It’s very flattering when someone credits you as an inspiration. John Isles and Rebecca Wray were inspired to create their own podcast, partially by my own Very British Futures podcast. Together with Dani Wray, the result is Tripodscast, a series discussing everything you could possibly want to know about John Christopher’s Tripods series. The books, the TV series, the comic strips and more. A good choice, because my episode on the BBC TV series is still my most downloaded instalment.
Episode one is out now and its excellent. A very entertaining 50+ minutes of conversation about the first novel The White Mountains, along with an charming interview with another friend of mine, author Will Hadcroft about his correspondence and eventual meeting with John Christopher, a pen-name of Samuel Youd. It is well produced too and reminds me that when I start season two of my podcast I want to do some in-person recordings as well as Skype chats.
When I started thinking about Outcasts, in my mind it was a series just a few years old, and I was shocked to find out it was actually broadcast in 2011. Nevertheless its striking how little impact this expensive primetime BBC1 science fiction series seems to have made. A quick google search reveals no dedicated fan sites, only a few reviews on newspapers and general purpose geek TV review sites. In the comments section underneath them, a mixture of short thoughts evenly divided between bouchets and brickbats. Creator Ben Richards tried to generate some excitement with teasing a few things which might have happened in season two but to no avail. No streaming company was rushing to Kudos’ door for more stories from Carpathia and it seemed there was no one campaigning for more. And revival campaigns are surely one of the defining factors of SF fandom?
Looking back there hasn’t been a really successful show about colonising a planet, despite the apparent strengths of such an idea. Neither Earth 2, or Terra Nova lasted more than a season and Outcasts continued the trend. Distant space colonies of explorers and farmers it seems, are more a place we like our heroes to visit, have an adventure, then blast off again to somewhere new. Post-apocalyptic survival tales seem to fare better. The Walking Dead and Survivors have both tackled themes about setting up a new society from the ground up and hooked us into the characters and their plight, yet both had more than their share of soapy storylines. Maybe when we go into space we’re always looking for new worlds to explore, preferably with interesting lifeforms to fight or fall in love with.
Perhaps another lesson to learn from Outcasts is that a great episode one is still important. Maybe a Netflix series can afford a slow burn when all the episodes are simultaneously online, although I wish they didn’t indulge in them quite so often, A weekly series however needs to grip from the first night. Most of the really negative, virulent reviews of Outcasts are based on the first episode. Watching the whole series I agree with some of my guests that the series does improve but the drag factor of the first two slow episodes sets a gloomy tone that later episodes never really shook off, even as the plot picks up momentum. At the same time some of the reviews themselves are weirdly hysterical. For example one newspaper asked if Ed Wood Jr (the notorious low-budget director) was in charge. Whatever else can be leveled at the programme, the production values are first class.
In this episode, I’m joined by Nicky Smalley, Dr Rebecca Wray and John Isles to talk about our rewatch of Outcasts and what we think worked and what didn’t. There’s some interesting discoveries along the way.
Cast Hermione Norris – Stella Isen Daniel Mays – Cass Cromwell Amy Manson – Fleur Morgan Ashley Walters – Jack Holt Eric Mabius – Julius Berger Michael Legge – Tipper Malone Liam Cunningham – Richard Tate Langley Kirkwood – Rudi Jeanné Kietzmann – Lily Isen
Production Created by Ben Richards
Written by Ben Richards, David Farr, Simon Block, Jimmy Gardner, Jack Lothian
Produced by Radford Neville Co-produced by Jörg Westerkamp, Thomas Becker, Vlokkie Gordon, David Wicht Executive Produced by Jane Featherstone, Faith Penhale, Matthew Read, Simon Crawford-Collins, Ben Richards Directed by Andy Goddard, Omar Madha, Bharat Nalluri, Jamie Payne
Production companies Kudos Film and Television ApolloMovie Beteiligungs BBC America BBC Wales Film Afrika Worldwide
You can now follow Very British Futures on Audible, as well as Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and most other major platforms. If they don’t work for you, you can also listen or download it from here:
As I explain at the end of the episode, this show marks the end of season one. The podcast will be taking a hiatus until Summer 2022, whilst I concentrate on other work. But it will be back. Thanks for reading.
It’s tempting to describe Kinvig as an artistic imperfection, there to make the rest of Nigel Kneale’s television work look even better in comparison. That would be nonsense of course. Nobody involved in this 1982 ITV sitcom wanted it to be anything other than a great success. It’s a fact that Kinvig was not a successful programme in terms of ratings or on the Audience Appreciation Index. The debate lies in whether Kinvig is an unappreciated rough diamond, a textbook disaster, or something in-between.
