Star Trek Deep Space Nine – From Worst to Best

Season One of Star Trek Deep Space Nine (or DS9 as I’ll refer to it from now on) has got a lot of ‘boiler plate’ episodes, not actually bad as simply predictable stories with no real impact or stakes to them. Episodes where the dread word ‘anomaly’ tends to get passed about a lot. In Trek anomalies are convenient bits of pseudo-science, essentially magic, which creates a very plot specific effect that will require another bit of made-up science to fix.

I’m planning to watch DS9 from start to finish in order for the first time ever, courtesy of Netflix. In the past I’ve watched a majority of the episodes in different ways: VHS, BBC2 and Sky TV, and in a patchy order. Will viewing it as one long epic make me feel differently about some episodes and characters? Will I discover some lost gems or find my memories do not live up to harsh reality of the screen?

Back to Season One. At this moment the production team still seem to be finding out what kind of show they are making. Compared to these high pressure days where a network  show can be cancelled after a handful of episodes, it seems remarkable that they were given three seasons to really exploit how good their premise was. Anyhow at least I can rely on Odo and Quark to enliven any story with some banter, and already there are hints that this was a show prepared to end an episode without every problem neatly reset. Then there is religion. DS9 is still the only Trek incarnation to really grapple with faith in anything like a nuanced way. Watching these episodes again, the other element that is leaping out at me is Avery Brooks’ downright odd acting. Because it is Star Trek his distractingly emphasised delivery of his lines somehow fits in, but I couldn’t imagine it working in any other more realistic show like say The Wire or anything involving naturalistic acting. But here amongst all the other fairly broad playing he gets away with it. And after the diplomatic Captain Picard who sometimes seemed a bit too polite, his more aggressive manner does make him a convincing Starfleet military officer.

I’m going to be covering each season’s episode from the least to the greatest of its year.

An episode focused on Dax in which she largely sits in her room not saying anything. The twist is painfully obvious as soon as the victim’s wife Renora appears. It’s just painfully dull, the kind of characters-earnestly-discussing-a-fantasy-problem situation that sketch writers like to lampoon Trek for. And it only emphasises that the team are not doing enough with a potentially great character.

Move Along Home
Game obsessed aliens is quite a fun idea, but this is an episode made up of budget-saving filler and even the cast look clearly fed-up with some of the challenges in places.

The Passenger
When ideas run out, have a crewmember taken over by an evil alien. This really does feel like a rejected Star Trek The Next Generation plot.

It’s not bad, just the kind of escapade than any incarnation of Trek (or Stargate or Babylon 5) could do.

The Storyteller
In which Bajorans are basically portrayed as superstitious idiots. With the real heir to the Storyteller job obvious from the start, there’s no sense of jeopardy. However Bashir acting as O’Brien’s publicity officer is amusing.

Past Prologue
Kira’s struggle with her new role as part of the establishment after years of being rebel fighter was her defining quality in season one and it was explored a touch repetitively. This isn’t bad but once again it’s pretty obvious where it’s going.

If Wishes Were Horses
Not quite as bad as I remember, but still a generic Trek episode that any incarnation could do.

Brian Keith brings a lot of class to his guest star role. But it is yet another rerun of “Kira torn between being a rebel and being part of the establishment”, and so not as interesting a story as it might have been.

Q turns up and whilst John De Lancie is as entertaining as ever, as is Jennifer Hetrick as his partner Vash, it’s basically a shallow, broad comedy episode. However having Quark being openly criminal but still allowed to carry on at the end, does again point out that this is a different kind of Trek.

Dramatis Personae
DS9 characters should be above the Trek trope that characters have to be possessed by aliens to be less than perfect. But this remake of “Day of the Dove” does build on the existing tensions between the characters and thus is more thoughtful than many episodes this season. Plus it gives us our first encounter with slinky evil Kira.

The Forsaken
Quite a sweet episode thanks to the Odo / Luxania sub-plot that builds to a genuinely touching moment. The pompous Federation ambassadors visiting the station are quite funny too.

Nothing about it is subtle, but this look at the occupation and its legacy on both Bajorans and Cardassians is creditably serious.

Great episode for Odo and one of the first stories dealing with the “otherness” of the Delta Quadrant, full of races who don’t care about the Federation at all. The twists are satisfying and there’s a feeling of groundwork being put in for later stories.

