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Category Archives: film

“Watch the skies!”: my selection of science fiction to read or watch or listen to… above all to enjoy!

A dalek spacecraft from the film “Daleks’ Invasion of Earth: 2150AD”

Watch…

Things to Come (1936)

The film is based on H G  Wells’s novel The Shape of Things to Come (1933)   in which he imagined a future history of the world, beginning with a world war in 1940 which destroys much of civilisation.  After societal collapse humanity is eventually rescued  by a group of aviators. The film version (which Wells assisted) was  produced by  Alexander Korda, directed by William Cameron Menzies,  and starred Ramond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Pearl Argyle and Margaretta Scott.

You can watch the film  here. 

You can read Wells’ novel here.

 

The Thing From Another World (1951)

The film was   based on the 1938   novella Who Goes There  by John W Campbell.  An American base in the Arctic discovers something buried in the ice – and someone. The scene in which  the   exploring party members  spread out across the ice  – and realise what they have found is a classic. The film ends with an urgent appeal:  “Watch the Skies!”

You can watch it here.

 

X The Unknown (1957)

An early  Hammer film in which a  prehistoric radioactive substance emerges from out of the earth causing   death and  destruction in its  mindless pursuit of radioactive  sources to feed itself. It was produced by  Anthony Hinds, written by Jiimmy Sangster and directed by Leslie Norman and Jospeh Losey. The cast included Dean Jagger, Leo McKern   and  Edward Chapman –  and a  cameo from youthful  Frasier Hines.

You watch the film here

 

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

One of the best British science fiction films of the 1960s, directed by Val Guest.  Simultaneous nuclear explosions by the USA and USSR send the Earth out its orbit and towards the Sun. Only another explosion may perhaps save the world. The  story is told through the eyes  of Peter Stenning (Edward Judd),   a reporter on the Daily Express. The film  include scenes in the newpsaper’s  offices and also makes extensive use of London locations.

You can watch the film  here.

 

A for Andromeda (1961)

This  series was created  by Fred Hoyle and John Elliot.  The plot involves a radio telescope receiving a signal and data from the direction of the Andromeda galaxy which enables scientists  to create a computer and  then life, a young woman they call Andromeda. But who is she and what is her real mssion?  The cast included Peter Halliday,  Mary Morris, Julie Christie and John Hollis. Sadly only the penultimate  episode “The Face of the Tiger”  has survived in its entirety.

You can watch “The Face of the Tiger” here.

You can read my post on the series here.

 

The Andromeda Breakthrough (1962)

Due to the success of A For Andromeda the BBC quickly commissioned a  six part sequel.  As  the BBC had failed to offer a  Julie Christie in time, the part of Andromeda was  now played by Susan Hampshire. Peter Halliday,  Mary Morris and John Hollis reprised their roles, joined by Claude Farell and Barry Linehan.   You can read my post on the series here.  The first four episodes are available on Daily Motion:

Part 1 Cold Front

Part 2, Gale Warning

Part 3, Azaran Forecast

Part 4, Storm Centres

 

These are the Damned (1963)

A British film directed by Joseph  Losey and starring  Sally Ann Field, Macdonald Casey and Oliver Reed.   Hoilday makers  at the  seaside discover a group of   children hidden away  in  a secret government  bunker who,  owing to  an accident  are resistant to nuclear radiation.

You can watch the film  here.

 

The Stranger (1964, 1965)

An Australian science fiction children’s television series written by G K  Saunders and  produced by ABC. In the middle of a rain storm a stranger arrives on the dootstep of a  family claiming  to have lost his memory. Who is he? Where has he come from ?  What does he really want? The stranger was played by Ron Haddrick who lifts  the series out of the ordinary. He went on to become one of Australia’s  best known actors. The series sold well abroad: I watched it on the BBC  in 1965.

You can watch the series here.

 

UFO (1970)

This live action series c was reated by Sylvia and Gerry   Anderson  (creators of Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet etc). It follows the exploits of a secret organisation called SHADO set up to fight attacks by alien spacecraft. It’s set in 1980 by the way. Odd that the purple wigs never happened.  Only one series of 26 episodes was made.

You can watch the series here.

 

Space 1999 (1975-1977)

A massive explosion on the Moon  sends it out of orbit on 13th September 1999  and on a journey across the galaxy. The inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha  meet a variety of aliens along the way – some friendly, some not, of course. The series was created by Sylvia  and Gerry Anderson. Two series were made.

You can watch series 1 here.

You can watch series 2 here.

 

Children of the Stones (1977)

Astrophysicist Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas)  and his young son Matthew (Peter Demin)  arrive in the small village of Milbury, which is built in the midst of a megalithic stone circle.   Increasingly strange phenomenon are happening,  while  many of the villagers are in thrall to a cult, the “Happy Ones.” The series  was filmed  in Avebury.

You can watch the series  here.

 

The Day of the Triffids (1981)

A  BBC dramatisation of the novel by John Wyndham,  which  is by far  the best version, scripted by Douglas Livingstone. The cast includes John Duttine, Emma Relph and Maurice Colbourne.

Bill Masen is in hospital, having suffered a minor eye injury and awaiting the removal of his bandages. He calls repeatedly, but nobody comes. Plucking up the courage to take off the bandages, and venturing on to the streets of London, he discovers that most of the world has gone blind overnight, apparently after watching a metor shower. Can humanity survive this catastrophe?

Other than updating it to the 1980s the producers sensibly left the plot intact. You can read my post on the novel here.

You can watch the six episodes  as follows

Episodes 1 and 2

Episodes 3 and 4

Episodes 5 and 6.

 

Blakes 7 (1978-1981)

Created by Terry Nation this BBC series  ran for four seasons.  In the far future a group of resistance fighters led by Blake (Gareth Thomas)   and later Avon (Paul Darrow) take on the oprressive Federation. Their chief opponent  is the effortlessly cool and  unfailingly evil Servalan (Jacqueline Peace)

You watch the series here.

 

Quatermass IV (1979)

Often overlooked, the conclusion to the Quatermass series. The four episode  series  was written by Nigel Kneale, of course,  and starred John Mills as Bernard Quatermass.

It is set in a near future in which large numbers of young people are joining a  cult, the Planet People, and gathering at prehistoric sites, believing they will be transported to a better life on another planet. Professor Quatermass arrives  in London to look for his granddaughter, Hettie Carlson, and witnesses  the destruction of two spacecraft and the disappearance of a group of Planet People at a stone circle by an unknown force.

You watch the series here

 

The Lathe of Heaven (1980)

I dream.  You dream. We all dream. Every night. And then forget them. Mostly.  But suppose our dreams came true?  This is the intriguing premise  of Ursula Le Guin’s 1971 novel  which follows the dreams and story of  an ordinary man George Orr  with an ordinary job living in an ordinary flat who has  an extraordinary ability. The Lathe of Heaven was made into a television movie in 1980 by WNET and  starred   Bruce Davison,   Kevin Conway, and Margaret Avery.

You can watch the film here.

You read my post on the novel here.

