by Rog Phillips
Adapted by Leon Griffiths
I’ll admit I’ve always had a fondness for interrogation style dramas. Two people duelling with words and strategies. The Yellow Pill is a great example of the genre. You may carp that it is not particularly televisual and could have worked equally well as a radio play or on the stage, but that is a compliment to the quality of the dialogue and the clever short story it is adapting. Viewers of the time might have recalled watching the same story a few years earlier when ITV’s SF anthology Out of This World, story edited by Irene Shubik, adapted it in 1962. In fact Out of the Unknown was remaking the very same script, written by Leon Griffiths.
Psychiatrist Dr John Frame’s usual day is interrupted by Inspector Slinn, who wants his professional opinion on Wilfred Connor, a murder suspect. Slinn wants to know if Connor is genuinely mad or faking it. When Dr Frame begins to question Connor he is surprised to find the young man seems to sincerely believe that he is in a spaceship, tied to his chair, and that it is Frame who is hallucinating that he is a doctor. Connor tells him that they are astronauts who have just had a terrifying encounter with aliens, causing Frame to go temporarily mad. As Frame tries to make Connor accept that he is the one who has retreated into a fantasy world, he is increasingly unnerved by how much the suspect seems to know about him.
Prisoner and interrogator dramas are a staple of television drama. Stories in which the protagonist discovers their normality is a fiction is a regular plot device in science fiction. The Yellow Pill nevertheless feels pretty fresh and original. It is an imaginative idea and well played by both men. Underplayed in fact for most of the episode. Francis Matthews, well known for playing urbane heroes, is a picture of smug complacency at first as Dr Frame, and it is quite satisfying to see him slowly crumbling. Stephen Bradley is calm, reasonable and in control almost to the end as Connor and he’s deliberately more sympathetic. In a subtle touch the broadest and most stereotypically aggressive character is Slinn, played by Glynn Edwards, something of a regular policeman face on television.
Since this is a SF series called Out of the Unknown, the question of which man is correct become obvious in retrospect. In the original short story the climax is a little more complicated by an extra twist. The truth is revealed, but one of the men is so convinced by the other’s illusion that he goes on to commit suicide. Another curious little alteration by Griffiths is that the aliens in the story are described as blue lizard men, whilst in the television script they are recalled as amorphous vaguely men-shaped blobs. Dr Frame’s secretary/mistress in the short story is seemingly his perfect woman, where as in the television adaptation she is attractive but a much more realistic person who is unhappy with their relationship as it stands. It is a good move since it makes the question of whose reality is real more nuanced.
Since this is something of a talking heads drama, the photo reconstruction probably does give a fair impression of what this lost episode would have been like, even if we lose the fine detail. I ended up watching it twice after being interrupted the first time and I still enjoyed the back and forth of Frame and Connor’s debate, even when I knew where it was heading, thanks to the performances and the way the clues are fed into the story. So my viewing of what remains of the third season ends on a high note. I have said before that it is a shame so much of this season is missing, since it seems to have continued much of the confident style of season two, with the added bonus of colour and increasingly sophisticated productions for its science fiction tales. The fourth and final season would see a significant change in style and content. More on those episodes soon.
Rating the existing episodes:
2.The Yellow Pill
3. The Little Black Bag
4. The Naked Sun
5. The Last Lonely Man