Emissary: Parts 1 & 2
The best of the Trek pilots, setting up the scenario, introducing the cast and telling a pretty good SF adventure too. The battle prologue is a great hook and lends an epic quality. Some lovely character moments too, such as Kira mocking Bashir for his patronising “frontier” comment, or Picard slightly awkward but genuinely considerate farewell to O’Brien. The conversation with the wormhole aliens teeters on corny portentousness but the way their timelessness is depicted is clever. It all feels organic and excellently paced.

Captive Pursuit
Another ABC Trek plot but the performances of Colm Meany and Scott MacDonald are splendid and the episode is the kind of combination of action and philosophy that is the bedrock of Trek.

Battle Lines
A great SF idea and a satisfyingly cynical attitude about violent human nature. Getting rid of a significant supporting character was a bold move that sets off a fascinating ongoing storyline in the next season. Surprising to learn that in the first draft that role was taken by an original character, whose loss would have been far too predictable. Good call by the producers.

The Nagus
Yes it’s as broad as a whale wearing a red nose but for entertainment value I loved this episode with the shameless Ferengi. Even if the plot is predictable, there’s plenty of energy and the comedy sings. I actually can say I enjoyed this as much as the later Tribbles episode.

In the Hands of Prophets
This tale of religious and secular intolerance is the moment DS9 really feels like it has gelled into Trek’s boldest incarnation. Even though teacher Keiko O’Brien is meant to be a voice of reason, her barely disguised contempt for the religious protesters makes her almost as unsympathetic as Kai Winn. Both Louise Fletcher and Rosalind Chao are excellent in this. There is a real feeling in this story of the stakes being raised. Kira’s open faith also adds an interesting extra layer to what could have been a very one-sided drama. Her final scene with Sisko is a lovely summing up of the whole season and almost makes one wish the Trek season formula did not always insist on ending with a cliffhanger. Having a satisfying wrap-up can be just as effective and subtler too.

Downtime: The Lost Worlds of Doctor Who

Before I get into this review I ought to declare an interest. Many years ago I wrote or post-produced or acted in several of BBV’s productions, so consequently I am amongst the many contributors Dylan Rees has interviewed for this book about the intriguing parallel realities that Doctor Who passed into whilst the BBC was not making it. But I my experiences were just a small part of the story, and it has been fascinating to find out more about the bigger picture. Not to mention discovering certain repeating patterns of behaviour when it came to BBV’s driving force Bill Baggs, such as peculiar film editing choices.

As the author remarks in his Afterword, a book like this is long overdue. For quite a while fans believed that Doctor Who would never return to television. In the Nineties Star Trek may have seemed licensed to print spin-offs forever, but felt that our show was destined to remain unloved by the BBC and the Not-We. So we built our own little universe of Doctorish films and radio plays, and for a while it seemed fresh, vital, the future of the show. Then Doctor Who came back with a roar and the VHS era of The Stranger, PROBE and Mindgame seemed to be swept under fandom’s carpet. So “Downtime” feels very fresh, a decade or more of brand new script origins, behind the scenes information, funny anecdotes and let us the honest – gossip.

Credit to the author for pulling together so many threads into a narrative too. Bill Baggs’ filmmaking career becomes the spine of the book. Ambitious, energetic and with a knack for getting people to follow him and make his projects happen, the book produces a fair picture of the way he ultimately sabotages himself by taking too many shortcuts, and too much advantage of others’ goodwill.

There’s plenty of great material here, such as Nick Briggs recalling John Levine’s determination to take the leading man’s responsibilities seriously and entertaining the crew whether they wanted to be or not. Mark Ayres working with Jon Pertwee on his last dramatic role in The Zero Imperative. Colin Baker’s early role as an unofficial agent and cheerleader for spin-off videos, persuading other name actors to take part. Lots of stories of small groups working long hours in uncomfortable locations, kept going by their love of the show and camaraderie. And always the constant hope that this video will be the one that gets them into the professional TV and Film industry. In fact some of the stories seem to echo the BBC anecdotes of Doctor Who itself. Dylan Rees mixes interviews of the time with brand new interviews. Those of the time are keen to be positive and build up the image of whatever the current project is. The tone of the contributors today is generally fond, if rueful.

