One of the best received episodes was a dramatisation of Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel starring Peter Cushing.  The success of this led to Shubik’s opportunity to create a new SF series, Out Of The Unknown, for which she would be both story editor and producer.  George Spenton-Foster would act as associate producer.

Series One

Shubik was quickly to find that sourcing acceptable material was something of a problem.  She was later to say that in order to select a dozen stories she had to read hundreds more.  And even when Shubik found a story that she considered worthy of adaptation, the problems were far from over.  Sometimes it was impossible to agree terms with the author or the copyright holders or it could be that the concepts would be impossible to realise on the available budget.

John Carnell, founder of the SF magazine New Worlds was a valuable contact.  He suggested many stories and authors for Shubik to investigate.  She also had many thoughts of her own, one tantalising possibility – sadly never realised – was the idea to approach Nigel Kneale to request a new Quatermass story.

After all the sifting of material, Shubik had assembled a series of twelve stories.  Ten were adaptations of existing material with two original scripts.

The first series was broadcast between October and December 1965.  The episodes listed in bold are the ones that exist in the archives.

101 “No Place Like Earth” by John Wyndham, adapted by Stanley Miller
102 “The Counterfeit Man” by Alan Nourse, adapted by Philip Broadley
103 “Stranger in the Family” by David Campton
104 “The Dead Past” by Isaac Asimov, adapted by Jeremy Paul
105 “Time in Advance” by William Tenn, adapted by Paul Erickson
106 “Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come…?” by Mike Watts
107 “Sucker Bait” by Isaac Asimov, adapted by Meade Roberts
108 “The Fox and the Forest” by Ray Bradbury, adapted by Terry Nation
109 “Andover and the Android” by Kate Wilhelm, adapted by Bruce Stewart
110 “Some Lapse of Time” by John Brunner, adapted by Leon Griffiths
111 “Thirteen to Centaurus” by J. G. Ballard, adapted by Stanley Mille
112 “The Midas Plague” by Frederik Pohl, adapted by Troy Kennedy Martin

There was some debate as to which was the better story to open the series with.  Whilst The Counterfeit Man by Alan Nourse was considered to be a strong episode, No Place Like Earth was adapted from a tale by the respected writer John Wyndham.  Newman decided to lead with the Wyndham, which was essentially two individual Wyndham stories joined together to produce the final programme.

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The critical response was poor, with The Times writing that although there was a clear social message, the story moved: “so extremely slowly and with heavily sententious dialogue underlining what is perfectly clear without its assistance.”

The second episode, The Counterfeit Man, gained more positive reviews, which seemed to confirm that it would have been sensible to debut with this story.  The Guardian wrote that: “this space crew was one of the most original and well-executed ideas I have seen on television.”

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After its fairly uncertain start, both the critical response and the ratings had picked up, so that by the time the final episode was transmitted, Out Of The Unknown was BBC2’s second most popular drama programme, after the US import The Virginian.

Series Two

As with the first series, Shubik made extensive research to locate suitable stories.  Whilst in the US, she placed an advertisement in the Science Fiction Writers Association magazine requesting suitable stories.  This yielded a response from Larry Eisenberg, who had two of his stories adapted.  Another two Isaac Asimov stories were tackled and there were three original scripts – by Hugh Leonard, Hugh Whitmore and William Trevor.

Probably the most critically acclaimed script from series two was The Machine Stops, adapted from the story by E.M. Forster.  Directed by Philip Saville, Shubik later called it “the most complex and technically demanding script I have ever had in my hands”.

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The hard work paid off as the story garnered impressive reviews as well as first prize at the International Science Fiction Film Festival in 1967.

The second series was broadcast between October 1966 and January 1967.  Surviving stories are highlighted in bold.