 

Chocky (1984)

A Thames  television series,  based on John Wyndham’s  last novel,  and written by Anthony Read.  Matthew  is 12 and has an imaginary friend called Chocky  whom he insists is real  to the increasing alarm of his parents. But  just how imaginary is Chocky? The cast includes James Hazeldine, Carol Drinkwater  and Andrw Ellams.

You can watch the series here.

It was followed by two sequels, not based on the book,  but using some  of the the same characters.

Chocky’s  Children  (1985)  which you can watch here

Chocky’s Challenge  (1986) which you can watch here.

 

Listen…

The Time Machine by H G Wells (1895)

One of the novels in the 1890s  in which Wells invented modern science fiction. The story of an unnamed scientist whose   time machine  takes  him far into the distant future, AD 802701.  Here humanity has evolved into the Eloi, childlike creatures who live on fruits and whose simple  life seems idyllic. But this Eden has serpents. The traveller discovers that   in the depths underground there are other, darker, creatures..

The Time Machine was dramatised  on the radion by the BBC in 2009. The cast included Robert Glenister , William Gaunt, Jill Cardo and Dan Starkey.

You can listen to this broadcast here.

 

The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, 1938

On 30th  Ocober 1938 the Mercury Theatre  on the Air made a radio broadcast  on Columbia Radio of the  H G Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1897), adapted  and directed by Orson Welles, who  transferred the story to contemporray USA. After an inital announcement music was played for half an hour until it interrupted by a newsflash announcing that  a projectile had fallen in New Jersey. Then the story is carried forward with a series of dramatic  news bulletins  and  vivid  outside broadcasts describing the Martians emerging from the cylinder and then  using a heat ray.  The first half  of the broadcast ends  with a reporter on a skyscraper  describing  New York being enveloped by black poisonous gas.

Some listeners, who had missed the start of the broadcast,   believed that what they were hearing was real and there was a panic in some parts of the East  Coast, but not as much as the  myths about the broadcast  might have you believe.

You  can listen to the broadcast here.

This  is an article about the broadcast.

 

The Invisible Man by H G Wells  (1897)

The novel begins with a mysterious traveller staying in an Inn  In West Sussex whose  actions  and appearance  increasingly draw suspicion  from the locals. Who is he?  And why does he conceal his face?

You  can listen to a dramatisation  starring John Hurt  here.

 

1984 by George Orwell (1949)

One of the most influential and pessimistic novels of the twentieth century, It is  set in a socialist  England (EngSoc)  (now called Airsrip One)  in which the citizens are  controlled and surveyed at all times  by an all powerful state headed by Big Brother. The Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Plenty, Ministry of Love and Ministry of Truth are the chief organs of the state.  Winston Smith  attempts his own personal revolt. Can he succeed?

It was dramatised for the radio by the BBC in 1965.  The cast included Patrick Troughton. You can listen to this here.

 

The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham (1953)

In his second novel  The Kraken Wakes John Wyndham again imagines  the  breakdown of  human civilisation, but in a very different  way and from a very different kind of menace. By contrast with  The Day of the Triffids  –  in which the Triffids were home-grown destroyers and  highly visible throughout the novel – in The Kraken Wakes  the  invaders appear  to be  from another planet,   and  are almost  never seen, having based themselves in the ocean deeps.

In 1998 the BBC broadcast an adaptation  by John Constable. Michael Watson was played by Jonathan Cake, Phyllis Watson was played by Saira Todd.  You can listen to the series   here.

In 2004 the BBC broadcast a reading of the novel  in 16 parts, read by  Stephen Moore. You can listen to this  here.

 

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov (1954)

Set in a future in which most of humanity  is packed into  “caves  of steel” –  huge underground cities – the novel is a murder mystery.  Detective Elijah Bailey,  who has been  given the task of finding out who murdered a Spacer  ambassador, is assigned a robot –  R Daneel Olivaw –  as his partner, much to his horror.

Thel novel  was dramatised in 1989 by the BBC,  adapted by Bert Coules. The cast included Ed Bishop,  Sam Dastor  and Matt Zimmermann.

You can listen to this here.

 

The Chrysalids  by John Wyndham (1955)

The novel set in the future, perhaps several centuries after our own time. The story is told through the eyes of David Strorm as he grows up in a rural part of Labrador. This is a religiously fundamentalist society, fearful of any kind of physical difference in human bodies. “Watch Thou For The Mutant!”is drummed into the population. . We, the readers, soon divine that the “Tribulation” of which they talk was in fact a nuclear war, and that this is the society that has somehow survived, plunged back into a subsistence way of life, based on farming, with no technology. But within this ossified society the seeds of a new kind of human being are emerging into the light. In my opinion this is John Wyndham’s masterpiece.

The novel  was dramatised by the BBC in 1981 in an adapation by Barbara Clegg. The cast included Stephen Garlick, Amanda Murray. Judy Bennett and  Jane Knowles.   You can listen to  the series   here

You can read my post on the book here.

 

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham  (1957)

The story begins with a small ordinary English village being subject to a mysterious force rendering everyone within a circle unconscious for a whole day on Tuesday . The authorities outside cannot get in: an aerial photograph reveals an object in the village with “a pale oval outline, with a shape, judging by the shadows, not unlike the inverted bowl of a spoon.” When the village come back to life the object has gone, while the villagers appear not to have been harmed by what they quickly come to call  “the Dayout”.

Some months later, however, every woman of childbearing age, married or single, discovers that she is pregnant. When the children are born they have golden eyes and,  as they grow up,  reveal disquieting powers.  Who are they and what is their real mission?

The novel was adapted by William Ingram for the BBC World Service in  1982. The cast included  Charles Kay, William Gaun , Manning Wilson  and  Pauline Yates.

You can listen to the radio series here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

The Slide by Victor Pemberton (1966)

A  chilling seven part  radio series in which a small seaside town  is menaced by an eruption of  sentient mud which seems to have a  mental hold on some of the inhabitants. I listened to The Slide when it was broadcast, aged 11,  and it left a vivid impression  on me.  When I listened again more than  40 years later, I thought it was still very effective.

The cast included  Roger Delgado, Maurice Denham, David Spenser and Miriam Margolyes. The producer was John Tydeman and the sound effects were, of course, by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  Victor Pemberton  also wrote the Doctor Who serial “Fury from the Deep” (1968).

You can listen to the series  here.

 

The Dispossesd by Ursula Le Guin (1974)

In her new introduction to the Library of America reprint in 2017, Ursula  wrote:

The Dispossessed started as a very bad short story, which I didn’t try to finish but couldn’t quite let go. There was a book in it, and I knew it, but the book had to wait for me to learn what I was writing about and how to write about it. I needed to understand my own passionate opposition to the war that we were, endlessly it seemed, waging in Vietnam, and endlessly protesting at home. If I had known then that my country would continue making aggressive wars for the rest of my life, I might have had less energy for protesting that one. But, knowing only that I didn’t want to study war no more, I studied peace. I started by reading a whole mess of utopias and learning something about pacifism and Gandhi and nonviolent resistance. This led me to the nonviolent anarchist writers such as Peter Kropotkin and Paul Goodman. With them I felt a great, immediate affinity. They made sense to me in the way Lao Tzu did. They enabled me to think about war, peace, politics, how we govern one another and ourselves, the value of failure, and the strength of what is weak.