My only disappointment is that I had hoped to learn some new facts or other people’s impressions of the productions I was involved with. Sadly, aside from the contemporary reviews which I had not read before, most of the information about the likes of The Pattern and Do You Have a License to Save This Planet? comes from my own interview. So I am my own unreliable narrator it seems.

Also welcome are the reviews of every production, which are fair and well argued. It certainly made me want to go back and watch some of them again. I’ve really enjoyed reading this book and I can fully recommend it to any Doctor Who fan.


Available as a large paperback or ebook from Obverse Books. Visit their website


Little Lost Robot

I have to admire the BFI for digging out some real obscurities for their fantasy and science fiction range of releases. Having done a splendid job restoring and releasing all the existing Out of the Unknown episodes in a box set, they have also brought out a single disc containing all the remains of its 1962 ITV predecessor Out of this World. I recently received it as a Christmas present. The brainchild of ground-breaking TV producer Irene Shubik, and an off-shoot of the prestigious ITV series Armchair Theatre, Out of this World was a thirteen part anthology of science fiction stories, mostly adapted from the page. Sadly only one complete episode still exists – Little Lost Robot.

Top robot psychologist Susan Calvin is summoned to a spacebase orbiting Saturn, where she is shocked to discover that the local robots have had their most basic rule, “No robot may harm a human or allow a human to come to harm,” reprogrammed to allow them to work on a secret military project. Now one of the robots has taken an engineer’s angry command to “Get lost” literally and has disguised itself amongst twenty-one identical robots due to shipped to another base. Susan must track down the fugitive before an intelligent robot capable of murder escapes.

It is an entertaining episode, even if it doesn’t quite capture the cleverness of Isaac Asimov’s original short story. In the original, part of his celebrated collection I, Robot, Susan Calvin explains the because the First Law has been changed to “No Robot may kill a human”, the Second Law “A robot must obey, where that order does not contradict the First Law” has now taken precedence. In fact as long as the robot is obeying “Get lost!”, this means the Third Law “A robot must preserve its own existence where this does not contradict the First or Second Law.” is now its driving motivation. Making this robot a determined escape artist that will use all its superhuman abilities to avoid being discovered.

This logical dilemma is never properly explained, in fact Asimov’s famous Three Laws are never fully stated. Rather people talk in more vague terms about the robot being dangerous due to its reprogramming. It seems an odd oversight for an episode with plenty of time for discussion and the usually fastidious Irene Shubik in charge. What this adaptation does add is more emotion to all the characters, especially Susan Calvin. In Asimov’s stories she is famously cool and logical, rather like Mr Spock but on television she is much more anxious and even flirtatious towards the end. There’s even a classic example of “mansplaining” as the supposed top expert in robotics has some elements described to her by her male assistant. At least she gets in a dry retort to him. The Chief Engineer is also developed into a character who resents the robots for their seeming air of superiority.

Production-wise the play can be regarded as good for its time. All the sets have a stage backdrop quality to them, but at least they are solid and practical and not in the slightest Flash Gordon-esque. The robots themselves do look as if they have been made for a school production but their blank, slightly Cyberman-like, faces are effective in close-up. The costume also forces the actors to waddle along, which is regrettably humorous. The production has that filmed-as-live-theatre style of direction which was typical of most television drama of the time. Yet for me at least the episode never drags.

Boris Karloff introduces and concludes the episode as the Host. He did quite a few of these hosting roles in later life, his mellifluous voice and urbane presence ideally suited the job. The most famous of these show was probably Thriller and another was a supernatural series called The Veil. His contribution here is probably about a minute long. Aside from Boris the rest of the cast is filled with actors who were familiar television faces of the time. Susan Calvin is played by Maxine Audley, probably best remembered now for her part in the notorious horror movie Peeping Tom.

As I said earlier very little of this series still exists, nevertheless BFI have done their best with the extras. Little Lost Robot is presented as a film print and a VIDFIRE version to replicate the way it would looked in 1962. Collectors of the Doctor Who DVDs will know the latter process as it has been used on nearly all the black and white episodes. There is interesting commentary featuring producer Leonard White and actor Mark Ward, hosted by Toby Hadoke, who has done similar duties on Out of the Unknown and Doctor Who.  Two further episodes exist as audio-only recordings: Cold Equations – a classic drama about an astronaut who discovers he has a stowaway on board who threatens his whole mission, and Imposter – a man is accused of being an alien construct, the only television adaptation to date of a Philip K Dick story. Both have been cleaned-up as much as possible and are presented here. There is also a PDF script of another missing story Dumb Martian. Finally there is an excellently written eighteen page booklet on the history of the series and the thirteen stories.

