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Out of the Unknown, Series 1: episode 10, “Some Lapse of Time” by John Brunner.

Cast: Max Harrow – Ronald Lewis, Diana  Harrow – Jane Downs, Smiffershon – John Gabriel,  Gordon Faulkner – Richard Gale, Laura Danville – Delena Kidd, Professor Leach – Moultrie Kelsall,

Script:  Leon Griffiths

Director: Roger Jenkins

Designer: Ridley Scott.

Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik, 

Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

“Some Lapse of Time” was first broadcast on  8 December 1965.

It is based on a short story by  John Brunner, published in February 1963 in Fantasy magazine. Brunner began writing science  fiction in the late 1950s and went on to write such influential novels as Stand on Zanzibar (1968) about overpopulation,  The Sheep Look Up (1972) about pollution,   and The Shockwave Rider (1975) about the threat to liberty posed by computers.

Like many young people in the late 1950s  Brunner was a member of Campaign  for Nuclear Disarmament,   founded  in 1958 to campaign   against the H- Bombs posssessed by  Britain the USA and Soviet Union,  which many  feared would end civilisation if  they were ever used in a war. For a time CND attracted tens of  thousands on its “Ban the bomb” marches.  Brunner organised CND caravans into Europe,  and wrote several songs for the movement, including the CND Marching Song,  which was sung on the first London to  Aldermaston March in 1958. His non-SF novel The Days of March (1988) is set in the early  days of the movement.

Leon Griffiths wrote for the Communist party newsaper  the Daily Worker for a time before going on to write for television, most famously creating Minder.

The opening  shows us  Max Harrow having a nightmare in which what look like cavemen are gathered around a fire,  performing  a ritual,  chanting and  waving what seems to be a bone of some kind. Then he dreams that he is being hunted.  When Harrow  finally awakes we learn that this is a recurring nightmare; his wife Diana  urges him to see someone at the hospital where he works.

As they talk  a policeman  rings the doorbell asking Harrow to see  a tramp they have found collapsed near his car. When he is brought in Harrow   diagnoses that the tramp is suffering from “heterocardia”,  a disease caused by radiation  from which his son Jimmy  has  died. Tests at the hosptial convince his sceptical colleagues that his diagnosis was correct, even though sufferers invariably die when young.  The tramp is clutching  something which, when they persuade him to let it go,  they realise  is a fingerbone.

Harrow and Smiffershon

When Harrow meets his wife for lunch, she is reading a newspaper whose  main headline is about an accident  at an atomic weapens base. He tells her about the tramp. He’s a very sick man…nobody knows where he came from or how he managed to stay alive until now…the police think that he came round to my place  to ask for help, but why? Harrow becomes angry when his wife presses him to see somebody about his dreams.

When the tramp regains consciousness Harrow recognises him from his dream, while the tramp recognises him. They are able to glean that his  name is Smiffershon but cannot comprehend  anything else he says.  Smiffershon   bursts into laughter when he sees Harrow’s finger.

At home Harrow again rows with his wife about the tramp. If we know what he knows about heterocardia Jimmy wouldn’t have died. Doesn’t that matter?…  It’s hard to understand but this tramp means something more. It wasn’t just chance that brought him here,  carrying that fingerbone. It’s as  if  he’s if slipped out of one of my nightmares….I just know that tramp means something special to me. ..Where does he come from?.

Laura and Smiffershon

Harrow calls in a philologist Laura Denville, an attractive blonde,  in an effort to identify his language which sounds Scandanavian.  She  comes to an unsettling conclusion, namely,  that he is speaking a form of English. He’s speaking our language as if it’s undergone a series of extreme changes. It’s the sort of difference between the English of  Langlands’  day and our own…These changes take place over hundreds of years. 

His fixation with Smiffershon leads to Harrow having another  argument  with his wife,  who  is suspicious  of  Denville.  Diana accidentally  catches his fingers in the  car door,  resulting in the end  of  one of them having  to be amputated. The dream is starting to come true, the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.

