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Category Archives: television drama

Out of the Unknown, series 1, episode 12. The Midas Plague by Frederick Pohl, December 1965.

“The Midas Plague” was broadcast by the BBC on 20th December 1965.

Cast: Morrey Anderson – Graham Stark, Edwina – Anne Lawson, Fred – Sam Kydd, Sir John – John Barron, Wainwright – Victor Brooks, Judge  – A J Brown, Analyst- David Nettheim,  Henry- Anthony Dawes, Gideon – Graham Lines and Revolution leader – David Blake Kelly.

Script: Troy Kennedy Martin. Director: Peter Sasdy.  Producer and Story Editor: Irene Shubik

Special Sound: BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  Incidental music: Max Harris.

This episode  is a comic  satire on the consumer society.  Based on a short story written by  Frederick Pohl in 1954,   it follows  in the vein of his most well-known novel The Space Merchants (1952), also  a satire on consumerism, which was set  in a  future in which advertising  relentlessly sells pointless products  to the public, including the idea of a colony on Venus.  

Pohl was clearly  extrapolating  from the post-war consumer society he saw developing in the USA, particularly  through the advertising on television of  the new consumer products pouring off the production lines and the creation of brand loyalty though the relentless repetition of  slogans and images.  (Vance Packard analysed this phenemenon in his influential book The Hidden Persuaders (1957).

The episode opens with shots of robots, very crudely made,  accompanied by jaunty, humorous music,  thus  setting the tone of the episode. Our hero Morrey,, a radio economist by trade,  has been summoned for a reprimand by his superior  Wainwright  after a report from the Ration Office. Morrey is Class 7  citizen and on his way up. “ It is your duty as a Class 7 consumer to consume the  rations of consumer goods allocated by the state as befits your status.” Morrey pleads that he is  doing his best and trying to consume everything he has been told to.

Wainwright  explains that society is  undergoing a severe   economic crisis and that  the public  needs to “let out their belts, take their shoulders  off the wheel,  they have to  eat more, drink more,  drive more cars, wear out  more clothes, and work less. This country is over producing,  our automatic factories, our  robots are making much too much of everything and  it has  to be consumed.” Morrey suggests that they  should cut down  production. “Then underprivileged  citizens like myself wouldn’t have to eat and drink so much and live in such big houses and drive big cars and wear themeslves out enjoying themselves.” 

Wainwright riposts:   “How do you cut down production without destroying the whole system?“By programming the robots to use up the good themselves,” counters Morrey, but Wainwrights is aghast: “This is heresy, the robots are made to work,  not to have a good time.” Morrey suggests that they build  the satisfaction circuits he is been working on into the robots, but this idea  is not well received At the end of the interview  he is told to work less and consume more and reminded:  “Robots are here to serve you.”

Morrey and his robots

We accompany  Morrey to his home  where  on arrival the robots do everything for him. The house  is packed  full of furniture with  more being delivered. “But we haven’t  worn out the other two yet,” he protests futilely. His  wife Edwina is fed up  and loses her her temper. Morrey admonishes her:  “Not in front of the robots.”  Things seem to be  frosty in the bedroom as Edwina pleads:  “Consume me, consume me little” but he says he does not have time.

 A row ensues and  Morrey escapes to the pub, complete with robot barman, gets drunk and burns his ration book. He is arrested by the robot police and appears in court  before a judge (human, for once)  who turns out to be his father-i-n law. He is reduced to class 10 which means working less and consuming more. Edwina leaves him with mountains of junk carted away in her cars,  while to remedy  his anti-social behaviour Morrey  is sent to an analyst. who  administers a truth drug. He  decides that the root of  Morrey problem is that he  got a robot intead a puppy when he was a child and that  subconsciously he hates robots.  “You should love robots, they are there to please you, they do what you tell them to do and yet you hate them.” Angrily Morrey  says that   all his  consumption is making  him “more a machine than they are” and marches out to  get drunk again

Fred, Morrey and Edwina

In a turning point in the story, when fleeing from the robot police after he tells the barman  to pour some  whiskey   down the drain, Morrey is helped to escape by Fred  who reveals himself to be be a member of  a  group of revolutionaries dedicated to overthrowing society.  They ask Morrey to assassinate the Pime Minister, Sir John,  tempting him with a vision of the future.  “Once he is dead we will come to power, you will have mnay privileges. You will never have to consume again. Except a lightly boiled egg for breakfast, a grilled sole for lunch with salad, a litlle roast beef   in the evening with half bottle of wine…And we let you work all week.” But he rejects their offer.