So, when I realised that nobody had yet written an anarchist utopia, I finally began to see what my book might be. And I found that its principal character, whom I’d first glimpsed in the original misbegotten story, was alive and well—my guide to Anarres.”

You can listen to a dramatisation of this novel by CBC radio  here.

Short Stories by Ken Macleod

 Lighting Out

Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?

The Vorkuta event.

The Entire Immense Superstructure’: An Installation

 

Read…

From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne (1865)

Jules Verne invented a good deal of what later came to be called “science fiction,”  his work was  widely read not just in France but in Anglophone countries as well.   In this early novel the Baltimore Gun Club decide to visit the Moon, not using a rocket,  but instead  by  building  a huge gun In Florida  and firing a shell towards our satellite.- with themselves inside ! The novel was adapted as the opera in 1875, with music by Offenbach. It also  inspired the first science fiction film A Trip to the Moon.

You can read the novel here.

You can read the sequel All Around The Moon (1870)  (and find out  if the  three adventurers  survived the trip) here.

You can watch  A Trip to the Moon here.

 

20,000 Leagues under Sea  by Jules Verne (1871)

Three adventurers in pursuit of what is though to be a giant narwhal which  has been attacking  shipping  discover it  is in fact  an electric powered submarine  and are taken aboard. Commanded by Captain  Nemo,  the Nautilus  roams the world’s occens gathering scientific knowledge but also attacking ship in a personal vendetta by Nemo.  it has been filmed several times.

You can read the novel here.

You can read the sequel  The Mysterious Island here.

You can watch the 1916 silent  film of the novel  here.

 

When The Sleeper Awakes by H G Wells (1898)

Graham wakes up after being asleep for 203 years, having fallen into a coma at the end of the C19th. Whilst asleep he  has not only became a symbol of hope for the common people, but also, because of the investments made in his name by his friends, which have grown enormously during his time asleep, he is actually “the Owner” – the Master of the world. The moment he wakes up, he is plunged into the midst of a revolution as the people, led by Boss Ostrog, battle and defeat the oppressive White Council, which was ruling the world in his name. The rest of the novel follows his adventures in this future society,  whose real nature he only slowly comes to comprehend.

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

The Sorcery Shop: an Impossible Romance by Robert Blatchford (1907)

In The Sorcery Shop Robert Blatchford attempts to describe what a Socialist utopia might look like, imagining the grimy, smoke-clogged city of Manchester, which he knew very well, transformed a sunlit city of flowers, fountains and crystal towers. It is of a piece, therefore, with other socialist utopian novels of the period, including Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888), William Morris’ News from Nowhere (1890), H G Wells’ A Modern Utopia (1905) and Men Like Gods (1923), and Charlote Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915)

Robert Blatchford and his friends were the founders in 1891 of the Clarion newspaper: the most influential Socialist newspaper ever published in Britain, which created thousands of Socialists and inspired a whole social movement.

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

October the First is Too Late by Fred Hoyle (1966)

In his introduction to this novel Hoyle writes: “The ‘science’ in this book is mostly scaffolding for the story, story-telling in the traditional sense. However, the discussions of the significance of time and of the meaning of consciousness are intended to be quite serious…”

Hoyle’s novels often have a scientist as the main protagonist, but in this novel it is a musician and composer named Dick: accordingly each chapter is named after a musical theme or style eg “Fugue” and “Coda.”. The novel begins in 1966 when he runs into an old university friend John Sinclair, now a scientist, and on an impulse they set off together on a trip to Scotland. Something very odd happens here. Sinclair disappears for half a day, and on returning cannot explain or recall what has happened to him. The trip is cut short when Sinclair is recalled to the USA to assist in the investigation of a strange solar phemonena. Dick accompanies him to Hawaii, where Sinclair and others establish that the Sun is somehow being used as a signalling device with an enormous amount of data being transmitted. Barely have they absorbed this astonishing fact when all contact is lost with the USA: it is feared that a nuclear war has begun.

Dick and Sinclair manage to get places on a plane sent to investigate what has happened. Flying above Los Angeles there is no sign of a war: the city is simply no longer there, just woods and grassland in its place. Journeying on, they see the same across the continent. Crossing the Atlantic they find to their relief that the England of 1966 is still there but Europe has reverted to 1917 with the First World War raging. The rest of the novel explores the implications and possible cause of this extraordinary situation. .

You can read the novel online here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

Mutant 59: the Plastic Eater by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler (1972)

Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler met in 1966 when Gerry was the script editor at Doctor Who, and was looking for a scientific advisor to inject a greater degree of scientific speculation into the programme. Kit was head of a research unit at the Institute of Opthamalmology at the University of London.

Kit suggested that the newly built Post Office Tower, then the tallest structure in London, could be used by a computer to take over the capital using the telephone network to control the minds of humans. This evolved into the serial The War Machines, broadcast in the summer of 1966, featuring the computer WOTAN and its war machines. They then came up with the idea of the Cybermen: humanoids who have replaced so much of their bodies with technology that they have lost all emotion and empathy. Their first story featuring the Cybermen “The Tenth Planet” aired in the autumn 1966. The silver monsters were a big hit with the public, and were quickly brought back in “The Moonbase” (February 1967) and then in “The Tomb of the Cybermen” (September 1967). After Gerry left Doctor Who Kit worked with Victor Pemberton on “The Wheel in Space” (May 1968), and with Derrick Sherwin on another Cybermen serial “The Invasion” (November 1968). This was Kit’s last involvement with Doctor Who.

By 1970 Kit was becoming disillusioned by science and increasingly alarmed about the effect that technology and the headlong rush for economic growth at all costs was having on the environment. He, and many others around the globe, feared the possibility of ecological collapse. Working together again, Kit and Gerry created a series for the BBC called Doomwatch. “Doomwatch” is the nickname for special government unit established to monitor environmental and other threats to the public. The first series created a sensation with storylines on issues such as transplants, genetic mutation of rats, chemical poisoning, and a crashed nuclear bomb on the south coast. The extensive scientific research done by Kit for the series meant that the storylines appeared to anticipate news stories.

After Doomwatch Gerry and Kit wrote three novels together, the first of which was Mutant 59, partly based on a storyline in Doomwatch.

You can read the novel  here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

You can read a 1973 interview with Gerry and Kit here.

You can read  my post on their second  novel  Brainrack (1974)  here.

You can read my post on  their third novel  The Dynostar Menace (1975) here.

 

The Exile In Waiting by Vonda  N McIntyre (1975)

The novel is set on a future Earth, turned into a desert  by some environmental catastrophe.  The only surviving city is Center,  an underground city run by a handful of wealthy families who control the air, food,  power and water.  Many of the inhabitants are little more than slave in thrall to the familiess.