When Smiffershon is given a routine X-ray they discover that  he is  full of Strontium 90 and should be dead. He is immediately placed in isolation. Harorw calls in  archaeolgist who discovers that  the fingerbone  which they took from Smiffershon  is also full of radiation.

Both Jane and his friends are increasingly concerned for Harrow’s mental health. His colleagues try to assure  him that there is a rational explanation,  but he is now convinced that Smiffershon has come back through time after a nuclear war  to warn them of the dangers of what they are doing.

I know all about our friend the tramp now…I even recognise his face from my dreams…That old tramp hasn’t just been dusted with radioactive particles, it’s inside him, in his muscles, in his glands. He’s lived through something pretty terrible, a world we can hardly even imagine…Seven, eight, nine generations after the bombs..I am talking about an island  when the cities have gone, when fires, a hundred miles wide,  consume the fields and forest, when there’s nothing left. That’s when people stop using words like “blankets”, “shoes”, “pints  of beer”, “cigarette”. And, of course,  there’s still be people, people saturated with radioactivity like Smiffershon. 

Harrow is drugged  and is given therapy, but it does not help. Despairing, he tries to attack Smiffershon. When he is restrained he  suffers a  complete collapse and begins speaking in the same language as Smiffershon. He is taken to a psychiatric hospital with little hope of recovery. In the final minutes of the drama Laura  is able to converse with Smiffershon who confirms that everything that Harrow  suspected is true.

In my view this is the best  in the series  so far,   with real tension and disquiet created.  Ronald Lewis and John Gabriel,  in particular,  give superb  performances.

At the time of transmission the viewing public would have been familar with the idea of a nuclear war that would destroy humanity. This theme was explored in numerous novels,  television plays  and films. I have already written in an earlier post on The Chrysalids by John Wnyndham,

In addition there were the following:

Novels

The Spurious Sun, by George Borodin (1948) begins  with an H-bomb-like explosion in Scotland which ignites the upper atmosphere; savage wars ensue worldwide, the UK is eliminated by nuclear weapons, and both Leningrad and San Francisco are obliterated. 

Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley (1948) is a  satire on the potential for the destruction of humanity.

 On the Beach by Neville Shute (1957) is   set in Australia in the aftermath of a nuclear  war,  and follows the fate of  group of  people awaiting the arrival of  the fallout from the northern hemisphere. The government  issues suicide pills to the population. The novel was a worldwide bestseller and  was filmed in 1959 and again in 2000.

On the Last Day by Mervyn Jones (1958)  features  a Russian/Chinese invasion of Britain, during a non-nuclear Third World War , and of the successful attempt of the British government in exile (in Canada) to build a new intercontinental missile. Jones was  an activist  in CND.

 British television

Number Three, broadcast by the BBC on 1st  February 1953. This was dramatised from a novel by Charles Irving by Nigel Neale and  others.  Scientists at an atom research station  working on a new form of nuclear power discover  the project leader plans to  use it as a weapon.

Doomsday for Dyson  by J B Priestley, broadcast on ITV on 10th March 1958. An anti-war fantasy about a man standing trial in the afterlife for killing his family in the wake of a nuclear holocaust. It was followed by a short studio discussion on the issues raised.

Underground, broadcast  by ATV on 30th  November 1958 in the “Armchair Theatre” series.  It was written by James Forsyth, adapted from novel by Harold Rein Few Were Left, and directed by William Kotcheff.  The survivors of a nuclear holocaust are trapped in the London Underground.

The Offshore Island, broadcast by the BBC on 14th  April 1959. It was written by Michael Voysey, based on a play by  Marganita Laski, an activist in CND.  A  drama about a family whose farm remains unaffected, eight years after a nuclear war. Their peace is disturbed by a force of American soldiers and then a Russsian one.

The Poisoned Earth, broadcast by  ITV on 28th  February 1961 in the “Play of the Week” series. It was written by Arden Winch. Moral problems are raised when a new type of nuclear bomb, with limited fallout range, is developed.

