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Category Archives: television drama

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

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

Watch…

Things to Come (1936)

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

You can watch the film  here. 

You can read Wells’ novel here.

 

The Thing From Another World (1951)

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

You can watch it here.

 

X The Unknown (1957)

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

You watch the film here

 

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

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

You can watch the film  here.

 

A for Andromeda (1961)

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

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

You can read my post on the series here.

 

The Andromeda Breakthrough (1962)

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

Part 1 Cold Front

Part 2, Gale Warning

Part 3, Azaran Forecast

Part 4, Storm Centres

 

These are the Damned (1963)

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

You can watch the film  here.

 

The Stranger (1964, 1965)

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

You can watch the series here.

 

UFO (1970)

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

You can watch the series here.

 

Space 1999 (1975-1977)

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

You can watch series 1 here.

You can watch series 2 here.

 

Children of the Stones (1977)

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

You can watch the series  here.

 

The Day of the Triffids (1981)

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

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

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

You can watch the six episodes  as follows

Episodes 1 and 2

Episodes 3 and 4

Episodes 5 and 6.

 

Blakes 7 (1978-1981)

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

You watch the series here.

 

Quatermass IV (1979)

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

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

You watch the series here

 

The Lathe of Heaven (1980)

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

You can watch the film here.

You read my post on the novel here.

 

Chocky (1984)

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

You can watch the series here.

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

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

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

 

Listen…

The Time Machine by H G Wells (1895)

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

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

You can listen to this broadcast here.

 

The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, 1938

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

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

You  can listen to the broadcast here.

This  is an article about the broadcast.

 

The Invisible Man by H G Wells  (1897)

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

You  can listen to a dramatisation  starring John Hurt  here.

 

1984 by George Orwell (1949)

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

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

 

The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham (1953)

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

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

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

 

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov (1954)

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

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

You can listen to this here.

 

The Chrysalids  by John Wyndham (1955)

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

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

You can read my post on the book here.

 

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham  (1957)

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

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

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

You can listen to the radio series here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

The Slide by Victor Pemberton (1966)

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

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

You can listen to the series  here.

 

The Dispossesd by Ursula Le Guin (1974)

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

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

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

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

Short Stories by Ken Macleod

 Lighting Out

Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?

The Vorkuta event.

The Entire Immense Superstructure’: An Installation

 

Read…

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

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

You can read the novel here.

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

You can watch  A Trip to the Moon here.

 

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

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

You can read the novel here.

You can read the sequel  The Mysterious Island here.

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

 

When The Sleeper Awakes by H G Wells (1898)

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

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

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

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

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

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

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

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

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

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

You can read the novel online here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the novel  here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

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

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

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

 

The Exile In Waiting by Vonda  N McIntyre (1975)

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

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

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

Dreamsnake by Vonda N  McIntyre (1978)

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

You can read the novel here.

 

Superluminal by Vonda McIntyre (1983)

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

You can read the novel here.

 

Short Stories by Ken Macleod

A Tulip for Lucretius

Earth Hour

Jesus Christ Reanimator

 

Learn…

Andrew Pixley

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

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

 

Bergcast

A podcast  about Nigel Kneale and the Quatermass series.

 

Blogtor Who :the definite article you might say.

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

 

Doctor Who

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

The Early Days of a Better Nation

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

Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

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

 

Galactic Journey. 55 years ago science fact and fiction

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

 

H G Wells Society

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

 

K U Gunn Centre for the Study of Science Fiction

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

 

Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy

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

 

The Time Ladies

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

 

Toby Hadoke’s Who’s Round

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

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

Una McCormack

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

 

Univerity of Liverpool; Science fiction collection.

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

 

Unwilling Adventurer

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

 

Ursula Le Guin

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

 

Verity Podcast

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

 

Wells at the Worlds End.

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

 

The work of Lisa Yaszek

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

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

 

Women’s Press Science Fiction series

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

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

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

 

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.