RSS Feed

Author Archives: fantasiesofpossibility

Out of the Unknown; series 1, episode 4 “The Dead Past” 1965.

Written by Jeremy Paul,  based on a story by Isaac Asimov. Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik. Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

Cast: Arnold Potterley – George Benson, Thaddeus Araman – James Langton, Jonas Foster – James Maxwell, Ralph Nimmo – Willougby Goddard, Caroline Potterley – Sylvia Coleridge,  Miss Clements – Shirley Cain.

“The Dead Past” was broadcast on  25 October 1965.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) was probably the  most  influential  science fiction writer of the  1950s and 1960s  through works such as the Foundation trilogy and his robot stories. This was not the first of his stories to  be produced on British  television. Irene Shubik had produced “Little Lost Robot” as part of the Out of This World series on ATV in 1962  which was one  of his robot stories. (A copy of this  has survived).  Following her move to the BBC with Sidney Newman,  Irene followed this with a production of The Caves of Steel, one  of Asimov’s robot novels, broadcast on  5 June 1964 as part of the Story Parade series.   I  have a vague recollection of watching this, aged nearly 9. Sadly only a fragment has survived which  you can watch here.

“The Dead Past”  was first  published in Astounding Science Fiction in April 1956. It  is a time travel story with twist, set in some undated future and  begins  with Caroline Potterley having a nightmare in which she hears an unseen young girl screaming whilst  flames rise. Awakening in distress  she cries  for her husband Arnold,  and then goes into the living room  where she approaches  a small statue of a god or king.

Araman

In the next scene we see Arnold Potterley  having a meeting with Thaddeus  Araman, who  is “the top man in Chronoscopy”.  Chronoscopy,  we learn, is a science that enables the past to be seen through a machine. Potterley is an historian who specialises in the study of Cathage (a powerful city state on  the coast of what is now Tunisia which was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC after a series of wars). I can’t help thinking that, unintentionally or otherwise,  Potterley looks a great  deal like the historian A J P Taylor, well-known in the 1960s for his history lectures on television.

Potterley has come to Araman because for two years he has been  trying to get permission  to  carry out  research on Carthage,  using  time-viewing to examine the landing of Scopio Africanus  in 202 BC.  Araman fobs him off with series of technical excuses and,  in addition,  says that there is long waiting line. As Potterley leaves disappointed Araman  warns him,  “You won’t try and get help anywhere else will you? The Department of Physics,  for instance? I am sure I don’t have to warn you that if you did, you would be considered guilty of  intellectual  anarchy  and your basic grant would be instantly withdrawn.

After Potterley has gone Araman confers with  his secretary (and perhaps lover) , Miss Clements, “I am always fascinated  to know what they think when  they leave this office. Do they really believe what they are told?” She replies, “You know what they do, they go home, stamp their feet , say unkind things about  you and wait for their wives to bring them to their senses.”   He ponders further, “Would you say that he is a threat to us? Determined? Cunning?…We are going to have a little fun with Professor Potterley.”

Potterley

Undeterred,  Potterley  approaches Jonas Foster, a  physics lecturer,  and asks for his help with chronoscopy.  Foster initially turns him down, saying that he knows nothing of neutrinics, the science  that led to the discover of chronoscopy by Sterbinski some 50 years earlier.  (Neutrinics was made by Asimov). In this society  it seems, research outside one’s field of study  is discouraged, is in fact  labelled “intellectual anarchy”. Foster says , ” It was different a hundred years ago, some marvellous discoveries were made.by sheer accident. But as we  got more data and more knowledge so we had to specialise…and now every branch of   of science is geared to the public’s  needs.” Potterley responds, “You speak like a computer. Official  propaganda every word…I say the government  is actively suppressing research in neutrinics and chronoscopy.”

 

Foster

Potterley has successfully  lit a the flame of curiousity in Foster. When  he vists the Potterleys for dinner,  Caroline discloses that  their daughte Laurel  died in a fire at the age of 10, while the statue in Arnold’s study is revealed to be that of the  god Moloch to whom the Cartathaginans allegedly  offered human sacrifices. Foster eventually  agrees to build a  chronoscopy machine,  using  research information unearthed by his uncle, Ralph Nimmo,  a science  journalist, played splendidly by Willoughby Goddard with an eye-patch (not part of his character,  but  worn due to an eye infection, apparently). Potterley  tells  his worried  wife,  “It’s Carthage that counts and human knowledge, not you and I.” But their activites have not gone unnoticed. Araman, it seems,  somehow  knows what is going on.  Miss Clements challenges  him,“What happens if they learn the truth? What will we do with them then?”