The Road, broadcast by the BBC on 29 September 1963.  It was written by Nigel Kneale,  and was  part of  the “First Night” drama series.  A  scientist and a philosopher  in C18th investigate  “ghosts” that appear on Michaelmass Eve each year. In the end we realise  that they are actually visions from  the future of  people fleeing down a road from a nuclear war.  This drama   was wiped by the BBC,  but an excellent  radio radio dramatisation was broadcast in 2018, adapted by Toby Hadoke.

The War Game (1965) . Devised by Peter Watkins, this is a drama-documentary, depicting a nuclear attack  on Britain, and showing us the aftermath. The Labour government forced the BBC to cancel the screening which had been due to take place on 5 October 1965. Instead it was shown around the country by CND groups. It  was finally shown on television in July 1985.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Connecting you now…”: Crosstalk by Connie Willis (2016)

In previous posts I have written about Connie’s  other novels: To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout and All Clear, and Doomsday Book

Crosstalk is set in our own time, more or less. Briddey Flannigan is a red-haired young woman with a cool job in  a cool  US tech company Commspan, a rival to Apple etc. She has a cool boyfriend Trent Worth (an executive in the same company)  who has just asked her to  undertake a trendy new medical procedure. an EED.    Performed jointly on couples an EED connects them mentally and  enhances their emotional responses to each other. Life is perfect,  thinks Briddey.

Well almost. There are her work colleagues, for instance,  who use social  media incessantly  to find out what she is up to and relay it to each other. Briddey  can barely walk down the corridor without it being flashed around the building.

Then there’s her Irish-American  family. Her sister Kathleen, her other sister Mary  Clare,  Mary Clare’s daughter (Maeve (8 going on 18),  and  her aunt Oonagh  They constantly text or call Briddey  or leave voice messages or  call around uninvited, so that she has hardly a moment to herself, whilst they inflict their problems on her.  Kathleen is is always on the look-out for a man, Mary Clare  is obsessed with her daughter’s  health and well-being, Maeve feels suffocated  by her mother, while Aunt  Oonagh  has gone back to her Irish roots dressing in a shawl, invoking   St Patrick “and the blessed saints”  on all occasions, and is always on at   Briddey to go with her  to a Daughters of Ireland meeting.

Finally, there’s  C. B. Schwartz. C.B is the scruffy, unkempt  tech genius for Commspan who spends all his time in a freezing windowless basement laboratory working on the next big thing.  C.B.  has a pin-up of Hedy Lamarr, the Hollywood star who spent her spare time trying to come up with a frequency-hopping   device to  hide  torpedo radio signals  from the Germans  during the war. CB is a sceptic  about modern communication:

Connie Willis

Commspan promises the same thing – more communication. But that isn’t what people want. They’ve way too much already – laptops, smartphones, tablets, social  media. They’ve got connectivity coming out of their ears.There’s such a thing as being too connected, you know, especially when it comes to relationships. Relationships need less communications , not more....why does every sentence beginning”We need to talk” end in disaster.?…If people really wanted to communicate, they’d tell the truth, but they don’t…They lie constantly  on Facebook, on eHarmony, in person.

C.B. urges Briddey not to have the EED,  but she takes no notice and goes ahead with the procedure. It works,  but not in the way that Briddey was expecting

For  the rest  of the novel we follow Briddey as she embarks on a journey involving half-truths,  deceptions, narrow escapes and revelations about her  family that turn  her world upside down. We also learn something surprising about the Irish.

Crosstalk is that rare thing,  a humorous science fiction novel that works.

 

 

 

Out of the Unknown Series 1; episode 7 “Sucker Bait” by Isaac Asimov

“Sucker Bait”  was broadcast on 15th November 1965.

Cast:  Mark Annuncio_ Clive Endersby, Doctor Sheffield – John Meillon,   Fawkes – Roger Croucher,  Novee – Burt Kwouk.  Captain Follenbee- Bill Nagy

Script: Meade Roberts

Director: Naomi Capon.

Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik,  Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

“Sucker Bait” was a novella  first serialised in the February and March 1954 issues of Astounding Science Fiction, and reprinted in the 1955 collection The Martian Way and Other Stories.

The story begins on  the bridge of a spaceship in flight with countless stars visible.  (All stories like this seem to begin on  the bridge). We are in some undated future where there is a Confederation of 83,000 worlds.  Men still wear polo-necks, though, but  at least they  have the escaped the uniform blond hair of previous episodes.  The crew is multi-racial, but there are no women  on board.

Captain  Follenbee summons a crew member,  Mark Annuncio, to see him. Whilst the rest of the crew are scientists, laughing and joking   as they go about their various tasks,  Annuncio in these opening scenes  is  established as  an outsider,  who is regarded with  suspicion by the other men.   Novee comments, You’ve got to remember he’s a mnemonic, a weird and special lot.

Mark Annuncio (Clive Endersby)

Annuncio gets into an argument with the Captain when he refuses to let him see the ship’s log.  He  is rescued by  Doctor Sheffield who explains  who he   is, ostensibly  for the Captain’s benefit , but really  for our benefit what  a mnemonic does (mnemonic derives from the Greek word meaning memory).

…Computers are limited, they have to be asked questions. Sometimes it never occurs to people to ask them the right questions. Therefore mankind needs a  computer that is non-mechanical, that has some imagination. There is such a computer… in each and every one of us…Somewhere inside the human  brain is a record of every fact that’s ever been impinged upon. Very little is consciously remembered,, but it’s all there. A slight association can bring it back to us without knowing where it came from or why. Now that is called “a hunch”  or “a feeling”… Now some people  are better at it than other. Others are almost perfect,  like Mark Annuncio.

So we train them to read, look, listen and do it better and more efficiently. It doesn’t really matter what data they collect. Any data may be useful, and every in  no machine could possibly make.once in a while a mnemonic makes a correlation…You see Mark is different from us… mnemonics are taken into the service about the the age of five. In a sens etheya re force-grown. We allow them no contact  with normal people in case they develop normal  mental habits.  They are highly strung, easily upset, and  easily ruined. I am here to see that does not happen. mark is an instrumnet, the most valuable instrument on this ship. There are only a hundred like him in the universe.

When he  is annoyed (which happens quite often)  Annuncio   refers to the other crew members  as “Non Compos” which Doctor Sheffield explains means “Non Compos Mentis” ie “not of sound mind.”

The ship is heading for a planet  called Troas  which Mark has identifiied as a planet  where a colony was established, but then the colonists all died. Their mission is to find out why.  When the ship arives an expedition  – which includes Mark and Doctor Sheffield _  is sent to the  rocky surface. They find no sign of the colonists, just burial  mounds.   Increasingly the crew feel uneasy. Fawkes   wakes  from a dream believing that there was someone in the tent: They’re  all around us. Intelligent beings out there now. I’m telling you, I saw  in the tent and out here. Novee tries to convince him that it was just a nightmare.  but Fawkes is convinced that there is intelligent life on the planet.

However it is Annunncio who  realises  the real  truth of why the colonists died and takes drastic action that saves their lives. He pieces together  a number of  different   facts to reveal that  they were poisoned by beryllium, an element  that humanity has forgotten about,    but about which  he once read an obscure paper. Data matters, it seems .

My view is that  not a  great deal of drama in this story,  while the issue as to whether it is  morally right to create mnemonics is not touched on.

Naomi Capon (1921-1987), who directed the story, was one of only two women  directors working at the BBC in 1965. The other  was Paddy Russell.

 

” I remember everything”: Red Planets by Una McCormack (2018)

This Doctor Who audio adventure from Big Finish  features the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), accompanied by Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Mel (Bonnie Langford). In essence it’s  an  “alternative history” story, a genre that I am  a bit of an addict for, my favourite being Pavane by Keith Roberts.