Mischa is a teenager, scraping a living  in the back streets of Center by any means possible, including stealing. She is also an empath who senses the moods of others, including her sister Gemmi with whom she has a strong emotional  link that keeps her trapped in Center. The novel follows her quest for freedom and happiness.

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

Dreamsnake by Vonda N  McIntyre (1978)

The novel seems to be set in the world outside Center. Snake is a healer who uses  her three snakes to cure people. But her  very rare dreamsnake  is  killed and she needs to find another. The novel follows her quest and her adventures and encounters on the journey.

You can read the novel here.

 

Superluminal by Vonda McIntyre (1983)

Often overshadowed  by  Vonda’s first two novel. Laenea Trevelyan, has her heart replaced with a machine so she can survive faster-than-light travel and become a pilot. Orca, a diver, divides her time between starships and the Strait of Georgia, where her relatives include a family of killer whales and a group of other divers, human beings who can exist underwater.  Radu Dracul, a colonist from the alien world Twilight, having chosen to leave his home and become a starship crew member, discovers he has abilities he never dreamed of…

You can read the novel here.

 

Short Stories by Ken Macleod

A Tulip for Lucretius

Earth Hour

Jesus Christ Reanimator

 

Learn…

Andrew Pixley

For the last 30 years Andrew has  written about almost anything to do with television if people will pay him – and occasionally when they won’t… He has made many  contributions to the Doctor Who magazine,  worked as a consultant and researcher on tv documentaries  such as Thirty Years in the Tardis, written The Avengers Files and The Daleks; a history from BBC Video,    as well  providing the accompanying notes to  a variety of  boxsets of televison and radio series,  including  Doctor Who,  A for Andromeda, Callan,  Public Eye, The Prisoner and Journey into Space.

You can read his posts on the Critical  Studies in Television blog   here 

 

Bergcast

A podcast  about Nigel Kneale and the Quatermass series.

 

Blogtor Who :the definite article you might say.

Extensive news and resources site  on Doctor Who, Big Finish releases. etc.

 

Doctor Who

The  official  BBC site with many  resources on the series, past and present

The Early Days of a Better Nation

Science fiction Ken Macleodreflects on science fiction, socilaist politics and much else. the title comes from two sources: “Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray. “If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god.”—Graydon Saunders

Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Now in its third edition, edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls (emeritus) and Graham Sleight (managing). It has more than 18,000 entries  which are free to read online.

 

Galactic Journey. 55 years ago science fact and fiction

The website looks back 55 years to another world, another time,  with sections on science  fiction, music and much more from 1965.

 

H G Wells Society

The H.G. Wells Society was founded by Dr. John Hammond in 1960. It has an international membership, and aims to promote a widespread interest in the life, work and thought of Herbert George Wells. The society publishes a peer-reviewed annual journal, The Wellsian, and issues a biannual newsletter. It has published a comprehensive bibliography of Wells’s published works, and other publications, including a number of works by Wells which have been out of print for many years.

 

K U Gunn Centre for the Study of Science Fiction

This site provides a wealth of information and informed commentary about science fiction and the Center’s programs, including awards, course syllabi, writing resources, and much more.

 

Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy

A non-circulating research collection of over 80,000 items of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction, as well as magic realism, experimental writing and some materials in ‘fringe’ areas such as parapsychology, UFOs, Atlantean legends etc.

 

The Time Ladies

“A blog for all Doctor Who fans, ran by female Doctor Who fans.”

 

Toby Hadoke’s Who’s Round

In honour of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013, Toby Hadoke embarked on an epic quest: to interview someone from every single Doctor Who story. Feeling Doctors or companions are a bit too easy, he travels the country meeting legends from the show’s history from both in front of and behind the cameras, and chats to them about their time working on Doctor Who and the lives they have led since (and, indeed, before).

The interviews are in the form of podcasts on the Big Finish website, which you can download or stream here, or subscribe on iTunes, Spotify or other podcast outlets. All episodes are free, so if you’ve enjoyed Toby’s chat, all he asks is that you give a donation to a charity nominated by the interview subject.

Una McCormack

Una  is a New York Times bestselling science fiction author. She is passionate about women’s writing, science fiction, and helping people find their words and voices. Her work includes Doctor Who novels and  Doctor Who stories for Big Finish eg Red Planets as well as  Star Trek novels and other work.

 

Univerity of Liverpool; Science fiction collection.

The book stock at Liverpool is mainly formed by the Science Fiction Foundation Library. It represents the largest catalogued collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror and related literary criticism in Europe, totalling over 35,000 books.

 

Unwilling Adventurer

Run by sisters Katie and Claire and devoted to their varied  interests,  including Hartnell era Doctor Who.

 

Ursula Le Guin

Put simply Ursula was the most influential science  fiction  writer of the past half century.

 

Verity Podcast

“A Doctor Who podcast where a rotating cast of six women, from across the globe, talk all things Doctor Who. We have opinions.”

 

Wells at the Worlds End.

Adam Roberts  read through the whole of HG  Wells’ work  for a book and blogged about each book as he went along. The book  H G Wells,  A Literary Life, was published by Palgrave.

 

The work of Lisa Yaszek

Lisa is Professor of Science Fiction Studies in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech, where she researches and teaches science fiction as a global language crossing centuries, continents, and cultures. She is particularly interested in issues of gender, race, and science and technology in science fiction across media as well as the recovery of lost voices in science fiction history and the discovery of new voices from around the globe

“A grim fantasy” : remaking American history in Octavia Butler’s Kindred

 

Women’s Press Science Fiction series

Between 1983 and  1990  the  Women’s Press published a series  of feminist science fiction novels and collections by women writers. The titles included a mix of classsics  and new work.  Some  bear rereading, some less so.

You can read  reviews I have written  of  a number of the novels here.

You can read more about the series   here –  SF Mistressworks website

 

Falling off the tightrope: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Falling off the tightrope: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951)

Triffids front cover

“When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.” This is the arresting first sentence  of  The Day of the Triffids, the novel  which made John Wyndham’s name as a science fiction writer and  which has remained in print  ever since its  first publication in 1951.

Wyndham was born in 1903: his full name was John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris!  He had a public school education, including  a period  spent at the liberal school,  Bedales. He tried his hand at a number of professions before turning (like many a down at heel young person)  to writing.  By the early  1930s he was making a living selling science fiction stories to American  magazines such as Amazing Stories, under the pen names of John Beynon,  John Lucas Harris and Lucas Parkes. In 1933  his short story “The Puff-Ball Menace” was published in Wonder Stories,  in which  an enemy  country plants a fungus in Britain which breeds rapidly  and is fatal. He also wrote a  novel Planet Plane which was set on Mars. Its fair to say that none of his work was noticed by the general public.

After serving in the army during the Second  World War he went back to writing, now using a new  pen name  “John Wyndham”  and had his first success with The Day of the Triffids.