201 “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster, adapted by Kenneth Cavender & Clive Donner
202 “Frankenstein Mark II” by Hugh Whitmore
203 “Lambda 1” by Colin Kapp, adapted by Bruce Stewart
204 “Level Seven” by Mordecai Roshwald, adapted by  J. B. Priestley
205 “Second Childhood” by Hugh Leonard
206 “The World in Silence” by John Rankine, adapted by Robert Gould
207 “The Eye” by Henry Kuttner, adapted by Stanley Miller
208 “Tunnel Under the World” by Frederik Pohl, adapted by David Campton
209 “The Fastest Draw” by Larry Eisenberg, adapted by Hugh Whitmore
210 “Too Many Cooks” by Larry Eisenberg, adapted by Hugh Whitmore
211 “Walk’s End” by William Trevor
212 “Satisfaction Guaranteed” by Isaac Asimov, adapted by Hugh Leonard
213 “The Prophet” by Isaac Asimov, adapted by Robert Muller

Series opener, The Machine Stops, is one of the highlights from across all four series of Out Of The Unknown.  In the far future, all of humankind’s needs are catered for by “the machine”.  Each individual leads a solitary life, although they are connected to each other via the machine.  Some have begun to defy the machine, but would would happen if it stopped working?

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Another surviving episode, Level Seven, has impeccable credentials.  It was adapted by the celebrated playwright, J.B. Priestley, from the novel by Mordecai Roshwald.  It was also the first of two episodes to be directed by Rudolph Cartier and ran for an extra ten minutes.  The Level Seven of the title is the lowest level of an underground nuclear bunker, where following an atomic attack the inhabitants of the bunker have no other option but to wait for the radiation to seep down to them.  The Listener wrote that: “the tension was inescapable, the excitement incontestable.”

It’s a pity that so much of the second series is missing, including the two Asimov adaptations.  The Prophet, starring Beatrix Lehman as Dr Susan Calvin sounds particularly intriguing – but we should be thankful The Machine Stops and Level Seven escaped the archive purges.

Series Three

In 1967 Shubik was offered the co-producership of BBC1’s prestigious Wednesday Play.  Alan Bromley was appointed producer for the third series of Out Of The Unknown, with Roger Parkes as script editor.  The majority of the stories had already been commissioned by Shubik (back in 1966) so that when production began in earnest in early 1968, Bromley and Parkes largely confined themselves to polishing the stories that were already in place.  It wouldn’t be until the fourth and final series that they would make their creative mark.

Notable adaptations from the third series included several more stories from Isaac Asimov.  One of them, The Naked Sun, was the sequel to The Caves of Steel, which had been dramatised for Story Parade back in 1963.  Clifford B. Simak and John Wyndham were two other popular writers who had their stories adapted whilst there were three original scripts – from Donald Bull, Brian Hayles and Michael Ashe.

The third series was broadcast between January and April 1969.  The sole existing story is highlighted in bold, whilst approximately half of The Little Black Bag also exists.

301 “Immortality, Inc.” by Robert Sheckley, adapted by Jack Pulman
302 “Liar!” by Isaac Asimov, adapted by David Campton
303 “The Last Lonely Man” by John Brunner, adapted by Jeremy Paul
304 “Beach Head” by Clifford D. Simak, adapted by Robert Muller
305 “Something in the Cellar” by Donald Bull
306 “Random Quest” by John Wyndham, adapted by Owen Holder
307 “The Naked Sun” by Isaac Asimov, adapted by Robert Muller
308 “The Little Black Bag” by C. M. Kornbluth, adapted by Julian Bond
309 “1+1=1.5” by Brian Hayles
310 “The Fosters” by Michael Ashe
311 “Target Generation” by Clifford D. Simak, adapted by Clive Exton
312 “The Yellow Pill” by Rog Phillips, adapted by Leon Griffiths
313 “Get Off My Cloud” by Peter Phillips, adapted by David Climie

Amongst the wiped stories are some interesting sounding tales, like Beach Head, which featured Ed Bishop and some impressive sets as well as Brian Hayles’ 1 + 1 = 1.5.  This is set in the early 21st century where the population is strictly limited, so there is embarrassment when the wife of a population officer becomes pregnant for the second time, despite being licenced for only one child.

The only story that survives complete from this series is The Last Lonely Man by John Brunner, adapted by Jeremy Paul.  In the future, those close to death can choose to transfer their memories to a relative or a friend.  But Patrick (Peter Halliday) appears to be friendless and unloved, so what can he do?