Back in court again before his father-in-law Morrey is now reduced to Class 12, backdated one year,  and ordered to consume seven dozen cases of whisky in a fortnight.  Edwina  is deposited back home  with all her luggage while more goods pour in to their house.  Fred the revolutionary turns up again   and reveals that he  is a burglar, but a burglar with a difference, in this society  he breaks into people’s houses and leaves more goods.

The robots having a great time

Together they break into the Ministry building and steal the “satisfaction circuits” and  then implant them into Morrey’s robots. They  now display  very human characteristics ;  over-eating, getting drunk  and generally enjoying themselves smashing things up. Herded  into the basement they rapidly  consume or wear out all the goods allocated to Morrey in a comic filmed sequence.

Morrey is  now hailed  in the press for his outsranding consumer record.  Wainwright pays him  an unexpected visit  but they manage to hide  the robots in time. He  tells Morrey:  “You are going to be the biggest hero in the whole country. You are going to be given every honour. Sir John himself is very interested in you and I  want you to come back and work for my department.” Morrey says he will consider it when he is less busy.  As he leaves Wainwright offers him three days work if he returns.

 Robot George consumes so hard  that he  blows up and is mourned by the other robots. When Morrey and Fred try to fix him they  discover that is a special  Mark 4 roobt opereated from a central control room  in the Prime Minister’s office. They realise that Mark 4 robots  are spying on the population. 

Morrey is summoned to see the Prime Minister. who  tells him , “All the world knows Mr Anderson  that robots are our servants. They exist to serve us and  make our life easy. They exist so that men  do not have to work. This is the time of the Millenium. Man has only to consume and  what has been his wildest dreams has come true.  But a few men have  become dissatisfied with this state of affairs. Jealous intefering rebels  who have the cheek to say that man has become the slave  of automation.”

Sir John

Sir John has a truth gun trained on him and Morrey is forced confesss to having met the rebels and agreeing  with them.  Suddenly he twigs that  Sir John is a robot as well.  He burst through a secret door and, pursued by police robots,  he heads for the Master Switch (helpfully  marked “Master Switch in large  letters).  When he throws this all the robots freeze, including Sir John and Wainwright.  Edwina and her father  arrive and so Fred and the revolutionaries  having formed a provisional goverment  (Fred is the Minister for Justice). The leader  declares that Morrey is “the hero of the Revolution”  and will be in charge of seeing that everyone gets less in the future.  He also  declare a national holiday “so that everyone can go and work“. Finnaly he  declares  that all robots will be done away with. But then the implications of this  begin to sink in  and they decide they need to keep Morrey’s robot Henry, as well bar tenders, policemen, street cleaners and a growing list of others. “Here we go again, ” says Morrey  ruefully to camera.

With a good script, excellent cast and direction which supports the humour, this is a very enjoyable episode.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Script: Mike Watts

Director: Paddy Russell

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

Henry and Monica

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Henry and his plants

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

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

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

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

Where Else  Have  I Seen Them?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Script by  Paul Erickson

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

Director ;  Peter Sasdy.

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

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

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

Crandall and Henck

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

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

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

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

Crandall

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

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

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

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

The background electronic music is very good.

Mary Crozier reviewed the episode for the Guardian on 2 November

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

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

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

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

 

Where have we seen them before ?