John Duttine as Bill Masen

Bill Masen (John Duttine) in 1981 TV adapatation

The narrator is Bill Masen  whom we find at the start of the novel in hospital,   having suffered a minor eye injury and awaiting the removal of his bandages.  He calls repeatedly,  but nobody comes.  Plucking up the courage to take off the bandages, and venturing on to the streets of London, he discovers that most of the world has gone blind overnight, apparently after watching a metor shower. He rescues a young woman, Josella Playton, and they  meet up with a group of other survivors, led by Michael Beadley, who  plan to leave London and set up in the countryside. Before they can do do so Bill and Josella are separated, captured by another group of survivors, led by a man called Coker.  Bill is forced  to lead a group of blinded people, finding food for them,  until he frees  himself when they die from a form of  plague. Bill teams up with Coker for a time, seeking Josella,  but they part when  Bill  heads off to Surrey looking for a farm house mentioned by her. On the way he rescues a young sighted girl, Susan, and eventually  they find Josella and her friends, who are blind. They survive by farming,  but are menaced by the triffids, a  plant which  mysteriously appeared around the planet some decades  before. It  was bred for its oil,  but can walk on three stalks and kill with a poisoned lash.

Bill and Josella (Emma Relph) battle a triffid

Bill and Josella (Emma Relph) battle a triffid

After six years the small group is found by a helicopter from the Isle of Wight,  where Coker and  Beadley have established a colony. They plan to go there,  but are  then found by another group, a para-military outfit from Brighton, who plan to turn the farm into a feudal-type seigneury. Bill, Josella  and the others get them drunk and successfully make their escape as the triffids pour into the farm.  The book ends with Bill completing his memoir:

” We think now we can see  the way, but there is still a lot of work  and research to be done before the day that we, or our children, or their children, will cross the narrow straits on the great crusade to drive the triffids back  and back with ceaseless destruction until we have wiped the last one of them from the face of the land that they have usurped.”

The novel’s  opening grips the reader with its vivid scenes of a London where most people have gone blind, and which quickly descends into  violence  and chaos.  This  is not a sentimental read:  a number cannot face a future without sight and kill  themselves,  while others try and capture a sighted person to act as the guide. This is what has happened to Josella until Bill frees her.  Some can cope. I  like the little vignette  of Bill encountering a blind man who, when he learns what has happened , gives a short, bitter laugh and says “They’ll be be needing all their damned patronage for themselves now,”  and sets off again “with an exaggerated air of independence.

Having set out  the  opening scenes Wyndham goes back  into past to explain the presence of the triffids which, he suggests,  were developed behind  the Iron Curtain for their oil,  but then scattered around the world when a plane was shot down in which a man  was trying to smuggle the seeds  to a company in the West. As a young boy  Bill was nearly killed by one that grew in his garden, but then went on to work with them, which is why he is wary of them from the beginning of the novel unlike others.  He is proved right when the triffids escape from the farms and began  killing the now defenceless humans.

In  Wyndham’s  novels   his male leads, whilst  decent and  resourceful in the face of crisis,  are never   the smartest people in the room.  Josella is  sharper  on the uptake than  Bill;  Walter – his   work colleague at the triffid farm – theorises that  that the plants are using their rattling stalks to communicate (something Bill has never  noticed) telling him, “there’s certainly intelligence there,  of a kind.”;  Michael Beadley points that the world they knew has gone and will never return; Susan,  when grown up at the farm in Surrey, points out that the triffids respond to noise and can act in concert by massing together. Bill is given one  insight  when, towards the end of the novel,  he suggest that the blindness was not a natural phenomenenon,  but  caused by a satellite  weapon which had been accidentally triggered.  Wyndham did not invent the idea of satellites orbiting the earth,  but he was one of the first writers  to suggest their potential as weapons.

Whilst the 1950s has come to be viewed as era of   peace and stability,  this is far  from the truth.  The Second World War had devastated  much of Europe as cities were bombed and burned,  whilst millions died in extermination camps. This was followed by the Cold War  in which both sides stockpiled nuclear weapons: the threat of another, even more destructive war, seemed very real.  Wyndham gives a key speech to Michael Beadley,  near  the beginning of the book,  which sums this up: “From 6 August 1945, the margin of survival has narrowed appallingly. Indeed, two days ago, it was narrower than it is at the moment. If you need to dramatize, you could well take for your material the years succeeding 1945 when the path of safety started to shrink to a tight-rope along which we had to walk with our eyes deliberately closed to the depths beneath us.”  Society, Wyndham suggests, is  so fragile it  could vanish  overnight.  Bill suggests to Josella later in the novel: “You remember  what Michael Beadley said about the tightrope we’ve been walking on for years….Well,  I think what happened was that we came off it – and that a few of us just managed to survive the crash.”

still from 2009 TV version

a still from 2009 TV version

Amidst his vivid depiction of the end  of the world,  Wyndham finds time for some social satire. At  the meeting chaired by Michael Beadley at the University, a Dr Vorless, a Professor of Sociology, shocks some of  the audience when he tells them  that conventional social morality is dead and that in order to survive, “The men must work and the women have babies…In our new world, then, babies become very much more important than husbands.” He suggests men should have three partners, one sighted, two blind. Bill is  taken  aback,  but Josella  reassures him, “You won’t need to worry at, all, my dear,  I shall choose two nice, sensible girls.”Oh“,  says Bill.

Wyndham gives a misogynist speech  to  Coker  who,  after  he and Bill have  made  their way a manor house  being used  as a refuge by survivors,   discovers that they are using candles. He  gets a plant going to provide electricity, but then  rails against a young woman: “You know perfectly well that women  can and do  – or rather did – handle the most complicated and delicate machines when  they took the trouble to understand them. What generally happens is that they’re too busy to take the trouble unless they have to. Why should they bother when the tradition of appealing helplessness can be rationalized as a womanly virtue – and the job just shoved off on to somebody else? …Men  have played up to it by stoutly repairing the poor darling’s vacuum cleaner, and capably replacing  the blown fuse. The whole charade has been accepatable to both parties.” This  feels like somehing said by a travelling commercial agent after several gins in the saloon bar of a Tudorbethan pub in Surrey. Did Wyndham personally  believe this  or did he wish to define Coker’s character more strongly?

John Wyndham

John Wyndham

Wyndham was interviewed on the Tonight programme on 6  September 1961. He said, “what one starts with is the theme, and then you work it out to the logical conclusion as far as possible…The upper limit of sheer invention is what is acceptable to the public whom you are hoping to please, whose attention you are hoping to keep.  Somebody once said that  the heart of fantasy is the willing suspension of disbelief. But you must not go beyond a certain barrier,   if you can find it, in which that willing suspension is shattered.” He explained  that the idea for the triffids came one night when he was walking along a dark lane in the country: “the hedges were only just distinguishable against the sky and the higher things sticking up from the hedges became rather menacing, one felt that they  might come over  and strike down or sting at you. The whole thing eventually grew out of that.” You can watch the  whole interview  here.

Overall The Day of the Triffids certainly stands the test of time as a well-plotted and  imaginative read. It sold very well and was followed by a number of other successful novels that I will be looking at in future posts.