The final story of series three sounds particularly intriguing.  Get Off My Cloud tells the story of SF writer Marsham Craswell (Peter Jeffrey) who has had a nervous breakdown and is lying inert in a hospital bed.  To bring him back to reality, the doctors use a new device that links Craswell’s mind with that of Peter Parnell (Donal Donnelly).  Together they join forces to battle the demons in Craswell’s mind.

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After a two year gap, Out Of The Unknown would return for a final series.

Series Four

In many ways the fourth and final series bore little resemblance to the previous three series.  Alan Bromley was of the opinion that in the aftermath of the early Moon landings: “just setting a story somewhere in space is not the automatic thrill it once was.”

Rather than SF, series four would concentrate on stories of psychological suspense and only one episode, Deathday, was an adaptation of an existing work – the remainder were original stories.

The fourth series was broadcast between April and June 1971.  Existing stories are highlighted in bold.

401 “Taste of Evil” by John Wiles
402 “To Lay A Ghost” by Michael J. Bird
403 “This Body Is Mine” by John Tully
404 “Deathday” by Angus Hall, adapted by Brian Hayles
405 “The Sons and Daughters of Tomorrow” by Edward Boyd
406 “Welcome Home” by Moris Farhi
407 “The Last Witness” by Martin Worth
408 “The Man in My Head” by John Wiles
409 “The Chopper” by Nigel Kneale
410 “The Uninvited” by Michael J. Bird
411 “The Shattered Eye” by David T. Chantler

Some viewers were dismayed by the move away from SF and there’s no denying that the results were pretty mixed.  With 5 of the 11 episodes existing, we have a fairly good cross section of stories in which to judge the series overall.

Best of what remains is The Man In My Head by John Wiles.  Set at some point in the future, a group of soldiers are carrying out a mission of sabotage.  They don’t know exactly who they are fighting or why, because their instructions have been subliminally implanted and are triggered by radio impulses.  As the debate of brainwashing soldiers in Vietnam was still very current, this was a story that is certainly in tune with the times.

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Right at the other end of the scale is To Lay A Ghost by Michael J. Bird.  This story has long been a topic of debate and it will be interesting to see how it is received once it is more widely available via the DVD.  Newly-married Eric Carver (Iain Gregory) and Diana (Lesley-Anne Down) move into their dream-house, but there seems to be something wrong.

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Diana has been traumatised after being raped as a schoolgirl, and whilst their relationship has never been physical, Eric is patient and loving.  When strange things happen in their new house, Eric calls in para-psychologist Dr Phillimore (Peter Barkworth) who concludes that the house is haunted by the ghost of a murderer and rapist and that Diana’s own repressed sexual desires have summoned the ghost. Therefore we are left with the impression that Diana can only gain sexual gratification via rape, which is pretty distasteful.

It’s a shame that this story exists, but that Nigel Kneale’s “The Chopper” – starring Patrick Troughton – doesn’t.  Garage owner Jimmy (Troughton) converts motorbikes into choppers and has just done so with one that was mangled after a nasty accident.  The spirit of the dead owner is reluctant to leave the bike though, and is keen on wreaking as much destruction as possible.

Conclusion

With less than half the episodes from the four series existing, it sometimes can be difficult to assess exactly how good the series was.  From what exists, there are certainly some quality productions as well as some more plodding ones.

The forthcoming DVD should allow a fuller reassessment  of what remains, as the copies which have been in circulation for the last few decades are mostly fairly poor quality, with some of them being timecoded dubs from the original BBC master tapes.

The DVD copies will, of course, offer a substantial increase in picture quality.  So when we can clearly see and hear the story, some editions may be more warmly received!

It is a shame that some of the more intriguing episodes are lost – such as Asimov’s The Naked Sun (along with virtually the rest of the third series) and Nigel Kneale’s original script for series four.

But what we do have is a pretty decent collection of stories, although heavily concentrated on the first series (ten episodes exist from series one with the remaining ten episodes drawn from series two – four).