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“This is our planet…”: looking back at the classic serial “Doctor Who and the Silurians” by Malcolm Hulke, (1970)

“Doctor Who and the Silurians” was the first script by Malcolm (Mac) Hulke for the new team  now running Doctor Who, ie producer  Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks. Terrance  and  Mac were old friends,  having worked together to  write episodes for The Avengers  in the early 1960s. Mac then wrote two serials for Doctor Who in the late 1960s: “The Faceless Ones” (1967)  and “The War Games” (1969), the final serial of the Patrick Troughton era. I have written about Mac’s career here.

In an interview Mac  commented that Doctor Who is “a very political show. Remember what politics refers to, it refers to relationships between groups of people. It doesn’t necessarily mean left or right…so all Doctor Who’s are political, even though the other group of people are reptiles, they’re still a group of people”. Mac says of this serial  that  he was asked to do something in caves,  and that in science fiction there are only two stories. ”They come to us or we go to them and I thought, they come to us but they’ve always been here.

silurians-5

In a previous post “the Doctor who fell to earth”  I have  written about the first Jon Pertwee serial, “Spearhead from Space”. This second serial it establishes his character  more firmly as a somewhat  brusque and patrician figure, impatient  with  authority in all its forms;  and also as a scientist, with the Doctor spending a good deal of time in the laboratory in this  serial. He is  also a man of action, acquiring a fast bright yellow retro car nicknamed  “Bessie”, and venturing into the caves several times on his own.

The story begins with UNIT being called into  investigate  unexplained incidents and  power losses at an experimental  nuclear reactor  beneath Wenley Moor, with the reluctant consent  of the Project  Director, Lawrence.  We eventually learn that these are being caused by the Silurians, a highly  intelligent and technologically advanced  reptile race race who once ruled the earth  tens of millions of years ago and who  retreated underground into hibernation  when they believed that the surface of the Earth   would be destroyed by an approaching small planetary body, possibly  the Moon.

Their technology failed them , and they did not revive until they were disturbed by the building of the  reactor.  The Doctor attempts to negotiate peace but fails, and hostilities commence. The  Silurians plant a virus among humans which spreads quickly until the Doctor finds a cure. He also defeats their attempt to use the nuclear reactor to destroy the Van Allen belt and make the earth uninhabitable for humans, but not  for Silurians.  At the end of the serial  UNIT blows up the Silurians’  caves.

Key  themes in  the serial are the Doctor’s  strong disapproval of the military mindset of shooting first, and  asking questions later, and  his attempts to broker peace between hostile forces. This  is surely inspired by the Cold War in which the West and the Soviet Union had vast  arsenals of weapons pointing at each other. By some miracle a nuclear war never took place. This  was a theme that Mac would return to in future serials for Doctor Who.

silurians-1In episode two,  as UNIT  head to the caves equipped with small arms and grenades,  the Doctor  comments  to  his companion Liz Shaw,“That’s typical of the military mind, isn’t it? Present  them with a new problem  and they start shooting at it” adding “It’s not the only way you know, blasting away at things.”

When he meets  a Silurian for the first time in Quinn’s  cottage in episode three,  the Doctor  offers his hand and says, “Look, do you understand me?… What do you people want? How can we help you?…unless you Silurians tell us what you want  the humans will destroy you”. He tells the Brigadier that what is needed is “a planned, cautious, scientific investigation of those caves. Not an invasion by a lot of big-booted soldiers.” Later in the episode he has an exchange with Liz after she has been attacked by a Silurian.

DOCTOR: Liz, these creatures aren’t just animals. They’re an alien life form, as intelligent as we are.
LIZ: Why didn’t you tell the Brigadier?
DOCTOR: Because I want to find out more about these creatures. They’re not necessarily hostile.
LIZ: Doctor, it attacked me.
DOCTOR: Yes, but only to escape. It didn’t kill you. It didn’t attack me when I was in Quinn’s cottage. Well, don’t you see? They only attack for survival. Well, human beings behave in very much the same way

