The Little Black Bag


by Cyril M Kornbluth
Adapted by Julian Bond

This short story seems to something of a favourite with television producers. It was featured in the USA anthology Tales of Tomorrow (1952) and a year after Out of the Unknown‘s adaptation, it appeared in Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. Sadly the Out of the Unknown version is incomplete, missing about twenty minutes but there is enough to form a fairly clear impression.

A futuristic medical kit from 2450 falls into the hands of Roger Full, an alcoholic disbarred doctor. Inside the case are tools which can carry out almost miraculous cures for any illness not matter how severe. His Russian call-girl friend Angie sees the kit as a chance to become rich through cosmetic surgery and escape the London underworld. Full has his own dreams: of redemption, a place in history and changing the world. Meanwhile in the distant future, the time travel agency is monitoring the equipment and waiting to take action.

C.M. Kornbluth was a member of a group of SF writer friends who included Issac Asimov and Damon Knight. A prolific pulp magazine contributor, he died at the height of his success at 35, due in part to his heavy smoking. The Little Black Bag is his most famous work. The original is actually a prequel to his other best known work The Marching Morons, set in a future where most of humanity are idiots and are guided by a secret minority of intelligent ‘helpers’. That is the reason the medical kit is so easy to use by a man in 1964.

From what we have, this seems like an average story with a pretty straightforward plot, as the weak Roger regains his self-respect through the box, but fails to understand just how desperate and ultimately ruthless his partner in crime is. It is a shame that Angie is such a two-dimensional harridan whilst Roger is so reasonable because it renders the debate over the black bag pretty black and white. It would have been better if Angie’s background, fears and motivation for being so obsessed with money had been explored. As it is she is simply a greedy short-sighted woman.

Veteran character actor Emrys Jones, familiar to Doctor Who fans for playing the Master of the Land of Fiction, has a sensitive voice and is ideally cast as a flawed idealist. Geraldine Moffat frequently played hard-faced glamour women in film and TV, perhaps most famously in Get Carter. John Woodnutt makes the most of his supporting role as a Harley Street doctor.

The gadgets are fun and well realised by the special effect department of time. The future scenes are amusing to me for some reason. Something to do with the white polo-necked, sunglass wearing fashions of 2450 that make me smile. It is not clear why the technicians do not simply deactivate the kit as soon as they know it is missing.

Although the ending is missing, it does not take much working out what happens. It is a shame given the work on the other missing episodes that a little more restoration could not have been done to fill in the blanks. It would be intriguing to know what is in the missing sections.

I’m afraid the simple plot and lack of shades of grey in the characters make this a fairly hard episode to write much about. So I’ll sign off here.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Return to the Unknown | The Phantom Frame

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