Barbara Shelley

                     Barbara Shelley

The book was adapted for radio and broadcast on the BBC Home Service  in July 1953. In 1960 the  BBC  broadcast  another adaptation, written  by  Giles Cooper,   with Patrick Barr as Bill and Monica Gray  as Josella.  Another version was broadcast  in 1968, also written by Giles Cooper, with Gary Watson as Bill and Barbara  Shelley as Josella. You can listen to both versions here . The 1968 version has music created  by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  Incidentally, Barbara Shelley appeared in a number of films,  including  The Village of the Damned (1960) (an  adapation of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos) , the film version of  Quatermass and the Pit (1968),  and also on television in  The Avengers‘ episode “From Venus with Love” (1967) (in which Jon Pertwee also  appeared).

An adaptation by Lance Dann in two 45-minute episodes for the BBC World Service was first broadcast on 8 and 22 September 2001. It was directed by Rosalind Ward , and the cast included Jamie Glover as Bill and Tracy Ann Oberman as Josella.

You also can listen  to the book being read by Roger May   in 17 episodes  here

In 1962 The Day of the Triffids was filmed with Howard  Keel and Jannete Scott  in the main roles,  while Carole Ann Ford had a small part( later to play Susan in Doctor Who in 1963). It’s not very good,  but if you feel you must,  you can watch it here.  In 1974 a triffid, presumably left over from the film, was amongst the props offered for sale in a huge clear-out at Shepperton Studios.

In 1981 the BBC broadcast a six part  adaptation,   written by Douglas Livingstone,  produced by David Maloney and directed by Ken Hannam. It starred  John Duttine as Bill and  Emma Relph as Josella. It been  updated to the early 1980s,  but otherwise follows the book very  closely and respectfully.  Personally I think it’s very good, but you can judge for yourselves  by  watching  it on Daily Motion, beginning here.

In the mid 1980s a band from Perth, Western Australia called The Triffids achived a measure of fame.

Finally there is whole website devoted to the book:  The Readers Guide to Day of the Triffids.

Review

“John Wyndham in The Day of the Triffids writes a Wellsian fantasy and raises up a truly sinister vegetable for the chastisement  of mankind. He has imagination and wit, but to the averagely bedevilled awareness, his use of them here may seem mal a propos”. Paul Bloomfield,  The Guardian,  24 August 1951, p. 4.

If  you would like to comment on this post, you can either  comment  via the blog or email me, fopsfblog@gmail.

In my next post I will be looking at The Sleeper Awakes by H G Wells (1910)

A message from the stars: A for Andromeda (1961)

Front RT A for Andromefa

A  for Andromeda, broadcast by the BBC,  October – November 1961

Cast:  Julie Christie (Christine Flemstad and Andromeda),  Peter Halliday (John Fleming),  John Hollis (Kaufman),  Patricia Kneale (Judy Adamson),   Esmond Knight (Ernest Reinhart), Mary Morris (Madeleine Dawnay), Frank Windsor (Dennis Bridger),  and others.

Producers: Michael Hayes and Norman James.  Director: Michael Hayes

The series was created  by Fred Hoyle and John Elliot.  Hoyle was an astrophysicist at Cambridge, one of the best known in the country,  who often appeared in the press, on the radio or on television.

He also wrote science fiction eg The Black Cloud (1957),  a bestselling  novel about a sentient gas cloud which enters the solar  system and causes devastation on the Earth when it blocks the light from the sun. (It bears some  similarities to H G Wells’ short story The Star, published in 1897).  His science fiction play for children, Rockets in Ursa Major,  was performed at the Mermaid Theatre in December 1962.

The BBC broadcast a radio adaptation of The  Black Cloud   in December 1957,  and entered into discussions  with Hoyle about a six part television adaptation,  which  in the end fell through. However John Elliot, assistant head of the BBC’s script unit, accompanied by Norman James and Donald Bull, had a meeting with Hoyle in  a pub in Cambridge by the end of which (after a few pints no doubt) they had come up with the basic outline for A For Andromeda.  Hoyle provided the scientific background:  Elliot, a very  experienced writer for television, wrote the scripts for the seven episodes.

 

Fred Hoyle

Fred Hoyle

Hoyle’s involvement  meant that the science was up to scratch and up to date.  The Jodrell Bank radio telescope (undoubtedly the model for the  Bouldershaw Fell  radio telescope in the story)  had only opened in 1957,   while  the double helix structure  of DNA – the basis for the creation of Andromeda –  had only been conclusively identified by James Watson and Francis Crick  a few years earlier.

The 1950s (which I  was born in the middle of, by the way) is often portrayed as a conservative era  as Britain recovered from the war and enjoyed an unprecedented economic boom under a succession of Tory governments. There were,  however, increasing signs of change.   Britain  invaded Egypt in 1956 but then had to pull out after  the Americans  told them to:  many of its colonies were demanding independence  and  there were conflicts in places such as Kenya, Cyprus and Malaya.  There was a growing sense that Britain was no longer the world  power it was, unsettling to  many who had taken this for granted, something played  on in the series when the government realises what the computer can offer by way of technology, or appears to offer  anyhow.  In 1957 the Russians shocked the world when they put the first satellite   “Sputnik 1” into space. What  might  come next? A message from space?

On  October  1961, to coincide with the broadcast of the first episode, The Observer ran a profile of Fred Hoyle. “International intrigue, gunplay and cunning, romantic interlude with nubile woman security officer, alien cosmic intellience darkly  threatening over all, is this the ultimately revealing common touch?…This Hoylian swoop to the popular  level has by now become of his best known  characteristics. He first made his  mark as a straightforward populariser of science ten years ago with a series of broadcast  talks on astro-physics that were scholarly, imaginative, and lucid –  qualities that seemed to grow naturally out of his passion for the subject and that people should be on the same affectionate terms with outer space as he himself is.”

Unfortunately, due to the BBC’s policy in the 1960s  of wiping the video tapes of programmes that  it thought it no longer had any use for, only the sixth  episode, “The Face of the Tiger, ” has survived in its entirety,  along with some short filmed  extracts from other episodes,  and  the  dramatic scenes at the end  of the seventh and final  episode, “The Last Mystery”.  Fortunately,  photosnaps of the missing episodes have survived,  and  these have been  used to recreate the missing episodes for the DVD release with subtitles and  ambient  music. Viewed as a whole,  this  is enough to give a flavour of the serial, at least. Incidentally, the outside filming for the series  was done at an army camp on the coast  near Tenby, standing in for Scotland,  presumably because  it was considered equally  windy and wet.

The story begins in  1970 when the radio telescope at Bouldershaw Fell, designed by two  scientists, John Fleming and Dennis Bridger, detects a complex radio message  from the direction of the Andromeda Galaxy. Fleming realises that the message contains the design and programme for an advanced  computer and decodes it,  assisted by Bridger and a young woman,  Christine Flemstad. The government agrees to build the computer at Thorness, a remote military  location in Scotland. But other people are also  interested in the message:  Bridger is covertly  handing over information to a German  named Kaufman who works for Intel,  a shadowy international  cartel. On completion  the computer is switched on and prints out  information on how to create living cells.  A biologist Madeleine Dawnay is  brought in who  succeeds in creating a primitive one-eyed organism. Fleming has now become very suspicious of the computer and its true motives: “Dawnay thinks the machine’s given her power to create life; but she’s wrong. It’s given itself the power.” He urges them to destroy the  organism, but is ignored.