The story weaves together three threads whose connections only slowly became apparent:  Phobos, a   Communist spaceship on its way to Mars with a solo woman cosmonaut who proclaims “Good morning, brother Mars, we come in peace from all the people of Earth but then picks up a  mysterious signal from the red planet :  Ace’s adventures in East Berlin in November 1961 where she has been dropped off by the Doctor for a short break,  but immediately gets caught up  in a John le Carré-esque  espionage plot when she rescues an agent Tom Elliot  who has been wounded trying to cross the  newly built Berlin Wall; and finally, the Doctor and Mel’s  arrival in  London in  2017 to investigate a time ripple.

But they land in  a very different London, a London which is part of the People’s Republic of Mokoshia. And Mel is behaving  very oddly, recalling events that never happened in our time line, the take-over of Western Europe by Communism  in the  mid 1960s. If nothing else,  this story is worth listening to hear  just to hear  Mel  sing a snatch of The Internationale.

Back in East Berlin, Ace  finds that strange  things are happening, streets are vanishing, the city is disappearing,  and a deadly fog is killing people. In London the Doctor is trying to work out what  has caused the change in history,  “Nothing here is right,”  but finds himself in the hands of people who seem to know a lot about him. And on Mars  the expedition is heading for a rendezvous….with something impossible. Can the Doctor reverse history or will Mokoshia “unite the human race.”

This  is a  serious-minded story, which I enjoyed, driven by the idea that single events matter, that they can  send history down  a different  route. It’s also surprisingly violent with a number of characters not making it to the finale.

 

By the way, if you like me, you are womdering where “Mokoshia” comes from, Comrade McCormack tells me that she got it Mokosh, a Slavic goddess of women’s work and destinies. Mother Russia,  in fact.

More information here.

 

 

 

 

 

The joy of text: “I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land” by Connie Willis (2018)

In previous posts I have written about Connie’s previous novels: Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the DogBlackout and All Clear.

Jim is in New York doing publicity for his  blog, Gone for Good,  (in which he apparently welcomes the disppearance of things  such as payphones and  VHS tapes). Taking a walk before his next interview, he runs across a second-hand bookstore called Ozymandias Books which  he ducks into to escape a downpour.

The inside was exactly what you’d expect: an old-fashioned wooden desk and behind it, ceiling-high shelves crammed  with books streching back  into the dimness. The store was only wide enough for a bookcase along each wall, one in the middle, and a space between just wide enough for a single customer to stand. If there’s been any customers. Which there weren’t. The only thing in the place besides the guy sitting hunched over the desk- presumably the owner – was a gray tiger cat curled up in one corner of it.

Jim cannot make sense of the way that the books are positioned on the sehelves which seems completely at random with no rhyme or reason. Then he notices a attractive  blonde young  woman  disappearing into the back of the shop, except there is  no back. He finds a door and cannor resist going through,  first  going up and then down into a vast room below street level  awash with books.

The blonde stood next to the carousel with a clip-board, supervising three burly workmen  in overalls who were scooping the books up and piling them onto big metal library carts. But not fast enough. They were working at top speed, but they still weren’t able to keep up. Books were piling up on the carousel adn beginning to fall over the edge. 

The woman is named Cassie and takes a Jim on a tour of  the  facility, which is neither  a bookstor nor a library, as Cassie is at  pains to  inform him

....libraries  are one of the biggest reasons we’re here…they destroy hundreds of thousands of books a year. They don’t call it  that, of course.  They call it ‘retiring books” or ‘pruning” or ‘culling’. Or ‘de-acquisition.’

The books are categorised  in different ways, from hoarders, attics,  garages, closed bookstores and libraries that have been  destroyed by fire or flood. Then there are sections  for  books left on beaches, dropped in the bathtub, torn up by a toddler, scribbled in etc..

Jim  thinks he has grasped what is going on.