Kinvig concerns a lazy repairman called Des whose life permanently stuck in neutral. Apart from his good-natured twittering wife Netta, his only friend is Jim Piper. Des indulges Jim in his obsession with unknown mysteries – UFO’s, Atkantis, psychic powers etc. He’s shaken out of his lethagy when beautiful Miss Griffin enters his life, first as an angry customer, then as a seductive alien who tells him he is the only man who can save Earth from the evil Xux. Or is it all in his mind? (Answer: Yes it is)
If it wasn’t written by Nigel Kneale, the writer of classics like Quatermassand the Pit, 1984 , Beasts and The Woman in Black, it’s doubtful that Kinvig would ever have been released on DVD or enjoy any cult status at all. Who remembers SF sitcoms The Adventures of Don Quick for example, or Luna for example? As it is, of my two guests for this episode, only Charles Auchterlonie had seen it before, whilst Tim Reid came to it completely fresh. Chas and Tim already have an excellent podcast of their own – The Randomiser where they discuss Doctor Who and Red Dwarf. I’m a big fan, as well as knowing them as friends from way back in early noughties of Doctor Who internet fandom. In fact I’ll be guesting on a future edition of their show.
I must take a moment to praise Andy Murray’s excellent production notes and his definitive book on Nigel Kneale’s career Into the Unknown which came in very useful when researching the programme.
Overall, most episodes in this series end up championing the show of the week, but I’ll confess that this episode is a bit of demolition job. Hopefully you will think it is an entertaining deconstruction.
Dennis Kinvig – Tony Haygarth Netta Kinvig – Patsy Rowlands Jim Piper – Colin Jeavons Miss Griffin – Prunella Gee Buddo – Simon Williams Mr Horsley – Patrick Newell
Production Design – Michael Oxley Costume Design – Sue Formston Written by Nigel Kneale Produced & Directed by Les Chatfield
You can download Very British Futures from your favourite podcast app. In fact if my podcast is not on your favourite podcast app, let me know and I’ll make sure it gets put there. Or you can listen or download from this very page.
Since I started this blog, my Out of the Unknown articles have been the most popular posts, so this series was a natural to cover on the podcast. In fact, making this episode and watching these episodes alongside Stephen Hatcher and Dylan Rees has only deepened my appreciation of this remarkable adult SF drama, as well as my frustration that so many great episodes remain lost.
There have been other good adult SF dramas on television. In the last decade probably the best UK example of a serious anthology has been Black Mirror, but even that thoughtful series can be criticised for being narrowly focused on media matters and its formula summed up as “a new media technology brings out the worst in everyone”. A couple of years ago Channel 4 did a co-production with Amazon Prime, Electric Dreams, adapting stories by Philip K Dick. Some of them were excellent, but Out of the Unknown has such an impressive range of stories and authors, covering genres from comedy to chiller.
I felt the best way to cover this anthology was for myself and guests Dylan Rees and Stephen Hatcher to pick an episode each to concentrate on, as well as a general appreciation. It was a formula that worked particularly well and I’m going to apply it again on other long running series.
Out of the Unknown Essential Facts
Producers – Irene Shubik, George Spenton-Foster, Alan Bromley Story Editors – Irene Shubik, Robin Parks 4 seasons (1965 – 1971)
For more information on Out of the Unknown, including my reviews of all the existing episodes, start here.
Very British Futures is available from Anchor.fm and most leading podcast platforms, now including Soundcloud. You can listen or download this episode from here.
Hope you enjoy this one as much as we enjoyed making it.
The final tale in my Monsters audiobook trilogy. With When the Bell Rings Out and Monster’s Inn still being downloaded regularly, I felt it was only right to make the third story available.
Blue was written by Loretta Thessane is read by Karl Purder. A science fiction horror tale about a centuries old shape-changing alien living among us and occasionally hiring himself out as a duplicate for people who want to avoid something or literally be in two places at once. On top of this already bizarre premise, Blue becomes aware of a alien killer in the local community whose activities are drawing attention to his carefully concealed life.
It’s an imaginative and excellently performed short story, and I hope you enjoy it. Listen or download below.
The Nightmare Man was one of the first titles I wanted to cover with this podcast series, however finding the guests to talk about it proved harder than I expected. It seems this BBC SF/Horror serial is even more obscure than I thought and quite a few of the people I thought had seen it and would like to talk about it, revealed themselves unaware of it. Happily Ian Taylor, who I had met through amateur dramatics, was a big fan. So much so that he had created a horror discussion group on Facebook named after it. John Isles had not seen it but was keen too, so I lent him my DVD copy, and we were away.
The Nightmare Man is a very entertaining horror B-movie in four parts, adapted from a yarn by David Wilshire. It feels like a slightly more adult Doctor Who adventure, except the timelord has not turned up and its left to the local police, with a little military assistance, to save the day. Inverdee, a Scottish island preparing for winter, is shaken by a violent murder. A woman resident appears to have torn apart by something with super human strength. We know hoarse-breathing killer with blood red vision is out there, but exactly what is he is the central mystery. An alien, a drug-crazed madman, or something stranger?