The Chronoscope is built in the Potterley’s cellar. But there is bitter  disappointment  for Potterley when Foster tells  him, “You will never see Carthage…When the field is interpreted you get random factors, it’s the same with all sub-atomic particles, random factors which  produce a kind  of fuzziness…the further back in time you go, the greater the fuzziness..until finally the picture is drowned.  You can only time view so far back, a century and a quarter at the most…No historian

has ever used the chronoscope, they couldn’t. The government has been having us on, it’s a hoax.”

Caroline Potterley

Caroline  interrupts  the two men in the cellar, having realised what the machine could offer her.  “Listen to me.  Even if it only goes back twenty years, we could see Laurel . What does it matter about Carthage, its’s Laurel Arnold, she’ll be alive for us again..” Distarught,  Potterley begs her, “Caroline, please, what will you see? Do you want to live those years over and over again? Watching a child who will never grow up? You’ll go mad. Is that want you want? Is it?  “I want my child“, she cries in response, “she’s there in that machine. I want  to see her, I want my baby.  In rage or despair  or guilt, Potterley smashes the machine beyond repair.

But this is not the end of the story. Araman has  Potterley, Foster and Nimmo arrested and brought to his laboratory where he reveals  the truth of what is is going on.  The final scene is silent  – and heartbeaking.

 

This  is  a very effective piece  of drama, well-scripted and directed,the cast is uniformly excellent. Tt raises qestions about  whether progress is always a good thing, something that seems very pertinent  in our “brave new world” of   unescapable social   media  and non-stop 24 hour news. Do we really want to know everytning about everybody? And what of the personal?  In the end,  Asimov,  suggests “You and I” do count, count a great deal, in fact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Out of the Unknown: series 1, episode 3 “Stranger in the Family” (1965)

Written by David Campton. Director – Alan Bridges. Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik. Associare Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

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.

Boy (Richard O’Callaghan)

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”.

Paula (Justine Lord)

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.

Justine Lord played Sonia (aka Death)  in a memorable episide of The Prisoner;  “The Girl who was Death”

John Paul and Joby Blanshard  were both in the eco-thriller series Doomwatch. 

 

 

“the Moon will become the seventh Continent of our Planet…”: life in the twenty-first century, edited by M Vassiliev and S Gouschev (1961)

First  published in the Soviet Union in 1959, the authors compiled accounts from  29 Soviet scientists on what life might be like in 2007.  It is unlikely  that such a volume would have been translated and published in the West ten years previously,  but the Soviet  launch of Sputnik, the first satellite sent into  earth orbit,  stunned the world in October 1957. The Soviets followed this  with further satellite launches,  and then  sending the first man into space, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the world on 12 April 1961. Previously regarded as a country barely emerged from peasantry, the Soviet Union now seemed to  be at the forefront of scientific discovery and development, and hence became the focus of intense interest.

This volume was published by Penguin as number 195  in their Penguin Specials series in 1961.

The book takes the form a gentle meander by the authors  through the studies. lecture halls  and laboratories of Soviet scientists. (Whether this actually happened,  or  whether it is  just a literary conceit and the chapters were written by the scientists themselves,  or indeed  a  Committee we have no way of knowing.)

The first chapter “Learn to Dream”  begins with a vist to the study of Alexander Nikolaievich Nessmayanov. “On a huge desk stood a bronze Atlas bearing on his shoulders a gleaming globe. Portraits of Russian scientists hung on the walls. In one corner a wooden bust of lenin, smiling , the work of the well-known sculptor S. T. Konienkov…”

Nessmayanov (1899 – 1980) was President  of the Academy of Sciences in the USSR from 1951 to 1961.He was twice awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labour.

He tells the authors, “We do not always care to dream, nor are we always capable of dreaming, but it  is essential to do so. Without dreams prospects do not exist, without dreams man, the scientist included, is inevitably halted in his progress. Creation is not consistent with kicking one’s heels.”

Subsequent chapters encompass a range of  predictions.  In the future it is suggested  that

  • electricty production will be vastly increased and transmitted  for huge distances;
  •  mining will be carried out without  digging
  • bloodless  surgery  will be possible
  •  the hours spent in sleep could be greatly shortened
  • large scale underwater mining will be possible
  • submarines will  be used to carry passengers under the oceans like liners
  • trains will have atomic engines;
  • private cars will be banned from cities
  • moving pavements will transport people around cities (an idea that Isaac  Asimov  had already used in  his novel The Caves of Steel (1953), by the way)

From the viewpoint of this blog the three  chapter on space exploration  are most interesting. Our guide to  the future in chapter 26 “Space Travel” is the scientist  U. S. Hlebsevitch. He suggests that radio controlled unmannned space craft will be  best way of  conducting the space explorations of the future, thereby eliminating the need to send vast stores of food and fuel into space to feed and sustain the Cosmonauts.