It was an endangered -book archive, like those gorillasand elephant sanctuaries or those repositaries for rare type of seeds, to keep them from going extinct. And it was the scarcity of the book that determined its place here, not its collectible value or literary quaiity.

But  he hasn’t quite got it right.  Whereas we, the readers,  by now probably have.  You’ll need to read this novella  to find out for yourself, through.

Connie has written a paean of praise to books in all their scruffy, tattered, coffee-stained, dog-eared glory. Long may they continue.

Oh,  and the ending calls to mind  a short story by H G  Wells, The Door in the Wall.

 

Out of the Unknown, series 1 episode 6, “Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come…?” by Mike Watts (1965)

“Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come…” was broadcast on 8th November 1965.

Cast;  Henry Wilkes – Milo O’Shea; Monica Wilkes – Christine Hargreaves; Anne Lovejoy – Patsy Rowlands; Dr Chambers – Desmond Jordan; Norman – Eric Thompson; Det Sergeant Crouch – Bernard Kay; Det Constable Fraser – Alan Haywood.

Script: Mike Watts

Director: Paddy Russell

Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik,  Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

Henry and Monica

 

An original script by Mike Watts, this is a domestic  story which takes place mainly in a house and garden.  The first scene introduces us  to the jovial Mr Wilkes whom we find in his garden talking to his large plants which surround him like pets. He is telling them about a new arrival –  a plant  sent to him by his friend  Mr Pringle – whom he names “Josie” and  puts into a bed between “George” and “Francis”.

His wife Monica  suffers from  what used to be called “nerves”. She is angry at not going away on holiday, and tells Henry that the  doctor will be calling around in the evening. Henry sets off to work at his  fishmonger. When he arrives  he gets very  angry when he discovers  his assistant   Miss Lovejoy putting out parsley between the fish and tells her off. He says;

Man, animals, even fish are preying on the vegetable world. We have got to do everything we can to stop it. Look at its delicate formation. She how curly and crinkly and soft it is. ..a thing of living beauty. Now it’s all brown and dead and decayed.

 

Back at home Henry feeds the plants, talking to them as he does so,  and they respond, moving and making sounds. When Dr Chambers calls Monica  tells him that she is afraid of the garden,  It dominates the whole house. She says that it started when Henry responded to an advert in a newspaper and began  receiving plants in the post. Then disturbing things started  to happen:  the fish disappeared from the pond and the greenhouse was smashed  to pieces one night.  Henry, she says,  has become  obsessed with the plants, feeding them rabbits and  cockels and injecting them with chemicals.

Those flowers are wrong, Doctor. They don’t belong in this country yet they survive the climate. They live all through the winter and  never die. He talks to  them, he has names for them, and sometimes I think they talk to him.

Henry and his plants

Henry assuages Monica by promising that they will go on holiday but his obsession grows. He steals a drug  from his friend, the chemist Norman,  and injects one of the plants.  Monica’s dog on whom she dotes gets into garden and vanishes (snapped up as a  juicy morsel by one of the plants we presume). Monica collapses in shock  and the doctor is summoned again. Speaking to Henry in the garden he realises what disturbed him on his earlier visit, There are no birds.

No birds every come here, explains Henry. The flowers won’t let them. They’ve got minds of their own. They think. You might say I’ve educated them.

Having set the scene, the last ten minutes of the story  are quite dark with loss and tragedy and a revelation about the mysterious  Mr Pringle.

This is really a horror story rather  than a science fiction story. The acting is perfectly  fine, especially from  Milo O’Shea  and Christine Hargreaves, and the director achieves a real sense of claustropobia. Having said that  any story involving sentient unfriendly  plants struggles to escape from the shadow of The Day of the Triffids which I write about in a previous post.

Where Else  Have  I Seen Them?

Christine Hargreaves (1939-1984) (who was from Salford)  appeared in many  televison plays from the 1960s to the 1980s. Her most celebrated  role was as Pauline,  a single mother fighting the benefit system, in  “The Spongers” by Jim Allen, broadcast in 1978 in the Play  for Today series.  Like much of Allen’s work it is not available on DVD.

