Cast: Boy – Richard O’Callaghan, Paula – Justine Lord, Sonny – Eric Lander, Charles Wilson – Peter Copley, Margaret Wilson – Daphne Slater, Brown – John Paul, Evans – Jack May, Hall – Joby Blanshard, Swain – Brian Vaughan.
This was broadcast on 18th October 1965.
After the claustrophia and paranoia of the previous episode, “Stranger in the Family” brings us down to earth, specifically the London of the mid 1960s, in an original story written by David Campton. Campton (1924-2006) wrote many plays for the stage, radio, and cinema for thirty-five years. The critic Irving Wardle once described his work as “comedies of menace”. Campton himseself said that “.It seems to me that the chaos affecting everyone today––political, technical, sociological, religious, etc., etc.,––is so all-pervading that it cannot be ignored, yet so shattering that it can only be approached through comedy. Tragedy demands firm foundations; today we are dancing among the ruins.”
The opening filmed scenes show us a young man visiting the Science Museum and wandering near the Thames. apparently tailed by a man. There are also some shots of a young blonde woman that the young man seems to be following. When the man approaches thhe young man he shouts at him: “Go away, leave me alone”. The man backs away and is run over by a lorry. The young men then flees back to his parents’ flat.
Here we learn that he is called “Boy” and that he is being hidden away for some as yet unknown reason. His father is angry that Boy went out alone: “Do you want us to be forced to move home again?”.Boy tells his parents that a man was following him: “I made him leave me, I think we was killed, I didn’t mean to hurt him”.
The family is being watched by two men who have moved in next door called Brown and Evans. Their interest in Boy becames apparent whenit is revealed Boy has the mental power to influence or even compel other people. He poses the question:
“Why am I different?.. I’m a mutant , I’m an improbability that happened. And I want to know how… I know I make mistakes, I try not to but it is natural for me to use my will. And then we have to move again. And so I have to be insulated against the world”.
Boy goes out again this time to a bar where he sees the young woman in conversation with a man, Sonny. He makes Sonny go away and starts a friendship with the young woman, an actress called Paula, that deepens over the next few weeks, much to the dismay of his parents who fear that it is obsession on his side, calculation on hers. Paula has become aware of his powers when, during an argument he renders her unable to speak, an effective chilling sequence. Sonny, who is her agent, plots to make money out of Boy. “You never know, Pussy, this might be the start of something really big.”
The two men in the flat are revealed to be scientists. Over a fish and chip supper Evans tells Brown that Boy “…is something rare and wonderful. At present we don’t know how rare or just how wonderful…Every now and then history throws up a man with unusual powers of persuasion. On his account steady willed, strong minded men behave out of character, irrationally…but the ability to infuence another mind must be there in the brain, rather like our powers of reasoning. Imagine that highly developed, full of extra sense. And then you have him. There is great deal more to him than that”.
Paula urges Boy not to trust her: “This is a hard world.. you have got to be harder, grab what’s going while it lasts. There won’t be any second chances. I learnt the hard way”. Jealous of Sonny’s relationship with Polly , Boy almost drowns him in a bath, using his powers, before relenting. Despite this, Sonny aranges for Boy to star in a television advert for a cigarette, a bizarre sequence which ends with everyone in the studio demanding cigarettes.
Brown reveals to Boy that there are others with his powers: “I guess you thought you were the only one. There are others with your capabilities,t hey al llive together in an old castle with lovely stone walls and towers, just like in a fairy tale. Each one of them thought he was alone until we brought them together. Wouldn’t you like to join them? It must be lonely life on your own”. He attempts to inject Boy with a drug of some kind, but is compelled to inject himself with fatal consequences.
Following this second death Evans urges Boy’s parents to allow him to take Boy to his research establishment for the sake of the survival of the human race. “When the mutants were first persuaded to live together I noticed a struggle for supremacy going on among them but the conflict was entirely in the mind, there was no physical struggle as we know it. The strongest will is the winner…If this new species survives, then wars as we know them will end.. Of course we will be back numbers , you and I, but at least there won’t be the danger of the world being blown up. There will be a future. This new strain must have every chance. That’s why I need your son.”
His parents reject Evan’s proposition, but events force their hand after Boy goes to Paula’s flat and finds her with Sonny. In his anger he compels Paula to wound Sonny. Evans arrives and speaks to Boy, who admits, “I am sorry.. I hadn’t realised, there are universes between us…the crack in the ice and the gap grows wider…I must be completely what I am… I accept myself as I am… That way iIcan grow..I am ready to go now.”
The premise that humanity might one day evolve new chacteristics is not a new one, it was posed by John Wyndham in The Chrysalids, for instance, which I have written about here. But by rooting the story in contemporary London, Campton makes it seem both more real and more disturbing. How would humanity react? Evans defies our expectations by welcoming a new kind of human being, that might be both our saviours and repacements. Is this how the Neanderthals felt when home sapiens appeared?
In many ways the production feels in look and tone likes a Wednesday Play, particularly the satirical cigaarette advert sequence, and indeed the director Alan Bridges directed six Wednesday Plays, five Plays of the Month and four Plays for Today.
The one real problem I have with “A Stranger in the Family” is that Richard O’Callaghan is too old for the part. He is meant to be 18, just out of adolescence, and still learning how to be an adult, but he looks in his mid 20s, as indeed Callaghan was.
Where have I seen them before?
Jack May played Adam Adamant’s manservant William Simms in Adam Adamant Lives! who is given to acerbic limericks often aimed at Miss Jones.
John Paul and Joby Blanshard were both in the eco-thriller series Doomwatch.