Christine (Julie Christie)

Bridger’s espionage  activities are discovered  and he is killed after falling over a cliff whilst  being pursued by Judy Adamson, ostensibly the press officer,  but also a covert  MOD security officer. Christine is increasingly drawn to the computer,  and  dies after receiving a high-voltage charge through a terminal. The computer now  produces a fresh set of instructions which  enable Dawnay to create a fully-grown young woman who,  when she comes to life,  is the double of Christine, except  her hair is blonde. She can communicate directly with the computer:  the team name her  Andromeda, Andre for short.

Frankly the series takes a long time to get going. Whilst A for Andromeda is remembered  for Julie Christie’s performance as Andromeda (she was  offered the role as she completed her final year at drama school), she does not appear  as that character  until the fifth episode. Before that she plays Christine in a dark wig.

 

The plot  up to  this point has revolved around  the message from space, the construction of the computer,  and Bridger’s spying activities. In its tone,  the series  has a lot in common  with the Quatermass serials, broadcast by the BBC  in the 1950s, with  the screen being  filled with politicians,  civil servants,  scientists and the military, almost all male.  Although set in a decade in the future there is little effort  made to show  what this might look like, except that there are more women in the main roles than was usual. Michael Hayes  suggested  that by 1970  women  would be more equal,  and the part of  Dawnay  was therefore  rewritten for a woman.

In the sixth episode the plot moves forward a good deal.  Andre provides the plans for a successful anti-ballistic missile,  and also apparently the formula   for an enzyme which can reverse cell damage.  Fleming challenges Andre:  is she  really human or merely an extension  of the computer?  Andre   tells Fleming,  “I do not understand you.  Nice, nasty, good, bad,  there is no logical distinction…You are like children with your missiles and rockets. All the same, I am going to save you. It’s quite simple really.”

Andre (Julie Christie) and Fleming (Peter Halliday)

Fleming attempts to humanise Andre by  suggesting that she wears  perfume and kissing her forcibly, not a scene you would include today.  Kaufman meets Geers, the project director, to discuss an agreement with Intel  to market the  healing enzyme, his role in the death of Bridger  brushed aside when Judy objects: “the climate has changed…the government needs world markets“.

The Prime Minister (looking remarkably like Harold Macmillan),  broadcasts to the nation, announcing that  Britain will have “a new, and  a finer  Industrial Revolution.”  Fleming is now even more   suspicious : “A year ago the computer had no power outside its own building, and even then we were in charge of it. Now it’s got the whole country depending  on it and the original team are all pushed out…This machine wasn’t programmed for our good.”  At the end of the episode  Dawnay has been poisoned by the enzyme, but  Fleming realises this  and is able to save her by creating a new formula.

 

In the final episode Andre is freed from the control of the computer after Fleming  manages to  get into the control room  and smash it. She tells him that she and the machine are slaves to an intelligence that  will take over humanity,  that she is only  human by accident: “The logic you can’t deny is the strongest chain. I did what I had to but now the logic is gone,  and I don’t know what to do...”

Fleming persuades Andre to return to the control room and burn the message, ensuring that the computer  can never be rebuilt.  Then –  in some well-handled  dramatic outdoor scenes scenes,  shot at night –  she is chased by the military. Fleming finds Andre,  uses a digger to get through the security fence,  and they head off in a boat, pursued by a launch  in which are  Judy, Quadring  and  his soldiers.

Landing on an island, they seek refuge in some caves where they get separated:  Andre vanishes, apparently having drowned after falling  into a deep pool. Fleming comments bitterly,  “We taught her everything else. We didn’t teach her to swim, did we?” Judy tells him, “…You don’t have to  do anymore…It’s all over..It’s finished“.

To truly enjoy A for Andromeda you have watch it, not with the eyes of  own era, in which  we are used to quick-fire storylines,  rapid editing,   and  an overload  of CGI effects, but with the eyes of 1961,  as best you can. At this time television drama was only just emerging from the era when it was broadcast live with actors racing  between sets in time for their cues.  A for Andromeda has  sound scripts and direction,  and a good cast. It  has also a luminous performance by Julie Christie in her first important acting role, who makes Andre both human  and alien.

The series  has some intriguing scientific  ideas (more ideas than the entire Star Wars oeuvre, in fact) mixing astronomy and biology.  It was also  in tune with the idea current  in the early  1960s that,  having lost its empire,  scientific  advances would be the way forward for Britain. The Prime Minister’s speech in episode six  anticipates  Labour party leader Harold Wilson’s speech in October 1963,  in which he spoke of a new Britain that would be forged in  “the white heat” of  a “technological revolution.”

Judy Adamson (Patricia Kneale) and John Fleming

In terms of the history of science fiction on television A for Andromeda  clearly follows on from the three  Quatermass series of the 1950s and points the way towards Out of the Unknown, four series of science  fiction stories   broadcast by the BBC  between 1965 and 1971, and also  series such as R3  (1964) and   Undermind (1965).

I do not see it  at as a predecessor to Doctor Who,  whose direct ancestor is  surely  Pathfinders in Space, written by Malcolm Hulke and Eric Paice.  (Hulke went on to write anumber of serials  for Doctor Who).  I do see a parallel with Doctor Who in so much as that,  in the mid 1960s,  its script editor Gerry Davis brought in Kit Pedler to act as the scientific advisor to the show, creating serials such as “The War Machines”,  “The Tenth Planet” and “The Moonbase”. And there is perhaps an influence in the sense that a sentient computer with a plan to dominate the  world and the ability  to exercise mind control  appears  in number of storylines; WOTAN in “The War Machines” and  BOSS in “The Green Death.

The series was very popular with the public,  with the numbers watching  rising from  6 million at the start to nearly 13 million by the end. Reviews in the press were mixed, though, as can be seen below.

John Elliot wrote a novel of A for Andromeda,  based on his scripts, which was published by Souvenir Press in February 1962,  and sold well. It has been republished several times since. Elliot did much more than reproduce the script:  he added characterisation,  incident and detail and it stands up extremely  well as a novel in its own right. This is an extract from when Andromeda first communicates with the computer:

She went reluctantly, her face strained and set. When she reache the panel, she stood there,  a terminal a few inches from each side of her head., and the lights began flashing faster. The room was full of the hum of the computer’s equipment. Slowly, without being told , she put her hands up towards. the plates… As the girl’s hands touched the metal plates, she shivered. She stood with her face blank, as if entranced, and then she let go and swayed unsteadily….”It speaks to me,” said the girl. “It knows about me.”

The ending is  different to the broadcast ending, and  bleaker. Judy does not arrive with the soldiers. Instead Fleming is on his own after  Andre  vanishes in the caves:

He never found anything more. They had taught her so much, he thought grimly, but they had never taught her to swim. He was stricken by a great pang of sorrow and remorse; he spent the next hour in a morbid and hopeless examination of the cave, and then went wearily back to the beach where he propped himself between two rocks until dawn. He had no fear of sleeping; he had a greater, half-delirious fear of something unspeakable coming out of the tunnel mouth – something unquenchable from a thousand million miles away – something that had spoken to him first on a dark night such as this.