In the next few years we shall approach  the Moon, Mars,  and Venus  without waiting for an artificial satellite capable of carrying human occupants. The first guided rockets will soon explore the Moon and in the following five or perhaps ten years there will be a permanent scientific observatory on the Moon.  Return flights to the Moon will become a commonplace  by the end of the century. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the Moon will become the seventh Continent  of our Planet. and, strange though may sound now, we shall be in a position to exploit its natural wealth…

He goes on to posit  that the Moon will  initially be explored by an unmanned rocket carrying an exploratory vehicle which will examine the soil, temperature  and surface and send back the results by television and radio. He does not rule out other life in the solar system:

Today we are planning on the assumption that neither Mars nor Venus are inhabited. But suppose we find this to be untrue? Then we shall try to build space  ships which can enter into radiotelephonic or television contact with the inhabitants of those planets. Only then shall we tackle the most difficult problem of how to land on them.

He envisages using the Moon as a broadcasting platform:

The Moon, for example, will become a radio-telescope for the purpose of retransmission. Transmissions from the Moscow televison centre, for example, will be received on the Moon, reinforced and retransmitted back to the earth. These picturs  will be seen by the inhabitants of half the terrestrial globe.

Hlebsevitch suggests an earth observation station will be established on the Moon toprovide   very accurate weath forecasts for the whole planet, and that satellites will give advance  warning of harmful cosmic radiation and meteors

Finally,  he sums up in true Soviet style:

All I have said , all my forecasts can only be realised provided the peoples of the world remain at peace. The combined forces of science and the human brain must be utilised,  not for an armaments race,  but for the solution of those grandoise problems, the only problems worthy of man. If the endeavour and money spent on missiles with war-heads were used in preparation for interplanetary flight our forecasts would be proved very much sooner.

In Chapter 28 “In The Lunar City” Nicholas Alexandrovitch  Varvarov describes what a Soviet permament  base on the Moon might look like:

The aluminium was mined on the moon, the glass and the plastic materials were made in lunar factories. The water comes from the depths of the satellite and gives the neccessary humidity for the cultivation of the soil. Oxgen and nitrogen are obtained from lunar materials. The lamps  which burn during the long night, which lasts almost a month, are fed from batteries which, at the same time heat the city and supply the power for the factories. All this has been set in motion and the whole work is designed to utilise the energy of local and solar atomic power stations.

The lunar city is not only self-supporting  but is also working, one might say, for export. For example, synthetic fuel for rocket servicing is prepared  for rockets departing for the earth; plans are ready for the construction of a wharf for cosmic ships. Soon rockets, built in lunar factories, will depart on long-distance journeys. The lunar cosmodrome will soon see the launching of an enormous rocket bound for Mercury, having on board the first expedition of earth’s scientists.

Finally, in chapter 29  “Through Interstellar Space” Kiril Petrovich Stayukovitch  imagines photon engines which,  by  combining matter and anti-matter, will propel the rockets to the speed of light:

…, the course of time on it would be much slower than on earth. On the basis of the meaurement of time on earth a hundred years could elapse. In this time the space ship would travel a distance …corresponding to a hundred light years. But in reality, aboard the space ship only two or three years would elapse and the men on board would only age to this extent. They would visit planets and stars at a great distance from our  sun  and the return journey  to the earth, acording to their time, would be in two or three years.  Nevertheless, on their return to earth the astronauts  would not find a single person  they knew still alive. Because on earth, during the same period , two hundred years would have elapsed.

All contributions in life in the twenty-first century display boundless faith in the ability of science to solve all problems. But as we now know the Soviet plans for interplanetary travel, devised by Sergei Korolev, encountered many problems and were cancelled. The Soviet Union itself dissolved on 26 December  1991.

I  have not been able to find  anything about the authors, Mikhail  Vassiliev and Sergei Gouschev. I did discover that a character  called Mikhail Vassiliev appears in Philip Pullman’s short story, Once Upon a Time in the North (2008)

This is a list of all contributors was carried as an appendix in the book.