This DVD makes an excellent companion piece to Out of the Unknown, especially now it has come down in price to under £10. It is fascinating to watch this rare bit of British science fiction history and respect ABC for producing adult SF at a time when it was pretty rare on television.

Flying Down Under – K9 The Series

Created in response to the popularity of Star Wars‘ R2-D2 and C-3PO, the Doctor’s robotic dog companion has had quite a busy life of his own. He has enjoyed a 1982 BBC spin-off Christmas special, toys, books, and numerous celebrity cameos. For years his creators, Bob Baker and Dave Martin, tried to get a fully-fledged K9 television series on-air and finally succeeded in 2009, no doubt helped by runaway success of the revived Doctor Who series. This boxset collects all 26 episodes of Brightspark’s Australian children’s television series, which was sold to several territories including Channel 5 in the UK. It is essentially a slipcase containing the two previous UK DVD releases.

London in the not too distant future where the government has become increasingly authoritarian. Robot policemen are on the streets. A secret branch of the government called The Division deals with alien incursions. Professor Gryffen works for The Division at his home laboratory, investigating confiscated alien tech, especially a time/space teleporter recovered from a UFO discovered in the Arctic. One night his experiments are violently interrupted, first by homeless teenage hacker Starkey, then a time/space portal opening up and unleashing a pair of reptilian warriors called the Jixen, pursued by K9. Overwhelmed by the Jixen’s attack, the robot bravely self-destructs to save the humans. To their amazement he then regenerates into a new sleeker form which can fly. K9 may have lost some of his memories but he is still super-smart, loaded with gadgets and loyal to his new “master” Starkey and his friends Jorjie, Darius and the Professor. Together they fight new alien invaders and the sinister plans of the security department, aided and abetted by Jorjie’s mother June, head of The Division.

The obvious comparison for this series is The Sarah Jane Adventures, the CBBC Doctor Who spin-off which also featured K9 in its later seasons. On the whole K9 – The Series is a more childish lightweight programme, its characters rarely having the depth of the regulars surrounding Sarah Jane Smith. Its format of individual 25 minute stories, compared to the two part story format of the British series, also means that most of the stories are pretty straightforward, with rarely much space for the characters to grow. But then something remarkable happens in the last ten episodes – it suddenly becomes much better in every department. Looking at the credits there is no obvious new writer or producer. It’s simply as if the team metaphorically drank a can of Red Bull and suddenly got inspired. From “The Cambridge Spy” onwards, the adventures are more exciting, the humour is actually funny and whilst the regulars do not get much richer, they do become more likeable and the acting become less stiff.

“Angel of the North” is the only episode written by veteran Doctor Who and Wallace and Gromit writer Bob Baker and it is definitely the highpoint of the series. The artic base which discovered the Fallen Angel UFO comes under attack from revived alien monsters. Atmospheric, well-paced and featuring some welcome insight into Professor Gryffen, it is the one story that really recalls the feel of Doctor Who. Other highlights are: “The Lost Library of Ukko” which is the only story to feature an alien planet, where Starkey and his regular Division enemy Thorn become trapped, forcing them to work together.  “The Curse of Anubis” where K9 meets a race of Ancient Egyptian-themed aliens who he helped free from slavery in the past. Unfortunately they have turned into tyrants themselves. Soon he and nearly everyone else aside from Darius have been brainwashed into believing K9 is a god. And the aforementioned “The Cambridge Spy” where Starkey and Jorjie are accidentally sent back to the 1950’s and become involved with a suspected traitor.

The series has something of the look of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, with its young cast, bright colours and fairly stagey looking interiors. Its tight budget means that a surprising large ratio of its stories involve going underground so that the same tunnel set can be redressed again and again. Having most of the Division scenes take place inside what looks the back of a van is also distractingly cheap-looking. Sunny Brisbane looks nothing like London either. The aliens vary in quality from fairly credible rubber monster suits like the Jixen to stuff that wouldn’t be out of place at a Halloween party. On the plus side the title music and CGI opening sequence are quite catchy.