In episode four when the Brigadier asks what weapons the Silurians have, the Doctor responds “spoken like true soldier” and says “so far they have only attacked in self-defence, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.” He goes to warn the Silurians that  the UNIT soldiers are coming, “I want there to be peace between you and the humans. This is their planet now.”  The Silurian leader  agrees to a peace, but is killed by his  younger subordinate who wants a war with the humans.

silurians-3In episode six,  as the Doctor races to find  a cure for the plague, he  is still hoping for a peaceful outcome, pleading  that “at all costs we must avoid a pitched battle.”  In the seventh and  final episode the Doctor tells the Brigadier that he wants to revive the Silurians one at a time,  “there is a wealth of scientific knowledge down here..and I can’t wait to get started on it.”.  But unknown to the Doctor , UNIT  has planted  explosives which  detonate as he and Liz look across the moor.

DOCTOR: The Brigadier. He’s blown up the Silurian base.
LIZ: He must have had orders from the Ministry.
DOCTOR: And you knew?
LIZ: No! The government were frightened. They just couldn’t take the risk.
DOCTOR: But that’s murder. They were intelligent alien beings. A whole race of them. And he’s just wiped them out.

Another theme of the serial is the danger of seeking scientific knowledge without  moral responsibility. The project  Director,  Lawrence,  continually complains about UNIT and the Doctor, demanding to be allowed to get back to running  the reactor and achieving his goal of “cheap, safe, atomic energy”. He refuses to accept any of the Doctor’s warnings,  and also refuses to accept the reality of the Silurian plague, even when he has clearly caught it himself.

Quinn, a scientist who works at the centre and who first discovered the Silurians, gives them  help because they have promised to  reveal some of their  scientific secrets. He imprisons one  of the Silurians  in his cottage to force it to give him their  knowledge, but it kills him.

silurians-4Finally the Doctor’s companion Liz  has been  given a bit of a makeover  from  “Spearhead from Space”, no longer quite as prim and proper,  now sporting fashionable  short skirts and longer hair.  She is  often the only woman in  a world of men  – soldiers, scientists, civil servants etc  – who frequently  patronise her,  and she  has to assert herself.  In   episode two  she objects to being left behind when the rest of them head off to the caves, asking  the Brigadier, “Have you never heard of women’s emancipation?” In episode  four she does go into the caves  with the Doctor. In episode six , when the Brigadier  asks  her to man the phones  Liz snaps back,  “I am scientist,  not an office boy.”   In 1970 the Women’s  Liberation Movement  was  beginning to make its voice heard, something that a writer as politically  attuned as Mac was  would surely  have noticed.

You can read Mac Hulke’s  script of this serial  here

 

Where have I seen them before?

Peter Miles who plays   Lawrence also appears in “Genesis of the Daleks”  as Nyder and in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” (also written by Mac Hulke) as Professor Whittaker.

Paul Darrow (Captain Hawkins) played Avon in the long-runnning television science fiction series Blake’s Seven.

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 something 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 was  updated to the early 1980s,  but otherwise follows the book very  closely and respectfully.  Personally I think it’s very good. You can watch the series on Youtube here.

In the mid 1980s a band from Perth, Western Australia called The Triffids achieved 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)

Storms from the desert… The Andromeda Breakthrough (1962)

The Andromeda Breakthrough, broadcast by the BBC,   June to August 1962

Cast:  Earl Cameron  –Yusel, Claude Farell (Mlle Gamboule),  Susan Hampshire  (Andre),  Peter Halliday (John Fleming),  John Hollis (Kaufman),  Barry Linehan (Colonel Salim),   Mary Morris (Madeleine Dawnay), Jean Robinson (Lemka) David Saire (Abu Seki)  and others.

Producer: John Elliot   Directors:  John Elliot and John Knight

Andromeda Breakthrough

In the previous post I discussed  A for Andromeda. In this post I will discuss the sequel,  The Andromeda Breakthrough.