A.N. Nessmayanov:
President, Soviet Academy of Science. World-renowned authority on organic chemistry in general, and on the metallo-organic aspect of it
in particular.
J.P. Bardin:Vice-President, Academy of Science. Pioneer of Sovietmetallurgy; took the leading part in constructing the Kuznetsk Steelworks in the early years following the Revolution.
I.S. Garkousha and N.A. Fedorov: Two young Russian scientists and engineers who are acknowledged as the country’s leading authorities on the underground  gasification of coal; they work together as one man on research and projects in this sphere.
S.I .Mironov and M.A. Kapelyushnikov: Both belong to the older school of Russian scientists, the first a full member of the Academy of Science and the second an associate member. Both have behind them a lifetime of research and study in  their speciality – oil; despite years, are still ‘young’ enough to look keenly ahead.
A.V. Vinter: Academician; the doyen of Russia’s hydro-electric power schemes; was at Lenin’s elbow when he drew up the general
electrification plan; had main responsibility in the building of the first two Soviet power stations, commenced in 1918.
V.I. Popkov: Associate, Academy of Science; one of the rising generation of Russian technologists; writer of
numerous highly speciali zed works on electric power.
G.I. Pokrovsky: Professor; specialist in the technique of explosives and explosions; paints, writes poetry, and composes music
in his spare time.
V.A. Engelhardt: Principal of the Department of Biology, Academy of Science.
M.G. Ananiev: Bachelor of Medical Science; Principal and Head Surgeon of an ultr-modern Moscow hospital where bloodless, supersonic
surgical methods are practised.
S.I. Volkovitch: Academician; specialist in agronomy.
L.A. Zenkevitch: Associate, Academy of Science; Chair of Invertebrate Zoology, Moscow
University. His speciality is marine life, both animal and vegetable.
A.R. Jebrak: Academy of Science, White Russian Republic; expert on agriculture; views the subject mainly from a biological angle.
V.A. Kotelnikov: Young Academician and Professor of Moscow University; considered to be the country’s greatest authority on radio.
S.A. Lebedyev: Principal of the Institute of Precision Mechanism and Computer   Technology at the Academy of Science, regarded as the leading authority in the electronic computer field.
G.I. Babat: Professor; somewhat of a freelance and an individualist. Specializes in high-frequency current; his inventions in this line include an
artificial ‘sun’. Author of popular scientific works, and fiction with a scientific background.
V.L. Ginzburg: Associate, Academy of Science; astronomer, mainly in the context of radio-astronomy, to which he has contributed considerable literature.
V.V. Zvonkov: Associate Member, Institute of General Transport Affairs and Problems at Academy of Science; an authority on every form of transport.
N.F. Yevstratov: Civil Engineer and Architect; Principal of the Moscow Town Planning Institute.
U.A. Dolmatovsky: Mechanical Engineer; emphasis on motor cars.
G.A. Gradov: Civil Engineer and Architect; Principal of the Institute of Communal Planning and Construction.
E.M. Goldovsky: Professor; expert in the field of photography and the cinema, particular interest being electro- (or ‘dry’) photography.
L.V. Pustovalov: Associate, Academy of Science; Deputy Chairman, Committee for Study and Investigation of Potential Productive Energy; devotes particular attention to Siberian development.
U.S. Hlebsevitch: Bachelor of Technical Science; radio-astronomer, specializes in ‘Sputnik’ and other like projects.
D.I. Scherbakov: Academician; geographer; a much-travelled man in the remoter regions of the world.
N.G. Romanov: Civil Engineer; emphasis on the hydraulic aspect; author of a scheme for bridging the Straits of Tartary by a dam.
N.A. Varvarov: Engineer; Astronautical Consultant to U.S.S.R. Armed Forces; has made a particular study of the Moon.
K.P. Stanyukovitch: Professor; physicist whose particular subject is the harnessing of nuclear science for the conquest of outer space

 

 

Out of the Unknown: series 1, episode 2 “The Counterfeit Man”(1965)

“The Counterfeit Man” was broadcast on 11th October 1965.

Cast: Dr. Crawford, Alex Davion; Roger Westcott David Hemmings;  Captain Jaffe Charles Tingwell; Donnie Chaffer Peter Fraser; Jensen Tony Wager.

Script: Philp Broadley adapted from a story by Alan Nourse. Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik. Director: George Spenton-Foster.

After an  indifferent start to the new series  with the opening episode  “No Place Like Earth”  which I discussed in a previous post, things picked up considerably with the second episode “The Counterfeit Man”.