Originally it was announced that K9 would have a new voice but following a fan backlash, K9’s original voice – actor John Leeson –  was hired. Personality-wise this K9 has become more of a smart-alec and has lost a bit of his fusty, slightly pompous academic manner which he had in Doctor Who, but he is still recognisable as the same character. Most of the regular actors have gone on to have decent careers in the last few years but it has to be said their performances here are often quite wooden. Daniel Webber (11.23.63, The Punisher) in particular as Darius labours with a pretty poor attempt at a Cockney accent. But the wooden spoon has to go to Connor Van Vuuren as villainous Division agent Drake. My jaw dropped every time this guy was onscreen, seemingly unable to deliver a single line convincingly. He was about as menacing as the Innkeeper in a school nativity. It’s no coincidence that Drake’s eventual removal coincides with the late upswing in quality. The best performance belongs to experienced TV and movie actor Robert Moloney as Professor Gryffen, even though he is a pretty stereotyped eccentric Brit scientist who drinks tea and dresses a bit foppishly.

These four discs are pretty light extras-wise, with only text profiles of the regular characters spread across them. It is a shame that the behind the scenes programme that is apparently on the Australian release was not included, since there is relatively little information available about this series.

K9 – The Series is to quote another SF series – mostly harmless. Not as good a spin-off as The Sarah Jane Adventures or Torchwood, but better at least than the lamentable K9 and Company. It is cheap, cheerful and there is nothing to offend a family audience, although small children may find the lumbering dinosaur-like Jixen a bit scary. As far as I know it is not currently available to stream anywhere, making these DVD’s your only way of seeing it. Doctor Who fans might like to buy it out of completeness but have better be advised to set their expectations to low.

I wrote this review for the Ciao shopping site but it was rejected because this DVD set is now out of print. So I thought I might as well publish it here. Hope you enjoyed it.

Class – “Like a Hellmouth”

Torchwood High? Doctorloo Road? I suppose it’s appropriate that the latest addition to the Doctor Who family is something of an awkward adolescent itself. There are parts of it that are very good indeed, but there are also moments in these first two episodes when its teeth grindingly annoying too. Considering this is almost acclaimed author Patrick Ness’s first television work, it is confident work, and if the story gears are sometimes a little loud, it is aimed at a slightly younger audience who may not be as big a TV geek as me.

My heart did sink in the first half of For Tonight We Might Die listening to the tiresomely arch dialogue everyone was using, not to mention clunkers like Tanya’s “Isn’t it great not to have to talk about what the white kids want to?” But gradually the script calmed down and became more real, more engaging. The Shadowkin were effective monsters, the action was slick and the amount of blood surprising. The infodump scene about Charlie and Quill’s alien home was enlivened by the cleverness of seeing it through April’s imagination as a kind of paradise school of polite A+ students. I really like the concept of one supposedly enlightened race enslaving another as a ‘punishment’ but being embarrassed when the cruelty is pointed out. It is quite a neat metaphor for colonialism.

Peter Capaldi’s guest appearance was fun, particularly his joke about “strange” Ikea. For a man who says he hates banter, he was quite a puckish mood and surprisingly he was very complimentary about nearly everyone, I’d have thought one pudding brain reference would have got in. Katherine Kelly (Sarah-Lancashire-in-waiting as The Guardian newspaper amusingly put it) was also entertaining, although Miss Quill so far works much better as a comedy character than as a super warrior.

The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo was a definite improvement for me. It felt more confident, the dialogue much more natural and the plot the kind satisfying melding of Science Fiction A plot and emotional B plot that Doctor Who has learnt from Joss Whedon. The Ofsted sub-plot was fun too. They’ve definitely cast this well, all of the leads were impressive here, Fedy Elsayed and Vivian Oparah especially as sports joke Ram and lonely Tanya. Lovely little moment from the dinner lady too, that made her visceral death all the worse.

Class looks like it is going to be enjoyable, if slightly disposable entertainment for the next couple of months. It’s definitely aimed squarely at the Young Adult demographic and not suitable for children because of the amount of gore. Next week’s episode looks promising too. Going off the clips, after Steven Moffat’s emphasis on time paradoxes in the parent series, it’s fun to have one that showcases the monsters again.