Even before  filming had finished on A for Andromeda,  Fred Hoyle was working on  a follow up, sending his  initial ideas in June 1961  to John Elliot, who then worked  them up into an outline of a six part series. Initially the BBC hierarchy was not at all  impressed  by Hoyle’s  storyline,  which Donald Wilson, Head of  the Script Department,   described as “an intellectual exercise in cops and robbers” rather than  “a new and exciting science-fiction basis for a serial.”  However,  after Elliot came up with a new storyline,  and  convinced by the high ratings of the first series,  in January 1962 Wilson gave the green light to a  the sequel,  which they wanted to air before the summer was out with Elliot and John Knight directing.

At this stage the title  of the second series  was Andromeda in Azaran. Some preliminary filming was done in March  by Peter Halliday and Julie Christie at Tenby, but then a problem arose. Originally it was only intended to feature Andromeda  in three episodes (the original outline had actually killed her off),    but  in the latest rewrite she would  now appear in all six episodes. But the BBC had left it too late:  Julie was  now contracted to appear in a film,  and would not be available for  the filming required. It was decided, therefore,  to cast another actress, Susan Hampshire, in the role. (The footage already shot of Peter carrying  Julie across the beach and a brief glimpse of her in the boat with Peter was still  used in the first episode).

Andre (Susan Hampshire)

Andre (Susan Hampshire)

The sequel (now  entitled The Andromeda Breakthrough)  picks up exactly where the first  series had  left off.  Returning to the cave  Fleming discovers that Andre has not, as they  had thought,   been drowned,  but had been sucked underwater into another pool in the cave complex,  and is still alive, though badly injured  in her hands .   He flees with her in a boat and they take refuge on a small island with Adrian Breen, a writer and  former CND supporter,  who  handily has a gun about the place.  Andre is distant and remembers nothing of the computer. Fleming secretly meets  Madeleine Dawnay at an airport  and gets the healing enzyme from her  to cure Andre’s burnt hands

With the computer gone Dawnay goes to the Embassy of Azaran (a small  Republic situated  supposedly somewhere between Turkey and Iran),  to see the Ambassador, Colonel Salim,  who has asked her to work  for his country  on environmental projects. Salim  is in touch with Intel through Kaufman and knows anbout the Thorness computer. At the Embassy Dawnay  is drugged and reveals  Fleming and Andre’s  location. Salim informs Kaufman  who sends an armed team is sent  to  kidnap them,  but Breen and Fleming fight them off, killing several.  The British  military arrive and take Andre and Fleming to London.  Held in a  supposedly safe house,  they are then  kidnapped at gunpoint by Kaufman  and flown to Azaran.

Salim and Mlle  Gamboule from Intel (played by Swiss actress Claude Farell as the epitome of a svelte, chic French woman) reveal that they have built a second identical  computer in Azaran  – using the plans stolen by Bridger –   but it is not working.  Fleming is appalled,   telling them to destroy it, but when  Andre goes to the computer it starts to  work,  and she comes alive as before. “It speaks to me,” she cries.

Andre  reveals to John  that  she has seen the message: “Now I  have  seen the message I understand...It’s  giving us  an answer,  a power… If we are to survive, if you are, all this is trivial. What is happening here in this country is only a symptom of what  is happening in the world.   It’s not important. We can take it all out of their hands and use it  as we want…I have something else  to do before I die and I can’t do it alone,  I need you, but you must trust me.”

Seated in front of the computer Andre explains  the core of the message: “It knows what must happen,  what has happened in  other worlds where  intelligence has  only been developed as far as yours…You go  on endlessly repeating a pattern until you wipe yourselves out….It’s  the top or nearly the top of a circle. The life of a biological creature, even of man, begins very simply and his emotions and senses are crudely  developed.  But after a few thousand years it all become so complicated, so vast by its own standards that the human animal can no longer cope…it only needs one crack, one war perhaps, and the whole order you have made comes crashing down…It’s  all predictable.”

Andre tells John   that  in about a  150 years time there will be a  war in which the whole of human civilisation will be destroyed. The recovery will take a thousand years  before the cycle repeats itself. “Very rarely does something better happen.”  Fleming responds “ Let’s learn from it. Let’s discover what we can and then tell people so that they can do what they think best… We can only live as we are, within the limits of what we understand …I fought it  at Thorness and I fought you, because.the world must be free to make its own mistakes, or save itself…We still have freedom to choose which way you’re going. We have freedom.”   Andre replies, “It is too late. I have chosen. It has already started.