The action takes place entirely on a space ship returning from Jupiter’s largest moon,.  Ganymede. When conducting some  routine medical  tests Doctor Crawford  discovers  that one of the crew,  Roger Westcott,   has  no  blood sugar, which  is impossible, by rights he should be dead.  But when he conducts the test again he finds that it is normal. He reveals this disturbing news  to Captain Jaffe,  and  the two men  speculate  on the implications  and possible causes. Crawford  concludes that Westcott must be an alien  who has taken human form to infiltrate the ship and journey to Earth.  He sets out his thesis to Jaffe:

 

 Just suppose Ganymede wasn’t  quite as deserted as we thought it was…Suppose there was life there, intelligent life. Suppose we didn’t remain unnoticed but were carefully observed, observed by life forms that didn’t want to make their presence known to us…What if these life forms had no particular  rigid anatomy as we do. Maybe they’re  some sort of jelly-like protoplasm, capable of changing to fit whatever conditions they might meet, or perhaps copy anything they wanted to copy….Maybe one of them killed Roger Westcott, out there among the rocks, and came aboard this ship,  copying  exactly his reactions, his appearance, hoping to learn more about us…Now suppose one of these creatures slipped up on this copying job. Maybe he could not know at first just how the blood chemistry of a human being was supposed to balance. Maybe he needed time to change and copy.  So he came aboard this ship  with a nice, convincing outer shell completed but with the inside all mixed up and  uncertain…

Crawford and Jaffe

I think most writers,  when  handling an alien   infiltration story,  would have concocted a series of small  occurences which  would gradually lead the crew to suspect that something may be  terribly wrong. But  in this story we presented with the scenario in  one fell swoop in  Crawford’s  lengthy speculative monologue. Frankly it’s clumsy,  but is rescued by what happens next.

Crawford and Jaffe decide that to test the hypothesis they need to put pressure on Westcott to see if he is human or alien. Following the sudden death of another  crew member Chaffer (possibly killed by Westcott to divert attention), Westcott is falsely  accused of stealing the money from a collection made by the rest of the crew.

Westcott

This  leads to the the most effective scenes in the episodein which Westcott, played excellently by David Hemmings, is ostracised  by his crew mates and retreats to his room where he lies on his  bunk,  staring open-eyed into space. There is a  palpable sense of paranoia and claustrophobia, added to greatly by the direction and the  electronic music

Eventually we learn the truth of what has really  happened to Westcott, including a final plot twist when the space ship returns to  earth. All in all, despite the awkward exposition at the start, a fine episode which really should have started the series.  One odd thing, all the crew have blonde hair,  harking back to The Midwich Cuckoos, perhaps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Unknown: Series 1, episode 1.”No Place Like Earth” (October, 1965)

“No Place Like Earth”  was broadcast by the BBC on  4th October 1965.

Cast: Bert Foster Terence Morgan, Annika Jessica Dunning, Zyalo Hannah Gordon, Freeman Joseph O’Connor, Blane Alan Tilvern, Major Khan George Pastell, Spaceship Capatin Jerry Stovin, Carter Vernon Joyner, Harris Bill Treacher, Chief Officer Geoffrey Palmer, Security Guard Roy Stewart

Writer: Stanley Miller (adapted from a story by John Wyndham). Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik.

“No Place  Like Earth” was the first episode in the science  fiction  series Out of the Unknown which ran for four series from 1965 to 1971, created by Irene Shubik.

Irene  was  born in 1929. She was unable to get a job with the BBC,   and so worked in the USA for a couple of years. On her return to England she got a job  on the   current affairs series This Week before joining the Drama Department at ABC  in 1960 as  the story editor on Armchair Theatre,  which was being produced by Sydney Newman.

In early 1962 she  created British television’s first science fiction anthology series, Out of This World,  bringing  in writers she had already worked with on Armchair Theatre. They adapted a  number  of science fiction classics eg Dumb Martian by John Wyndham, but also   woite a couple of new stories eg Botany Bay by Terry Nation,  who went on to create the Daleks for Doctor Who in 1964. Sadly only one episode from the series,  Little Lost Robot by Isaac Asimov,  has survived and  is available to watch on the BFI Player.

When Sydney Newman moved to the BBC at the beginning of 1963, Irene moved to the Corporation as well.  Here she produced Story Parade  in 1964,  a series of dramatised  novels  which  included one science fiction episode, The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov, scripted by Terry Nation and  starring Peter Cushing as Elijah Baley and John Carson as R. Daneel Olivaw.   (You can watch the  few surviving clips here).