With so many BBC programmes languishing in the archive, it’s wonderful to see the time and care taken by the BFI to release this and with a good collection of supplementary features to compliment the stories.  Hopefully sales will be healthy which maybe will allow other treasures to be released in the future.

Commentary participants for Out Of The Unknown (BFI DVD) announced

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The commentary participants for the forthcoming BFI DVD of Out Of The Unknown (to be released in October 2014) have been announced by Toby Hadoke on his website.

All commentaries are moderated by Toby and they feature a comprehensive collection of guests –

No Place Like Earth with Mark Ward (Out Of The Unknown expert) and Dan Rebellato (playwright, lecturer and John Wyndham expert).

The Dead Past with John Gorrie (director) and Brian Hodgson (Special Sounds).

Time In Advance with Peter Sasdy (director), Wendy Gifford (Polly), Philip Voss (Police Officer) and Danvers Walker (Dan).

Sucker Bait with Clive Endersby (Mark), Roger Croucher (Fawkes).

Some Lapse Of Time with Roger Jenkins (director), John Glenister (PA), Jane Downs (Diana Harrow) and Delena Kidd (Dr Laura Denville).

The Midas Plague with Peter Sasdy.

The Machine Stops with Philip Saville (director), Kenneth Cavander (adaptor), Michael Imison (story editor).

Level 7 with Mordecai Roshwald (author), Michael Imison (story editor).

This Body Is Mine with John Carson (Allen).

Welcome Home with Moris Fahri (writer), Bernard Brown (Bowers Two).

The Man In My Head with Peter Cregeen (director), Tom Chadbon (Brinson), Jeremy Davies (designer).

Given the short time that was available to record these commentaries, the range of participants assembled Is extremely impressive.  The 11 commentary tracks should shine plenty of new light on the making of these stories and they promise to be one of the highlights of an impressive sounding package.

The complete list of extras can be found here.

A brief history of Out Of The Unknown is here.

Trailer for the BFI DVD release of Out of the Unknown

With the release of Out of the Unknown less than a week away, the BFI have put this rather nice trailer up.

This link will take you to the BFI’s website, where there’s highlights of an Out of the Unknown panel moderated by Toby Hadoke and featuring director John Gorrie, SFX sound engineer Brian Hodgson and author Mark Ward.

For more info on the DVD set, please look here, here and here.

An overview of all four series can be found here.

Out of the Unknown (BFI DVD Review)

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As I’ll be posting individual reviews of each episode as I move through the set during the next month or two, I’m going to take a quick look here at the content in general, the picture quality and also examine the special features.  The episodes and special features are spread across the seven discs like this –

Disc One
No Place Like Earth (+ audio commentary) (53 minutes)
The Counterfeit Man (59 minutes)
Stranger in the Family (53 minutes)
The Dead Past (+ audio commentary) (60 minutes)
Stills Gallery 1 (6 minutes)

Disc Two
Time in Advance (+ audio commentary) (58 minutes)
Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come…? (61 minutes)
Sucker Bait (+ audio commentary) (59 minutes)
Stills Gallery 2 (4 minutes)

Disc Three
Some Lapse of Time (+ audio commentary) (60 minutes)
Thirteen to Centaurus (60 minutes)
The Midas Plague (+ audio commentary) (63 minutes)
Stills Gallery 3 (3 minutes)

Disc Four
The Machine Stops (+ audio commentary) (51 minutes)
Lambda I (51 minutes)
Level Seven (+ audio commentary) (60 minutes)
Tunnel Under the World (52 minutes)
Stills Gallery 4 (9 minutes)

Disc Five
The Last Lonely Man (50 minutes)
Beach Head [reconstruction] (50 minutes)
The Naked Sun [reconstruction] (50 minutes)
The Little Black Bag [incomplete] (31 minutes)
An Interview with James Cellan Jones (16 minutes)
Stills Gallery 5 (19 minutes)

Disc Six
The Yellow Pill [reconstruction] (50 minutes)
To Lay a Ghost (50 minutes)
This Body is Mine (+ audio commentary) (49 minutes)
Deathday (48 minutes)
Deathday film insert (1 minute)
Stills Gallery 6 (8 minutes)