Return to the Unknown

It has been a real pleasure to watch and review this British Film Institute box set of Out of the Unknown. Just to wrap up this series, I thought I would take a look at the collection itself – seven DVD’s in a sturdy plastic case and cardboard sleeve. We have been particularly fortunate that after announcing the release, the BFI listened to and cooperated with a group of classic television enthusiasts to produce a remarkably complete collection, for a programme which is regrettably missing so many episodes. The four reconstructed episodes, eleven commentaries, photo galleries, interview with director James Cellan Jones and the forty two minute documentary Return to the Unknown are all high quality fan contributions. Many of these contributors also worked on the Doctor Who DVD range, another series featuring a very high standard of DVD extras.

In fact the documentary Return to the Unknown has a format familiar to any one who has collected the timelord’s adventures. A collection of talking heads filmed against white, interspersed with vintage photos, BBC documents and apposite video clips. It is a warm tribute to all four seasons, with plenty of fond reminiscences and little in the way of controversy. There is predictably alot of anecdotes about the relatively primitive production facilities of time but also the way BBC2 encouraged innovation. Interesting to note that with Head of Drama Sydney Newman overseeing the series, he once again set up a science fiction series with a young female producer Irene Shubik, assisted by a veteran BBC man George Spenton-Foster, in the same way that Doctor Who began with Verity Lambert and associate producer Mervyn Pinfield. At times the narration does irritatingly present opinion as fact, for example that the surviving episode of season three The Last Lonely Man was also one of the finest. Mark Ward – author of the excellent guide to the series published by Kaleidoscope, contributes as well but he comes across as a little too enthusiastic and uncritical, seeming to describe every episode he mentions as “one of the best ever dramas”.

Without the time to cover the whole series in depth, certain episodes are singled out for more detailed treatment including The Machine Stops, Second Childhood and the Issac Asimov robot stories.The best part of the documentary for me were the intriguing clips from the missing episodes. Wendy Craig is on good form as the reluctant new owner of a handsome robot servant in Satisfaction Guaranteed. Several recoloured scenes from Liar! suggest that it was particularly good story and that Ian Ogilvy gave a brilliant performance as Herbie the telepathic robot. Even the striking end credits of The Fox and the Forest and Andover and the Android are tantalising. We learn that the former was only broadcast the once due to the unusually high repeat fees demanded by Ray Bradbury. In fact, another nice touch to the documentary is that the end credits are done in the same striking graphic design as those of the first two seasons.

Most of the contributors to the documentary also turn up in the commentaries, moderated by comedian and writer Toby Hadoke, a safe pair of hands for these, having hosted a fair number of the commentaries of the later classic Doctor Who DVD releases. He always does his research, has a deep knowledge and love for British telefantasy, and also possess an engaging manner which usually brings out the best in his speakers. As a result the commentaries are all of a pretty good standard, even if the passing decades means the contributors rarely have detailed memories of the filming, beyond one or two particular moments. Although often the onscreen action will provoke some extra thoughts, even if it is just amusement at the costumes.

The image galleries on every disc are impressive, with all the episodes getting some coverage. James Cellan Jones, director of Beach Head gives an informative interview but I could have used some photos to break up the static shot of him talking. What I did not realise until I looked him up was the length and success of his directing career, from Compact in 1963 to Holby City in 2001, by way of many TV movies and mini-series. The Deathday film inserts, which are seen on a television in the background of the episode, do not add anything beyond adding to the box set’s feeling of completeness. Finally there is the excellently written booklet by Mark Ward, as well as a useful episode guide. From this 42 page booklet we can learn enjoyable trivia such as the original intention to have Vincent Price introducing each episode, in the way Boris Karloff had for Out of this World. That the series might have been called 12 Tomorrows. Or that record producer and well-known science fiction fan Ian Levine tried to revive the series in 1981.

This box set is one of the highlights of the BFI’s television range and it is hard to see how it could be much improved upon unless more episodes are uncovered, which seems unlikely now. Picture and sound quality have been restored to a good standard and the inclusion of the reconstructions is a pleasant bonus. It is still quite a pricey set but for fans of BBC science fiction and the so-called golden age of science fiction represented by Asimov, Bradbury, Wyndham et al this is great viewing.

You can read more details and learn where to order it from on the BFI site.