Irene then  pitched the idea of a  series similar  to Out of this World, this  time on the BBC. Newman was receptive, having seen  the success of Doctor Who, and Irene became the producer with the very experienced George Spenton-Foster as associate producer.  She followed the template of Out of This World,   looking for novels that would work on television and then commissioning writers to dramatise them.  Most dramatisations remained pretty faithful to the original stories (something that you wish would happen more often, the recent dramatisation of  The City and the City  being an example of pointless alterations).  After contemplating  a number of possibilities such as Dimension 4  Irene settled on Out of the Unknown as the series title.

All new series need to catch the attention of the public – and keep it. It’s  quite puzzling therefore that the producers  chose the lacklustre “No Place Like Earth” as the first broadcast episode, rather than the far superior “The Counterfeit Man” which had also been completed. Apparently it was Sydney Newman who made the decision, and not Irene, on the basis that it was based on a John Wyndham short story and would attract viewers familar with The Day of the TriffidsThe Kraken Wakes  etc.  ( The story appeared in a 1952  anthology  of the same name,  edited by John Carnell,  but  I had never heard of it prior to watching this  and I had  read all Wyndham’s  work that I  could get hold of  as a teenager in  the 1960s.)

“No Place  Like Earth” is set  on Mars and Venus. The Earth has been destroyed in some catastophe 14 years before, marooning  the Earth colonists (who all seem to be men) on Mars.  Bert  Foster makes his living as a tinker,  travelling in a battered boat along  the canals (yes there are canals in this  version of Mars),  repairing  things for the Martians who seem to have lost the knack.  These  Martians are not insects as in Quatermass or Ice Warriors as in Doctor Who but  humanoids, indistinguishable   from the Earthmen,  apart from slightly different  teeth.

Bert (Terence Morgan)

The Martians live a simple  peasant life amidst  the ruins of the civilisation of “the Great Ones”, but  what led to its collapse is not explained.  Annika, the matriarch  of this clan of  Martians, tells Bert, “You  are  not like the other ones who came from Earth.” “I should hope not,” he responds, “I feel ashamed  of what they did when they first came to Mars, it was cruel.” That evening over the camp-fire Bert tells the Martians  story of how the Earth exploded and is now “nothing but a shower of cosmic pebbles, chasing around the sun.”

Next morning, Annika invites him to stay, but   Bert  tells her that  he does not belong there,  “I do not belong anywhere so  I  keep moving on.” Annika answers him, ” You are merely existing, and it is not enough. One exists by barter, but one lives by giving  – and taking when it is offered. And  then there is Zaylo…” Though tempted,  Bert moves on after repairing pots and pans and the water-wheel for them.  As he leaves Annika tells Zaylo, ” He will come back,  one day.”

Zaylo (Hannah Gordon) and Annika (Jessica Dunning

When he returns to the stranded colonists he finds a spaceship  has landed  from Venus. The crew have come to offer them  work on rebuilding  Venus  and creating a New Earth.  But when he arrives Bert  finds it is  a dictatorship built on  slave labour in which he is expected to act an overseer wearing a ludicrously ornate uniform.  Unable to stomach  this, he strikes down the vicious overssder Major Khan (played almost inevitably by George Pastell), assumes his identity  manages  to make his way on to a spaceship  returning  to Mars.

After the crew disembarks he blows up the spaceship: “there’ll  be no more slaving expeditions to Mars”.  Bert returns to Annika and the waiting Zaylo. He is now accepts  that he is no longer an Earthman,  but a Martian. He tells Annika, “Maybe there never was a place like the Earth that I was remembering…I stopped crying for the moon, and Earth. I’m going to be content  just to live, and to enjoy living.” He finds Zaylo by the water-wheel  and tells her, “This time I’ve come to stay.”

This is scarcely a science-fiction story at all. With minimal  change it could all easily have taken place on Earth in  some post-colonial backwater,  a shory story written  by Somerset Maugham perhaps.  In tone and sentiment   it bears a marked resemblance  to Ray Bradbury’s  novel The Martian Chronicles (1950) which  also featured canals and Earthmen trying to find their  way and place on Mars. Its as languid and unhurried as Bert’s   meanderings around mars on the canals, with little real tension or drama. The ending  you always expected would happen doe shappen. Fortunately  after this false start   the series improved a good deal.