Mlle Gamboule

Mlle Gamboule (Claude Farell)

The last  three episodes   interweave storylines about science,  knowledge, the environment and the future of humanity.  These include  Andre’s attempt to  use Intel  and its power in Azaran to protect the computer and its message, recruiting  Gamboule to her side by showing  her the message in the computer; Fleming and Dawnay’s realisation that the computer placed a harmful  bacteria in the sea at Thorness  a year ago which is now sucking the nitrogen out of the atmosphere,  creating worldwide storms and in time  dooming  humanity;  the ebbing of life from Andre who is dying from a fault in her metabolism; and finally an internal political battle in Azaran with Salim attempting to overthrow the President in a coup.

Dawnay goes to see Gamboule  and in a bleak exchangetells her  what is happeniong to the world’s atmosphere and how people will die; “It will be like the top of Everest. As the pressure falls it will be increasingly more difficult to absorb oxygen into our blood. we become sluggish. We breathe more and more shallowly and in the end pas out. 

 

Gamboule shoots Salim dead  and takes over Azaran for Intel,  but  is then killed in a storm;  Dawnay and Fleming succeed in creating an anti-bacterium  for the oceans after Andre programmes  the computer for them;   Kaufman, now in charge in Azaran,  wants to market this through Intel and make a fortune for the company, but is stopped by Fleming and others who give the anti-bacterium to the world for free. Finally Dawnay and Fleming work together and succeeded in creating a metabolic fix  which saves Andre. Now assured of life Andre  tells Fleming  that she is fully human “I’m flesh and blood, Dawnay’s mixture“,  and they kiss.

As life flows back into Andre, so it also flows back  into the land as Spring comes to Azaran (cue shots of blossom and flowers).  The couple put a tape in the computer which, when  activated the next day,  will wipe its memory completely. As night falls Andre and Fleming  drive to an ancient  temple in the hills  and look at the stars in the night sky, includng the  far distant Andromeda Galaxy.   Fleming changes his mind: they will use  the computer for the good of humanity: “The new Renaissance starts in about an hour,” he tells Andre as they race off in their car back to the computer centre.

I enjoyed The Andromeda Breakthrough because of the ideas bobbing around in John Elliot’s script. It was prescient of him  to set the series  in a country in the Middle East, rather  an Eastern European country,  which  might have seemed the logical choice  given that the Cold War was then in full spate.  The notion of  Intel as a ruthless multi-national anticipates the future, as in our own time we are used to global corporations ransacking  the planet at will, but this  was a less familar  idea in  1962. The series continues the theme of modernisation. In A for Andromeda the British Prime Minister spoke  of  “a new and finer  Industrial  Revolution“: in The Andromeda Breakthrough  Salim and Abu Zeki regard themselves as modern men, eager  to use the knowledge and advanced  technology that Intel is offering –  at a price.

Another theme running through the series is what  the consequences of the work of scientists are upon the rest of  us.  The President says to Dawnay,  “Hundreds of thousands more may have to die correcting your mistake. The errors of politicians are sometimes expensive, and businessmen sometimes do their best to profit from them. But you scientists, you kill half the world. And the other half cannot live without you”;  Lemka, the widow of Fleming’s assistant, Abu Zeki,  (shot by Kaufman in the final episode) tells him bitterly in one of  the most powerful  scenes in the series : “You involved us  allYou save the world from your own bungle, so now you think it is all right. How can you be so arrogant? You don’t believe in God,  you don’t accept life as his gift. You want  to change it because you think you are cleverer … You try,  and we suffer”;  and finally  Madeleine Dawnay  confesses  to Andre, “You do something that seems perfectly correct and suddenly you lose control of it. It slips away from you and grows into something you lost control of…”

Dawnay and Fleming

Madeleine Dawnay (Mary Morris)  and  John Fleming (Peter Halliday)

The outdoor filming was done in Cyprus,  but the actors never got to go  there: they were confined to the studio. The cast is very good, with Mary Morris particularly outstanding,  and you wish she had been given a spin-off   Doomwatch-type  series called  something like “Madeleine  Dawnay Investigates”.