Disc Seven
Welcome Home (+ audio commentary) (50 minutes)
The Man in My Head (+ audio commentary) (48 minutes)
The Uninvited [reconstruction] (47 minutes)
Return of the Unknown (42 minutes)
Stills Gallery 7 (8 minutes)

The video was restored by Peter Crocker and the audio by Mark Ayres.  Both names will be familiar to some people via their work on the Classic Doctor Who DVD range, but the PQ on OOTU is a little more variable than the Doctor Who releases.  Crocker discusses the various reasons why this is the case in the booklet included with the DVD.  For the majority of the B&W episodes, existing tape transfers were used and then cleaned up as much as possible, although some (like Tunnel under the World) had so much damage that a full restoration was impossible.  Generally though, the picture quality is as good as could be expected.  The film sequences on some stories are out of phase (a common occurrence on material of this age) but it’s difficult to see how, given the time and budget, things could have been any better.

The menu screens are quite simple, with a static image and no music.

Apart from the audio commentaries (where the ever-cheerful Toby Hadoke teases reminiscences from both actors and technical staff) and a new 42 minute documentary, the most substantial extras are four reconstructed episodes.  Anybody who’s ever seen a Doctor Who recon will be familiar with how three of them (Beach Head, The Naked Sun and The Yellow Pill) are presented.  Available publicity photographs (along with a little CGI) have been married up to the original soundtrack to produce a pretty watchable experience.  The audios all sound pretty good (and subtitles can be switched on if there’s ever any muffled dialogue).  The audio of The Naked Sun is incomplete, so subs help to explain what’s happening during the audio-less sections.  Photographs for The Uninvited are thin on the ground, so the audio for this recon is matched up to the camera script.

Below are a number of screenshots from a variety of episodes. Although I’ve only scratched the surface of this release, it looks an impressive package, with a healthy selection of special features which help to place the original stories in context.

Out of the Unknown – No Place Like Earth

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Story by John Wyndham, Adapted by Stanley Miller
Directed by Peter Potter

Ever since his home planet of Earth was destroyed, Bert (Terence Morgan) has been scratching a living on Mars as an odd-job man.  Mars isn’t such a bad place – the indigenous population are unspoilt and friendly, but he yearns for a chance to build a new Earth.

When he hears about the colony on Venus, it seems like just the chance he’s been looking for.  But he quickly realises that it’s a brutal totalitarian regime that ruthlessly exploits the primitive locals (the Griffas).  Bert is attached to a work-party run by the merciless Khan (George Pastell).  Khan mocks Bert’s idealism and asks him to name one great civilisation that wasn’t built on exactly this type of labour.

Eventually Bert comes to realise that his future doesn’t involve creating a new Earth, instead it’s back on Mars with the people that he loves and who love him.

Out of the Unknown producer Irene Shubik wasn’t keen to launch the series with this episode, but head of drama (Sydney Newman) insisted.  Then, as now, the name of John Wyndham was a considerable draw.

Whilst No Place Like Earth isn’t the strongest story from the early run of the series, it still has plenty of interest.  Terence Morgan (a familiar face from the ITC swashbuckler Sir Francis Drake) is good value as the idealistic Bert.  Alan Tilvern is smoothly persuasive as Blane, the man who recruits Bert to work on Venus whilst George Pastell is suitably boo-hiss evil as the brutal Khan.

The moral of the story isn’t particularly subtle, but it’s a reasonable enough message which deserves to be heard.  The matte shot at the start of the story (showing Bert piloting his craft on the Martian lakes) is very impressive.  The exploding spaceship at the end is, sadly, rather less impressive.

Next Up – The Counterfeit Man

Out of the Unknown – The Counterfeit Man

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Story by Alan Nouse, Adapted by Philip Broadley
Directed by George Spenton-Foster

After the somewhat sedate opening episode, The Counterfeit Man offers a sharp change of pace – with much more of a hard-SF feel and a theme of body horror. As we’ll see as we make our way through the series, this was always one of OOTU’s great strengths – the tone would change from week to week, so you could never predict the type of story that would turn up next.