Reviews

I have not been able to find any newspaper reviews on first broadcast, although,  according to the notes accompanying the DVD, it was slated by the critics on Late Night Line Up.   Unusually  for this period the story was repeated on 22 July 1966. In The Times their anonymous televison critic wrote:

Science fiction, as distinct from essays in the supernatural, is difficult to handle on television, as was demonstarted  by  BBC 2  last night. this story by John Wyndham is placed on Mars  and Venus after the disintegration of the earth, but for film purposes the strain on credulity is always too great. The medium is too limited for effects of costume and lighting to do the trick; and if the leading earthman, nicely played by Terence Morgan, succumbed in the end to the charms of a Martian maiden, the romance remained essentially earthbound. A few surviving space ships  have left colonies of earthmen on the two planets, and inferences are no doubt invited by the picture of Venus turned into a slave state by the tyrants in power.

Life on Mars, is by contrast  is primitive and gentle;  our earthmen, having had a taste of Venus and its “work, obedience and progress,”  finds that Martian simplicities have their consolation. As directed by Peter Potter, it was a slick piece of spoofing if we must have that sort of thing. 

Where else  have I seen the cast?

Terence  Morgan appeared  in  Laurence Olivier’s film of Hamlet (1948) as Laertes. He  played the title role in the television series  Sir Francis Drake (1961-1962  in which Roger Delgado also appeared as a Spanish nobleman. (I used to watch this, aged 6!)

Jesscia Dunning appeared in another episode of  Out of the Unknown, “Lamda 1” (1966).

Hannah Gordon appeared  in the Doctor Who serial, “The Highlanders” (1966) as Kirsty.

George Pastell (also known as Niko Pastellides)   memorably played the unhinged  Eric Klieg in the Doctor Who serial “The Tomb of the Cybermen”.

Geoffrey Palmer appeared in three Doctor Who serials : as Edward Masters in “The Silurians”, the Administrator in The Mutants and  Hardaker in “Voyage of the Damned”.

Roy Stewart appeared in three  Doctor Who serials : as a Saracen guard  in “The Crusade“, Toberman in “The Tomb of the Cybermen” and Tony in  “Terror of the Autons“.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“a fair field full of folk” Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992)

Doomsday Book is the first novel in  a series  set by Connie  in the same world  of time travel which I have discussed  in my previous  posts on the other novels,   To Say Nothing of the Dog and Blackout/All Clear. Historians in the C21st travel back in time from the unit at the University of Oxford to research the past hand-on. In this case Kivrin Engle  is a student  historian,  keen to see the Middle Ages for herself, in  the  face of misgivings from  her boss Mr Dunworthy,

“Life expectancy in 1300 was thirty-eight years,” he had told her when she first said she wanted to go to the Middle Ages, “and you only lived that long if you survived cholera and smallpox and blood poisoning, and if you didn’t eat rotten meat or drink polluted water or get trampled by a horse. Or get burned at the stake for witchcraft…

“An unaccompanied women  was unheard of in the fourteenth century. Only women  of the lowest class went about alone, and they were fair game for any  men or beast who happened along. Women  of  the nobility and even the emerging middle class were constantly attended by their fathers or their husbands or servants, usually all three., and even of you wren’t a woman, you’re a student. The fourtheen century is far too dangerous for Medieval to consider sending a student.”

In the end Kivrin is sent back  by  the Medievalists to Oxfordshire in  1320, equipped with a cover story  of being a Lady who has been robbed and left on the road, abandoned by her servants.  No sooner has she departed than Oxford is beset  by a viral outbreak whose origins are unknown. Worse, the time travel operator  Badri becomes very ill  and it appears  that Kivrin may be lost in time as something  unexpected happened when she went through.

Back in the Middle Ages Kivrin  becomes very ill  on arrival but is taken in and nursed  by  a priest and local  gentry family:

I’m ill, Kivrin thought, and knew that the warm liquid had been a medicinal  potion of some kind , and that it had brought her fever down  a little. She was not lying on the ground after all, but in a bed in a room, and the woman who had hushed her and given her the liquid was there beside her. She could hear her breathing. …I must be in the village she thought. The redheaded man must have brought me here.

After her recovery she stays on with the family,  despite the suspicions of the  family matriarch, Imeyne. She adopts the name Katherine and makes friends with the village  priest, Father Roche, who comes to believe that she is   a saint,  sent  from heaven to earth to  help in a time of trial.

Back in Oxford Dunworthy is almost  totally preoccupied with the  deadly illness sweeping through the town which is now quarantined from the outside world.  Slowly he begins to make sense of  the  illness and its link with the past,  and of Kivrin’s plight and  the danger that threatens her. The question is : is it too late to  track her down and rescue her?