Nothing came, and after the first hour or so of daylight a naval launch swept in from seaward. He made no attempt to move, even after the launch reached the island, and the crew found him staring out over the ever-changing pattern of the sea.

In 1971 the Italian television company RAI made their own  version, A Come Andromeda, which  followed  the original version very closely, even to the extent  keeping the English names of the characters.  If you have good Italian (there are no subtitles), you can watch it here.

In 2006 BBC Four showed a remake of A for Andromeda, written by Richard Fell,  which lasted  a mere 85 minutes with a number of plot  and character changes. Personally,  I thought it completely failed to capture the feeling of the original,  and was a pointless exercise and wasted opportunity.

More positively in 2006,  the BBC released  a DVD   comprising  A for Andromeda and The Andromeda Breakthrough. This  included the surviving episodes and telesnaps, extensive notes on the history of the  production of both series prepared by Andrew Pixley (which  were  invaluable for this post),  and interviews with  some of then surviving  cast members, including Peter Halliday,  Michael Hayes, Patricia Kneale, Frank Windsor and Susan Hampshire. Sadly since then we have lost Peter Halliday  and Michael Hayes.

You can watch episode 6 of A for Andromeda  on Daily Motion.

Reviews in the press

Although it is encouraging to have the authority of Professor Fred Hoyle for the scientific credibility of the new BBC science fiction serial  A for Andromeda, which  he has written with Mr John Elliot, evidently it is the skill of Mr  Hoyle the novelist which will mainly be called upon to hold our attention for the next six episodes.  In the first episode last night it was well in evidence. The tensions and cross-currents in the scientific establishment , where a new giant radio telescope is about to be inaugurated,  were economically hit in the first few minutes: the little bouts of feline malice among the scientists, the general disaffection among the staff  so far as the tactical aspects of the work are concerned (they are all ex-Communists, Aldermaston marchers and other ‘undesirables’ by western alliance standards), the mysterious new ‘press officer’ who is clearly not what she seems. Interest has certainly been piqued and, if one major character,  the angry  young physicist Fleming, who is drunk for much of the time and transported by wild-eyed attacks of hysterical fury when sober, seems likely to prove wearing, in compensation the series promises us Mary Morris as a leading player in later instalments.” The Times, 4 October 1961, p. 16

“Fred Hoyle is my favourite cosmologist and  astronomer. The news that he written a science  fiction serial script for the BBB to be this autumn’s Quatermass equivalent would have excited me had I not read or failed to read his science fiction thriller. The first instalment of A for Andromeda was as dense as one of those White Dwarf  stars a pinch of whose dust weighs a ton. There may be a nice globally  significant plot working out with messages from Andromeda coming through on the radio telescope,  but the earthly characters  are terribly hard to believe in yet. They telegraph their punches like old pugs.” Maurice Richardson, The Observer, 8 October 1961, p.26.

“Professor Fred Hoyle’s science -fiction serial on the BBC appears to be a cooling star – but let us hope it is not a dying one.  Last night the second episode of A for Andromeda got very little further forward than the first instalment. Although one had hoped that the slowness and stodginess of the opening would loosen up and give way to some  exciting events, as the meaning of the  code message from  the Andromeda  constellation  came through,  this expectation was not fulfilled.  Very little happened in the second instalment: the events were all on the celestial  plane,  and the plot  and the dialogue were not at all arresting.  There was no hint of any thrilling or extraordinary events until the very last moment of the episode, when we were, exactly as at this time last week, left with a question which could possibly mean that terrifying posibilities were in the air.  While one still believes in Professor Hoyle’s capacities as an astronomer  and a science  fiction writer, the progress of A for Andromeda makes one doubt his ability as a television writer, something very different. Still, we must give him the benefit of the doubt,  and there are still five episodes in which  the serial can make headway and pull out something  really impressive.” Mary Crozier, The Guardian,  11 October 1961, p. 9.

Another programe that is picking up a bit is the BBC’s A for Andromeda. Its characterisation is and always be epileptic, but some combinations of producer and script-doctor seems to have provided a powerful transfusion.  Both Fleming and that almost equally hysterical woman  scientist madden me: before, they merely perplexed. The beautiful blonde zombie under the spell of the computer is a distinctly welcome addition to one’s hearth  rug. Her innocence of right and wrong is very neat: a genuine piece of science fiction, as distinct from the amorality which magistrates discern in teenagers.” Maurice Richardson, The Observer, 5 November  1961, p.25.

A for Andromeda moves towards its close next week  with little hope now  that it will ever make the grade. When the computer girl was created there was a hope that she might be really horrid but now the scientist  Fleming has started kissing her,  it looks like happy ever after. True, Madeleine Dawnay  and some of her staff are dying of a myserious illness, but in science fiction thrillers one expects an authentic jab of fear which we have never had from Andromeda. One reason may be that everyone talks too much. As a compensation Maurice Hedley has been as mischeviousky satirical as  the Prime Minister we saw making an amusing speech about television at the  BBC anniversary dinner immediately after A for Andromeda.”  Mary Crozier, The Guardian, 9 November 1961, p. 9.

Where else have I seen them?

Peter Halliday appeared in Doctor Who four  times. In The Invasion (1968) he plays Packer, Tobias Vaughn’s not very bright henchman,   and is  excellent  in the part. (The company  that Vaughn runs is called  International Electromatics, by the way, which could be shortened to Intel, perhaps). He is even better in Carnival of Monsters (1973), playing Pletrac, one of the annoying rulers of the planet Inter Minor. He had a small part in  City of Death  as a soldier, holding the Doctor at swordpoint when he goes back in time in search of Leonardo da Vinci. Finally he had a  cameo role in Remembrance of the Daleks as a  blind priest., presiding over  the burial of the Hand of Omega.

Mary Morris appeared in Doctor Who  in Kinda (1982) , playing the shaman Panna,  and is  wonderful in the role.  She  lived in Switzerland,  but  was  so intrigued by the mystical nature of Christopher Bailey’s script, one of most beguiling in the history of the show, that she drove across Europe to take part. She also appeared in The Prisoner as Number Two in an episode called “The Dance of the Dead” which  you may watch here.

John Hollis played Kantwich in The Avengers episode “The Superlative Seven”  (sounding very like Kaufuman). He played Sondergaard in the Doctor Who serial ” The Mutants“, again sounding much like Kaufman!

Michael Hayes directed three Doctor Who serials:   The Androids of Tara (1978), The Armageddon Factor (1979) and City of Death 1979), the latter story being a particular favourite amongst many fans.

Frank Windsor appeared in Doctor Who in The King’s Demons (1983)  playing Ranulf and in Ghostlight (1989) playing Inspector Mackenzie.

If  you would like to comment on this post, you can either  comment  via the blog or email me, fopsfblog@gmail.

In my next  post I will be looking  at the sequel  The Andromeda Breakthrough.