by Colin Kapp
Adapted by Bruce Stewart
Sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone, even if the results are not particularly successful, because it show you are trying to grow and hopefully you will learn something from the experience. Mixing trippy monochrome fringe theatre visuals with Airport movie melodrama, Lambda 1 is a very odd fifty minutes.
In the far future, international travel revolves around TAU vessels, which can pass into “atomic space” and travel through solid rock. One routine journey between Sydney and London however becomes a nightmare when the ship becomes trapped in the hallucinogenic realm of omega mode. As passengers and crew become increasingly manic, creating a new religion and attempting to murder, it is up to a troubled pilot Paul Porter and his psychologist friend Eric Benedict to pilot the original experimental TAU ship on a desperate rescue mission.
Most episodes of Out of the Unknown are based on stories which have some kind of comment to make on society or technology. Lambda 1 however belongs to that thread of SF which is all about a sense of wonder, of characters facing a bizarre cosmos and vistas quite unlike Earth. Undoubtedly this episode’s best moments are the atomic space depictions. Strange half-melted faces fill the screen, a twisted figure lies in desert, a forest of trees with human arms. None of it is “The face of madness!” as one character cries out, but it is beguilingly earnest in its oddness, and its BBC television centre sensibility.
Sadly most of the running time is not spent gazing at surreal landscapes, but rather watching a cast who are all at sea with dialogue nobody really understands. The fantasy science of Tau with its “modes” and a textbook worth of made up jargon would be a challenge for even the most experienced Star Trek cast member. Who can blame the actors for metaphorically closing their eyes and just running wildly at the script, hoping that speaking loudly and fast will get them through? I’ll single out Charles Tingwell for special mention as the alcoholic TAU cruiser captain, slurring and roaring out his lines as if he’s playing a drunk in a Two Ronnies sketch. The human drama moments are equally over-played like a bad daytime soap. When Porter learns that his estranged wife is not only onboard the stricken vessel, but pregnant too, the moment made me laugh out loud.
So Lambda 1 does not really work at all but I am glad they tried. There is an elegant opening shot which deserves a mention. A long panning shot revealing space-suited figures standing seemingly randomly about a chilly moor. Together with the music it sets a promising tone of oddness, even if it has little bearing on the plot, but the subsequent scenes introducing the passengers and crew in the passenger lounge dilute that tone. As an episode it is not so much bad as – what was that all about?