In this novel Connie paints a vivid picture through Kivrin’s eyes of the Middle Ages,  a world utterly unlike ours  in beliefs and mores and yet at the same time a place  where there is poverty, wealth,  greed,  jealousy, pride, snobbishness,  friendship, love and compassion, a world therefore very much like our own. Highly recommended.

Their Finest Years: Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis (2010)

Blackout and All Clear are two in  a series of novels that Connie has written about “historians,”  researchers from the mid  C21st century who travel back in  time to carry  historical research, embedding themselves in the past.   This is a notion that  she first explored in a short story called Fire Watch (1983)  in which an historian joins the fire watch protecting St Paul’s during the Blitz.  She returned to the idea in Doomsday Book (1993) in which  Kivrin Engel  travels  back from 2054  to England in 1320 with unforeseen consequences in both times. This was followed  by To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998),  set in the Edwardian period and in Coventry during the destruction of the Cathedral on 14th November 1940. I have written about this  here.

In Blackout, and its direct sequel All Clear,   Connie takes us  back to  the Second World War again. Three historians travel back from 2060 to 1940: Mike, masquerading as an American reporter,   who is meant  to go to Dover to witness the evacuation from Dunkirk.  but instead finds himself  on a rickety boat on its way to pick up soldiers from the beaches;   Merope (who takes the name Eileen), masquerading as a servant in Lady Denewell’s  country house in Warwickshire which has taken in child  evacuees from London; and Polly, who ends up working in a department store  on Oxford Street. All three discover that the time travel technology meant to take them back home (“the drops”) has stopped working.

After a whole series of near misses, they eventually  meet up in London as the Blitz begins. But now they face some  dreadful questions. Are they trapped in the past forever? Will they survive the Blitz? And, worst of all,  have their actions, even the tiniest, most  inconsequential ones, let alone rescuing  someone during  a bombing raid,  changed the course of history? Will the Germans in fact win the war?

Connie sketches an unforgettable picture  of London as the bombs fall night after the night  from September 1940 to May 1941. There are vivid scenes in the air raid shelters and Tube stations,  as well on the streets and in the shops and cafes as somehow Londoners keep going, despite everything.

There is loss and  tragedy,  but there is also a great  deal  of humour, much of it  provided by Alf and Binnie,  two  children evacuated  from the East End  – possibly the naughtiest children in the universe –   whom Eileen looks after. A host of other characters make their entrances and their exits ;  the vicar in Warwickshire who befriends Eileen;  Mrs Ricket, Polly’s  sourfaced landlady;  Mr Humphreys, a fire warden at St Paul’s;   Mr Dunworthy, head of the time travel department; Godfrey Kingsman, an ageing  Shakespearean actor who befriends Polly,  Alan Turing, the  decoding genius and Agatha Christie, the crime novelist.   In addition there is a sub-plot featuring Mary Kent,  who works in civil defence  during the V1 and V2 attacks in the summer of 1944, and  who is not whom she seems. And a significant role is played by Holman Hunt’s painting ” The Light of the World” in St Paul’s. Finally, there is Colin Templar’s quest.

At the end of of All Clear the myriad plot lines,  coincidences, confusions and mysteries  are  neatly  resolved and yet,  after  1400 pages,  you are still  reluctant  to say goodbye to the characters whose lives and experiences  you have shared so fully.  Let’s leave the last word to Eileen on VE day when she meets the vicar again in Trafalgar Square.

He beamed at her. ‘This is a wonderful night, isn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ she said,  looking around the crowd. She had wanted to come here, to see this, ever since she was a first-year student.  She’s been furious when she found out Mr Dunworthy had assigned it to someone else. 

But if she’d come then, she would never have properly appreciated it. She’s have seen the happy crowds and the Union Jacks and the bonfires, but she’d have had no idea of what it meant to see the lights on after years of navigating in the dark, what it meant to look up at an approaching plane without fear, to hear church bells after years of air-raid sirens.She’d have had no idea of the years of rationing and shabby clothes  and fear that lay behind the smiles and the cheering, no idea of what it had cost to bring this day to pass – the lives of all those soldiers and sailors and airmen  and civilians. …She’d have had no idea what this meant to Lady Denewell, who’d lost her husband and her only son, or to Mr Humphreys and the rest of the fire watch who’d worked so hard to save St Paul’s…

I was born ten years after  the war,  and yet I  found  these  these novels very moving. Read them. Your life will be enriched.