Below is a complete episode guide and a checklist of all my episode reviews, in case you would like to read more of them. Thanks for checking with me and the encouraging comments. I will be back to this blog with more cult reviews in the future, but my next posts will be concentrating on my current theatre work.

Season 1
No Place Like Earth
The Counterfeit Man
Stranger in the Family
The Dead Past
Time in Advance
Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come..?
Sucker Bait
The Fox and the Forest
Andover and the Android
Some Lapse of Time
Thirteen to Centaurus
The Midas Plague

Season 2
The Machine Stops
Frankenstein Mark II
Lambda 1
Level 7
Second Childhood
The World in Silence
The Eye
The Tunnel Under the World
The Fastest Draw
Too Many Cooks
Walk’s End
Satisfaction Guaranteed
The Prophet

Season 3
Immortality Inc
The Last Lonely Man
Beach Head
Something in the Cellar
Random Quest
The Naked Sun
The Little Black Bag
1 + 1 = 1.5
The Fosters
Target Generation
The Yellow Pill
Get Off My Cloud

Season 4
Taste of Evil
To Lay a Ghost
This Body is Mine
The Sons and Daughters of Tomorrow
Welcome Home
The Last Witness
The Man in My Head
The Chopper
The Uninvited
The Shattered Eye


The Uninvited

by Michael J Bird

So here the series ends, as far as we can know it, since the final episode The Shattered Eye is long since missing. And a series that had been conceived as a showcase for the best of literary science fiction finishes with a ghost story.

George and Millicent Patterson about to emigrate to Botswana, and are spending their last night in their old, virtually empty flat. But their night turns into a frightening ordeal as they are assaulted by visions which gradually tell the story of a controlling husband who abuses and eventually murders his wife.

It is difficult to review this episode fairly, since we only have a handful of publicity photos which omit most of the cast, plus the soundtrack. The reconstruction therefore illustrates the audio with pages of the original camera script. It is a shame there was not the time or money to re-type the script, since the faded copy we see is quite hard to read in places. Still I would rather have this version than omit the episode altogether.

Although essentially a supernatural story, The Uninvited did remind me of Sapphire and Steel with its limited interior setting and use of an electronic howl to herald each visitation. The events could be explained as some kind of time rift if you cared too. It is difficult to judge how frightening it might have been since it would have depend a lot on how good the visual shocks in the script were realised.

In a season that has generally featured fraught relationships, it is rather lovely to listen the genuinely loving and affectionate marriage of George and Millie, played with easy naturalism by John Nettleton and June Ellis. The fact they are so likeable and committed to each other, definitely amplifies the horror when it begins because I really did not want anything tragic to happen to them. June Ellis was incidentally the wife of producer Alan Bromley. It is almost a shame that Brian Wilde is remembered for playing ineffectual comedy characters in Porridge and Last of the Summer Wine because he excelled playing sinister, slightly pathetic villains, whether the abusive husband Ramsay here or Mr Peacock in Ace of Wands. The moment where he advances on Millie, telling her she must be punished is unsettling even on audio.

Writer Michael J Bird had already written the controversial To Lay a Ghost for this season. He was something of a specialist in writing contemporary dramas with a supernatural flavouring, penning Maelstrom, The Dark Side of the Sun and The Aphrodite Inheritance as well as guest scripts in quite a few long running BBC series. Whilst this episode is lost, interestingly Michael J Bird rewrote his script as In Possession for Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense in 1984. Another missing Out of the Unknown episode The Last Witness was adapted by Martin Worth for the same series, retitled A Distant Scream.

Perhaps the only criticism I can make of The Uninvited is that it would have fitted comfortably into any of the Seventies supernatural anthologies, such as Dead of Night. It demonstrates that Out of the Unknown had lost its distinctive identity and unique selling point. So it was not surprising that indifferent ratings and incoming new executives with fresh agendas led to it not being picked up again. Survivors, Moonbase 3 and Doomwatch would keep the flag flying for BBC adult-aimed science fiction through the Seventies. Eventually, just as Out of the Unknown sprang from in part from Armchair Theatre, so Play for Tomorrow would spin-off from Play for Today. But that is an article for another time.

I’ve not quite finished with this BFI boxset. Coming up next is a review of the brand new documentary Return to the Unknown and the other extras included in this impressive collection.