The crew of a space-ship are returning home to Earth after a mission to one of Jupiter’s moons – Ganymede. However, Dr Crawford (Alexander Davion) is perturbed by the medical records of one of the crew, Westcott (David Hemmings). Westcott has a blood sugar level of zero, which is impossible. Crawford is convinced that Westcott was killed on Ganymede and his form was then assumed by an unknown alien entity.

Crawford decides that the only way to be certain is to push Westcott to the point of madness and force the alien to reveal its true nature ….

A year before he achieved international fame in Blow Up, Hemmings took the lead role in this creepily effective OOTU. Westcott is so normal and well-balanced that it’s impossible to believe he could be a murderous alien. Hemmings is able to portray very effectively Westcott’s descent into madness as Crawford initiates a witch-hunt against him.

Due to all the crew sporting similar haircuts, it took a little while for me to twig that Crawford was played by Alexander Davion (who had starred alongside John Gregson in Gideon’s Way). Davion goes a little over the top at times, but it’s still a good turn – especially the ending which he plays very well.

The space-ship has a very pleasing design – there’s something about the 1960’s version of the distant future which is quite effective. All the solid-state technology may look a little out of date, even now, but it does have an undeniable charm. Music is generally quite sparse, except for the visual sequences of Westcott’s disintegration. Some of the sound effects will be very familiar to anybody who’s ever watched the black and white Doctor Who’s.

A strong episode, with good performances and an unsettling ending.

Next up – Stranger in the Family

Out of the Unknown – Stranger In The Family

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Written by David Compton
Directed by Alan Bridges

Charles Wilson (Peter Copley) stands at the window of his flat, his eighteen year-old son by his side.  Wilson tells him that “down there swarm the ordinary millions. When they stumble across anything they are not used to they panic, they destroy”.

Wilson’s son, known simply as “Boy” (played by Richard O’Callaghan) is the thing they would seek to destroy.  Boy is a mutant – he possesses amazing mental powers which allow him to read minds and command anybody to instantly obey his will.  Because of these gifts, his parents are forced to move him from place to place whenever anybody becomes suspicious.

But it seems that wherever they go, they will always attract attention.  Brown (John Paul) has moved into the flat next door and seems very intersted in Boy.  It becomes clear very quickly that he’s part of a team (headed by Evans, played by Jack May) who have a very definite interest in him.  Then Boy becomes infatuated with Paula (Justine Lord), a beautiful young actress, but she also has her own agenda.  Will he be able to control himself or will they all push him into terrible acts?

After two futuristic tales, OOTU came back to contemporary Earth with a bump.  Although the majority of stories from the first three series were adaptations of existing material, there were also several original ones – of which this, written by David Compton, was the first.

It’s a pity that the original film inserts no longer exist, as this renders the opening sequences (where we see Boy wandering the streets pursued by a mysterious stranger) somewhat indistinct.  Richard O’Callaghan (the son of Patricia Hayes) is engaging as the confused, gentle Boy who has powers that he sometimes finds difficult to control.

John Paul (later to star in Doomwatch) is smooth as the mysterious Brown, whilst his future Doomwatch co-star Joby Blanshard also appears (he’s the unfortunate Hall who’s forced into the path of a lorry by Boy).  Brown blames Boy for Hall’s death and becomes increasingly antagonistic towards him.

As might be expected, the ending is pretty downbeat.  Featuring few science fiction trappings, this operates much more as a slice of contemporary drama (although there is a slightly surreal edge to Alan Bridges’ direction, as he tends to focus things from Boy’s point of view – best seen in the opening film sequences).

Whilst this does feel a little drawn out at just under 60 minutes, the quality of the cast (Richard O’Callaghan, John Paul, Peter Copley and Justine Lord amongst others) helps to maintain the impetus of the episode.

Next Up – The Dead Past

Out of the Unknown – The Dead Past

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Story by Isaac Asimov, Adapted by Jeremy Paul
Directed by John Gorrie

Although time-travel is impossible, the chronoscope is the next best thing – as it allows the user to focus in on events from the past.  The problem is that there’s only one such device in existence and its use is strictly regulated by the authorities.  Historian Arnold Potterley (George Benson) has been waiting two years to use it in order to study his special area of research (Ancient Carthage) but he’s finally been refused permission by Thaddeus Araman (David Langton).