One odd thing, the character of Judy Adamson (Patricia Kneale), who played a prominent  role in A For Andromeda – including a an  affair with Fleming –  does not appear in the sequel, not even at the start in Thorness, even though she had been in the caves and on the beach with Fleming and Quadring  at the end of the first series.   The writers offer no explanation for her  disappearance, either in the television series or in the subsequent novel.  In the original outline for the sequel Judy had played a major role,  so I assume  that  in the rewrite they  decided that the character was no longer needed,  and just dropped her, not even bothering to explain her absence to the audience.

Although set in the Middle East a number of the actors playing Azaranis are  clearly  Europeans eg Colonel Salim is played by Barry Linehan, an Irish actor, and appears to have been  made-up  for the role.  This was not an uncommon practice until surprisingly recently. In David Lean’s film of  A Passage to India (1984)  Alec Guinness is made-up to play an Indian, Professor Godbole; in the Doctor Who serial “The Talons of Weng Chiang” (1977) John Bennett is made-up to play the Chinese magician, Li H’sen Chang; finally  the BBC light entertainment show The Black and White Minstrel Show ran until 1978  and was very popular, which gives you pause for thought. That it would be unacceptable now is a sign of the cultural  change that has occurred on this issue at least.

I will leave the last word on this intriguing series to Madeleine Dawnay: “You know what life is? A spot of soot, carbon, nitrogen, add various bits of dirt to taste, mix with water and stir well, and that’s life. When you put this commonplace stuff together it suddenly becomes very precious. No matter what form you give it, it’s  always the same. What you do with it, it’s up to you…”

The Andromeda Breakthrough was nowhere near as popular with the public as A for Andromeda had been: the ratings never  reached the height that they did with the first series,  instead hovering around 6 million viewers on average for each episode. It may  have been the plot that lost audiences –  which is more about politics and the environment than the menace of the conputer as in the original series –   or perhaps they were disappointed by the loss of  Julie Christie as Andromeda , although Susan Hampshire is perfectly fine in the role to my thinking.

The series  led to John Elliot developing the themes of politics, business  and  technology into  a drama about the oil industry called Mogul (1965)  which  then turned into  the  long-running, and very popular, series The Troubleshooters (1966-1972) which I used to watch regularly as a teenager.

The Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy

John Elliot’s novel of the series was published by Souvenir Press in October 1964.  There are some odd discrepancies between this novel  and  the television series and the previous novel eg  it mentions Dawnay have  burnt  by the computer  at Thorness which did not happen and also mentions Fleming and Bridger having  been shot  at which also did not happen. Perhaps Elliott was writing the novel at speed and relied on his memory for what happened previously. The scene with Arab dancer  when Fleming gets drunk is omitted.  Finally Elliott leaves out  Dawnay’s speech about life quoted above, which  is surprising as it is one of the best passages of the dialogue in the whole series. The novel ends thus:

He bundled Andre into the car.  After he had walked round to the driving seat he paused for a second, looking up to the sky, already paling with the false dawn. The stars were going out. Very dimly, between The Lady  in the Chair and  the Pole Star, he could make out the hazy light of the great Andromeda galaxy across the immensity of space.

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

This series is available on Daily Motion.

Incidentally, Peter Halliday and Susan Hampshire worked together again in a drama called “Red Sky in the Morning,” made by Southern Television and broadcast in the Thirty Minute Theatre slot on 12 December 1963.