Bernard Kay (1928-2014)  appeared  in four Doctor Who serials: “The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964),” “The Crusades (1965),” “The Faceless Ones (1967)” and “Colony in Space (1971)”.

Paddy  Russell  (1928-2017) was one of the first women  directors at the BBC. She began as an actress and was then the first female floor manager to work at the BBC. Her credits as a director were extensive. She directed four  Doctor Who serials:  “The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve” (1966). “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” (1974), “Pyramids of Mars” (1975), and “Horror of Fang Rock” (1977). She also  directed the supernatural thriller “The Omega Factor” (1980).

Eric  Thompson (1929-1982) wrote and performing the English narration for The Magic Roundabout, which he adapted from the original French.

 

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Out of the Unknown, series 1 episode 5, “Time in Advance” by William Tenn

“Time In Advance” was broadcast on 1 November 1965.

Cast: Nicholas Crandall -, Edward Judd;  Otto Henck – Mike Pratt;   Polly – Wendy Gifford;  Marcus Henson – Dyson Lovell,  Marie –Judy Parfitt ;  Paul Ryman – Jerome Willis;   and Dan- Michael Danvers Walker.

Script by  Paul Erickson

Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik. Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

Director ;  Peter Sasdy.

“Time in Advance” is based on  a short story  by William Tenn (the pseudonym of Philip Klass) published in 1956

The story is set in a future society where you can opt to serve your sentence before committing the crime.  It  begins with  Nicholas Crandall  (525509) and Otto Henck (5245514) returning  to earth after seven year hard labour on the colony planets. The two prisoners   have survived the rigours of their hard labour by looking after each other, although Crandall has lost his hand in a lava  accident. (They arrive  aboard a  convict spaceship called  the  Jean Valjean, incidentally, please note Victor Hugo fans.)

The “pre-criminals” as they are known  leave through the “Liberty corridor” and are  now free to commit the murders that they have confessed in advance that they intend to commit.  The media are there as they emerge, eager to know the names of their victims.  After checking whether  they still want them,   the Examiner hands Crandall and  Henck  their licences which allow them “To go forth from this place and kill one man or one woman of your own choosing.”

Crandall and Henck

They lodge at the Hotel Capricorn Ritz, where you check in with a handprint and the  drinks are served by a machine. Whilst in the bar  they see their arrival announced  on television, “It might be you they are after,”  teases the newsreader. Henck intends to kill his  unfaithful wife, Elsa: Crandall has not  publicly revealed his victim,  but we learn that it   is  man called Stephensen, who  stole his work  for a unlimited power source and has  made a fortune whilst Crandall has been in prison.

In the bar Crandall meets Paul  Ryman, a former work colleague, who cannot get away from  him quick enough. (We later find out  that he betrayed Crandall by assisting Stephensen).  It’s the first in a series of encounters with people who fear him., including his ex-wife Polly who believes that she is the victim because she was unfaithful to him, unknown to Crandall. ” I made a mistake. I thought he loved me. I would never have divorced  you if I had known what he was really like… Please don’t  kill me,” she begs.   When his brother Dan  tries to kill him with a weapon, we learn that it was he that had the affair with Polly. Crandall lies to the police to save his brother from prison.

Henck has failed to locate his  wife. She has moved, her  flat been demolished and the area is now a  huge nature park . He tells Crandall, “It’s the last thing I expected, I  just stood in the middle of the park not knowing what to do.. You don’t understand Nick. .All the time we were away , all the while I keep thinking of how it was going to be when I finally caught up with her. The times I dreamed of it  and it always happened in that  place. It just isn’t there any more.”

Marcus Henson from  a media company  offers Crandall  50,000 credits for an exclusive story. “The public is excited by it. They have been lapping  up the details  ever since you landed… But the biggest thing they want to know about, and that’s why we are prepared to pay so much, is that special piece of information that just clinches your story…What do you think they are all excited about? What do you really think they are guessing at? …They are trying to figure out who your victim is going to be. You tell us. We follow your story. We’ll be there when it happens,  and you can retire a rich man, while at the same time completing what you set out to do.” Crandall turns down the offer.