Potterley rails against the walls of government bureaucracy built by men like Araman, so he decides to find somebody to build him a personal chronoscope.  Jonas Foster (James Maxwell) does so, but the results are far from what Potterley and Foster expected ….

The Dead Past, originally published in 1956, quickly became a favourite amongst Asimov’s readership (and it was also well regarded by Asimov himself).  This, plus the fact that it could be made with a small cast and a handful of sets, obviously ensured it was an ideal candidate for Out of the Unknown.

It’s very much a story of ideas and not action so it may not hold the attention of everybody.  But the cast help to bring the story to life – particularly David Langton, Sylvia Coleridge and Willoughby Goddard.

Langton (best known for his role in Upstairs Downstairs) is very good as the bureaucrat who may not be quite as faceless as he seems. Coleridge plays Arnold Potterley’s wife and whilst Potterley wishes to use the chronoscope to delve into the mysteries of the ancient past, she wants to go back twenty years or so to see their dead child. Coleridge’s performance in those scenes is heartbreaking.  Goddard (complete with cloak and eye-patch) provides some welcome comic relief.

The twist in the tale brings this thoughtful, reflective story to a satisfying conclusion.

Next Up – Time In Advance

Out of the Unknown – Time in Advance

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Story By William Tenn, Adapted by Paul Erickson
Directed by Peter Sasdy

Nick Crandall (Edward Judd) and Otto Henck (Mike Pratt) are pre-criminals, who have returned to Earth after serving seven years hard labour on a variety of dangerous, frontier worlds.  Pre-criminals are people who have confessed to criminal intent – and once they’ve served their sentence they’re allowed to murder one man or one woman.

Crandall wishes to kill Frederick Stephenson, the man who stole his invention and cheated him out of a fortune, whilst Henck has been waiting seven years to murder his two-timing wife.  But things don’t turn out quite the way they planned  ….

Time In Advance was a short story, originally published in 1956, by the British-born author Philip Klass (writing under the pseudonym of William Tenn).  The concept of state-legislated murder is a dramatically interesting one, so it was just the sort of story that producer and story editor Irene Shubik was looking for.

Edward Judd, who had a long acting career, is very solid as Crandall.  It’s very much his story and he’s able to give his character a little depth and motivation so that by the end you do actually care about his fate.  Pratt (best known for his role as Jeff Randall in Randall and Hopkirk) plays second fiddle throughout most of the episode, although he does have a key scene at the end.  Henck’s constant wittering about how he wants to kill his wife can get a little tiresome, so it’s harder to emphasise with him.

This is a story that goes all out to depict the far future and it’s either a noble effort or somewhat embarrassing (depending on how forgiving you are of mid 1960’s low-budget sci-fi).  Although OOTU was a prestige series, it’s easy to imagine that most of the money went on locating and paying the copyrights for the stories as the production values are, at times, a little threadbare.

The squeezy-bottle spaceship has to be seen to be believed (in fact, I’ve seen it – but I still don’t believe it) and other things (such as the visu-phone) do look incredibly clunky to modern eyes.  And this production is similar to The Counterfeit Man in that everybody is sporting the same haircut – a prediction of the future that it’s difficult to imagine ever coming true.  It also seems that some of the actors were browned up, which is also a little strange.

But whilst the production may be overstretching at times, the story is very interesting and Judd’s performance is quite compelling – so I think that most people will be able to look past the sometimes dodgy visuals and enjoy another strong OOTU episode.

Next Up – Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come …?

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

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

Out of the Unknown – Sucker Bait

sucker

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 – Some Lapse of Time

lapse

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 – Thirteen to Centaurus

thirteen

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 – The Midas Plague

midas

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 – The Machine Stops

machine

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 – Lambda 1

lambda

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 – Level Seven

level

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 – Tunnel Under The World

tunnel

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 – The Last Lonely Man

last

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