Reviews in the press

The Middle  East conflict has always been a hotbed of disturbance and most spy stories emerge from there or gravitate to there. So it wa rather disappointing to find that when Fred Hoyle’s computer girl Andromeda started on a new lease of life last night…the story was already veering towards oil and Araby. This seems bit mundane,  but actually there is more life and vigour in the new serial.  This may be because it is largely out of doors, and now that the computer is destroyed, most of the action happened on the wild, storm tossed, shores of the western Scottish isles. We seemed to be back in a traditional BBC serial, drawing in gulps of fresh air among beautifully photographed cliffs, waves, shores, gulls, and lonely cottages. I never found the first ‘Andromeda‘ very clear in plot and I always found John’s Fleming’s reasoning and actions  hurried and muddled. He is still the same impulsive  scientist, and he has rescued Andromeda,  who has not drowned in the pool after all. Now he calls her André or Andry and she grows more human every minute. They took refuge with a charming hermit-scholar who was promptly shot by the pursuit party who came after Fleming. I think it would take the combined brains of the Pilkington Committee to find out what it is all about and I should like them to write a brief, lucid report on it.” Mary Crozier, The Guardian,  29 June 1962, p.9.

Something about The Andromeda Breakthrough reminds me more and more of late lamented  ITMA. The behaviour of the characters  in the crazy little  Eastern set-up where Andromeda, Fleming and Madeline Dawnay have all arrived;  the sinister Intel whose agent Kaufman is just  as the famous Funf would have been, though we use donly to hear his voice; the beautifil Mlle Gamboule, a really sprightly vamp,  all are here, the old familiar voices. Gamboule? What a name, a perfect ITMA name. Last night the computer had revealed its secret to Andromeda, but her promise that she would make it work for good rather than evil was foiled when the villainous Salim  effected a coup d’etat, deposed  the President, and abducted the girl. When it comes to talking about the computer’s mysterious powers, Hoyle and Elliot are past masters of not saying anything definite, but stringing us along until the next time. When it is not like ITMA, the fun in Azaran with the computer spewing out observations like sporting editions slipping off the printing presses and little men rushing around in the hot Eastern sun is just like stories I used to read in the Boy’s Own paper long ago.” Mary Crozier, The Guardian, 13 July 1962, p.9.

“Then there was The Andromeda Breakthrough which careers on with more delicious absurdity every week, and now has reached such a pitch of  sci-fi folly that I cannot bear to miss an instalment. All the oceans are proliferating a horrid bacteria that sucks the nitrogen out of the air, all the winds of heaven blowing a great gale, and the Cabinet Minsters suffering from rapid respiration.  I take it really as a warning against having any science  at all. Down with science  (except in fiction).”  Mary Crozier, The Guardian, 21 July 1962, p.5.

Where else have I seen them?

Earl Cameron played an astronaut, Williams,   in the Doctor Who serial “The Tenth Planet” (1966). Earl was born in Bermuda in 1917 and  arrived in England in 1939, taking any job that came up.    His first acting role was in 1942 in the stage show Chu Chin Chow after one of the actors didn’t turn up. Earl survived on small parts in regional repertory until 1951 when Basil Dearden cast him in a leading role as Johnny Campbell, a Jamaican merchant seaman, in the film Pool of London, a thriller evocatively filmed amidst the real docklands of the capital. Earl recalls, “Pool of London still remains the best part I’ve ever had in a film. It was important for the fact that I was the first black actor to have a relationship with a white girl, although it didn’t develop very far…”

In real life Earl got married to Audrey, a fellow actor from a Jewish background, whom he had met in repertory. Her parents weren’t happy but, as Earl says, “Audrey…did what she wanted to do and that was that.” Mixed-race couples often experienced a great deal of hostility. His other films in Britain  include Sapphire (1960), also directed by Basil Dearden, a detective thriller  in which he plays a doctor whose sister, Sapphire, has been murdered; and Flame In the Streets (1961), directed by Roy Ward Baker,  which dealt with racial prejudice and tensions at work and in the streets.

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  and 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 watch here.

John Hollis played Kantwich in The Avengers episode “The Superlative Seven”  (sounding very like Kaufuman). He played in the Doctor Who episode ” The Mutants”.

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

 

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.