Out of this World (1962) & Out of the Unknown (1965-1971) | The celebrated British sci-fi dramas get a BFI DVD release
As part of the BFI’s Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder season comes the DVD releases this week of two classic 1960s TV titles.
First up is the Little Lost Robot, based on the 1947 Isaac Asimov short story, and starring Maxine Audley (Peeping Tom). This DVD presents the only surviving episode of the 13-part 1962 UK TV series Out of This World, introduced by Boris Karloff (who was also on host duties on Thriller in the US at the same time), and includes an audio commentary with producer Leonard White and author Mark Ward, an alternative VidFIRE presentation of the programme, and audio recordings of two lost episodes, the Philip K Dick story, Imposter, adapted by Terry Nation (who go on to create Dr Who’s Daleks the following year), and Cold Equations by Tony Godwin, which starred Jane Asher and Peter Wyngarde. There’s also a PDF of the script for the John Wyndham tale, Dumb Martian, and an illustrated booklet.
The success of Out of This World, devised by producer Sydney Newman (who also gave us Doctor Who and The Avengers) and Irene Shubik, paved the way for Out of the Unknown, a bold TV anthology series, boasting a who’s who of science fiction talent, that aired on BBC2 between 1965 and 1971, and which now gets a definitive DVD release in a seven-disc box-set featuring the surviving 20 episodes.
Adapting the wild imaginings of John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov, JG Ballard, Ray Bradbury, Frederick Pohl, Nigel Kneale and their ilk for the small screen in 1960s Britain was a brave move on the part of the show’s creator Irene Shubik, who must surely be one of the unsung heroines of TV sci-fi. I had never heard of Shubik or the series until the BFI announced this DVD release, but this is one of the most intelligent, challenging and grown-up science fiction series ever made in the UK, and one with a seriously impressive following – as evident by the many fan sites running on the web and in social media.
Of the 49 episodes made during its four-season run, only 20 escape being wiped following their transmission (oh the pain!). Now digitally re-mastered, these lucky survivors look and sound the best they can be.
To be honest, I’ve been ambling my way through the box-set, watching the ones which have been flagged up by fans and critics as must-sees (the stand-out being the award-winning second series story The Machine Stops, based on the EM Forster’s 1909 dystopian novel, starring Michael Gothard); or choosing ones featuring my favourite actors (David Hemmings and Charles Tingwell in The Counterfeit Man) and helmed by notable directors like Peter Sadsy (who also made the must-see 1972 TV drama The Stone Tape), Douglas Camfield (who would direct my favourite Doctor Who serial Seeds of Doom in 1976) and a young Ridley Scott (he did the production design for the first season story Some Lapse of Time).
A big help guiding me through these strange new worlds is the illustrated booklet, which features three fascinating essays by Mark Ward on the history of the show, which started out in black and white before moving to colour in 1969 for its final two seasons, where horror and fantasy was added with mixed results until the series finally called it a day in 1971 (due to declining ratings and changing tastes).
Hardcore sci-fi fans will lap up the wealth of extras accompanying the release. Apart from the 11 audio commentaries, there are four episode reconstructions (Beach Head, The Naked Sun, The Yellow Pill and The Uninvited), one incomplete episode (Deathday by Angus Hall – whose book Devilday was made as Madhouse in 1974), seven stills galleries, a documentary featuring interviews with original cast and crew, clips from the lost episodes, and an interview with director James Cellan Jones.
It’s a lot to get through, but this trip back into Britain’s 1960s sci-fi TV past is a rewarding one indeed. It also makes you wonder why we don’t make challenging, visionary science fiction TV shows today, instead of the adolescent comic-book ‘pap’ that now dominates our small screens.
DID YOU KNOW?
• The show was originally going to be hosted by either Vincent Price or Christopher Lee. But because neither was available, the idea was dropped.
• The robot costumes created for The Prophet were latter used in the Patrick Troughton adventure The Mind Robber.
• The fourth series episodes The Last Witness and The Uninvited (now both missing) were remade for 1986’s Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense as A Distant Scream and In Possession.
WATCH THE TRAILER
Posted on November 25, 2014, in BFI Player, British Film, Cult classic, Must See, Sci-Fi and tagged 1960s British sci-fi, 1960s TV, 1980s horror anthology, BFI, BFI Player, Frederick Pohl, Isaac Asimov, JG Ballard, John Wyndham, Little Lost Robot, Must See, Nigel Kneale, Out of the Unknown, Out of This World, Ray Bradbury, Sci-Fi, Science Fiction. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.