Crandall

Henck  finally discovers  that his wife has been  dead for two years, and  is now bitter about   his decision. “Seven years of my life gone for nothing and now no future,  nothing to show for it, not even the satisfaction.”  Crandall responds,  “I’ve spent those last seven years hating one man, wanting my revenge, only to find  the others, the ones I  loved and trusted,   meant  no more to me in my life than Stephensen. I don’t know what it’s about anymore,  I don’y know love and hate mean . I only know thatI iam tired. All that effort trying to keep alive on the colonies. I am beginning to think there was point in it, no point at all. “

Crandall makes an appointment to see Stephensen at his laboratory, while  Marie, a  betrayed  ex-lover of Stephensen’s,  gives him a weapon. But the meeting does not go the way Crandall expects.

Strip away the futuristic  gloss from this story (the  shiny sets look like  the future as imagined by Tomorrow’s World)  and it boils down to an old-fashioned moraility tale:  that dreams of revenge can destroy you.  Despite the premise, there is hardly any tension in the story. Rather than  racing to complete their tasks, the two men spend much of their  sitting around in the hotel bar drinking (two credits for a drink, by the way). By the end you are not sure whether  care very much  about what you have just seen.

Most of the cast  wear blond wigs, remarkably similar to the ones we saw in a previous episode, “The Counterfeit Man”. Perhaps they were recycled?

The background electronic music is very good.

Mary Crozier reviewed the episode for the Guardian on 2 November

There is no doubt that when science fiction is bad it is very bad indeed and last night’s play illustrated  this ecellently . “Time in Advance” by William Tenn  was based on the quaint notion that on the earth of the future those with a criminal tendency can apply for lience to commit a crime – but first they have to serve a penal term in Outer Space. 

The opening of the story was about the best bit where the convict ship was nearing earth and the ex-convicts were shuddering, trapped in their bunks in the orbital countdown. This was horrid, of course, and in the fashion of science fiction, some of them had hideous growths or wounds on face, chest or hand. But at this stage you could not tell  quite how dull it was going to be on earth when the two would-be murderers started their grim work. The action took place in a singularly hideous hotel called the Hotel Capricorn Ritz where all the gimmicks of the future were singualrly scientific and unhomely.

The precriminals as they were called got  mixed up in many complications and the story was so stupid that it seemed only natutral that the transmission broke down altogether as if in despair. It is amusing to make fashion note on science fiction; all the men and  women  in this programme had the regulalion fair, shaggy hair combed forward and the regulation tunics so that they looked like a cross between pupils of a progressive school and pre-Revolution Russian peasants.

The great difference between this play and the recent  “The Counterfeit Man” was that the characters were totally uninteresting and the plot incredible. But the sound effects by the radiophonic workshop were very clever indeed.

 

Where have we seen them before ?

Peter Erickson wrote “The Ark” for Doctor Who, broadcast  in 1964.

Wendy Gifford   played Miss Garrett in “The Ice Warriors” (1967)  in Doctor Who. She played Dr Susan Calvin in “Liar!”, an episode in series 3 of Out of the Unknown.

Jerome Wills appeared in “The Dark Star” (1962), an episode in the series  Out of this World.  He played Stevens in the memorable Doctor Who episode,”The Green Death” (1973).

Edward Judd  had a leading role  in The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961) , a British  science fiction film in which the earth is threatened with destruction  after two atomic bomb tests blow it out of its orbit. He also appeared in Invasion (1965) , another British science  fiction film in which aliens (who are played by Japanese and Chinese actors)  arrive in pursuit of an escaped prisoner taken into a hospital. The story was thought up by Robert Holmes, although he did not write the script.  (Holmes later  used some elements of his story for an episode of Doctor Who, “Spearhead  from Space” (1970).)