Atmospheric, filled with likable characters and well paced over four half-hour episodes, The Nightmare Man should be better known but perhaps coming out before home video really took off meant that it could only live in memories of the few million who watched it on BBC1 in the summer of 1981. Hopefully this podcast should direct a few more people to seek out the DVD. It would certainly be a good choice for BritBox.
Cast James Warwick – Michael Gaffikin Celia Imrie – Fiona Patterson Maurice Roëves – Inspector Inskip Jonathan Newth – Colonel Howard Tom Watson – Dr. Goudry James Cosmo – Sergeant Carch Pat Gorman – The Killer
Written by Robert Holmes from the novel Child of Vodyanoi by David Wilshire Produced by Ron Craddock Directed by Douglas Camfield
A definite change of tone for this episode and possibly the most serious drama I’ll be covering in the series. Not to mention being a BAFTA award winning production. Threads is Mick Jackson and Barry Hines’ coal-black spectre at the feast of television. A dramatic portrayal of the effect of nuclear war on Britain, including the then new theory of a nuclear winter. What makes Threads such a shocking watch is not the graphic radiation injuries, the shootings or the wrecked towns and cities, it is the complete loss of hope, kindness and any kind of compassionate humanity. As far as this film is concerned, not only will the immediate survivors be quickly reduced to merely surviving, but their descendants will be barely be better than stunted savages.
Before that grim, almost surreal last act, the film is an expertly written and produced drama documentary, full of well-observed Northern characters and believable detail, as Sheffield City Council prepares for a possible attack, whilst the populace get on with their lives, feeling helpless and detached from the news of conventional war in the Middle East.
To discuss Threads I was glad to invite Rik Hoskin, writer across many platforms from award-winning comics to novels by way of games and audios, and Andrew S. Roe-Crines, lecturer in political science at Liverpool University. The latter has already contributed to my Tripods episode.
Cast: Karen Meagher – Ruth Beckett Henry Moxon – Mr Beckett June Broughton – Mrs Beckett Reece Dinsdale – Jimmy Kemp David Brierly – Mr Kemp Rita May – Mrs Kemp Harry Beety – Mr Sutton Ashley Barker – Bob Phil Rose – Medical Officer Michael O’Hagan – Chief Supt. Hirst Steve Halliwell – Information Officer Brian Grellis – Accommodation Officer Peter Faulkner – Transport Officer Anthony Collin – Food Officer
Producer and Director – Mick Jackson Writer – Barry Hines
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Star Cops is a series which has grown on me over the years. When it was first shown on BBC2 back in 1987, I watched it but left with the impression it was distinctly average. In trying to get away from one set of SF clichés, it had ended up embracing a whole bag of detective tropes instead. Years later I bought the VHS videos at a charity store and viewing it again it seemed a lot stronger and cleverer than my 21 year old self had given it credit for.
When I was canvasing friends for what TV shows they would like to talkabout on my potential podcast, Star Cops was mentioned quite a lot. So much so that this is my first four handed episode, with regulars Kevin Hiley and Dr Rebecca Wray joined by Peter Grehen, a friend and writer who I had first met through BBV as the author of Sontaran: Silent Warrior and later asked to write an Agents of Psyence script, which sadly was never made. I was slightly worried that some guests would get marginalised but I’m pretty happy that we all had our say, whilst keeping the episode down to a reasonable length.
Important credits to know about Star Cops as you listen:
Main cast David Calder – Nathan Spring Erick Ray Evans – David Theroux Linda Newton – Pal Kenzy Trevor Cooper – Colin Devis Jonathan Adams – Alexander Krivenko Sayo Inaba – Anna Shoun
Production Team Created by Chris Boucher Written by Chris Boucher, Philip Martin, John Collee Produced by Evgeny Gridneff Directed by Christopher Baker, Graham Harper
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As ever you can listen and download the show from here too. Thanks for listening and enjoy the show.
Somewhere in the world between the USA and Europe is a city ruled by television, where gangs roam the dirty streets, the rich live in skyscraper fortresses, life is cheap and technology is a retrofitted mix of hi-tech computer networks and 20th century junk. It’s world in need of a hero, but what its going to get is a video celebrity who’s not even real – or is he? 20 Minutes Into the Future has no right to be as great as it is. Designed to launch a new pop video show on Channel 4, it’s a pop rock video delight that captures the flavour of cyberpunk better than most Hollywood attempts.
It was definitely one of the shows I had in mind when I first thought about making a SF podcast. Joining me for the ride are Amy Elizabeth, who you might remember as Bianca Ruocco in Agents of Psyence and Steve Noble, top reviewer for the Talking Pictures TV podcast and one time comic strip writer. We had a very chatty and enjoyable discussion about Max Headroom, with as you’ll hear a lot laughs along the way. Although the pilot movie is the focus, we can’t help but talk about the whole Max Headroom phenomena, that burned brightly but briefly in 1985.
The UK pilot led into an excellent but short lived US TV series which was beyond the podcast’s brief but personally I am very fond of too. Even though it softened some of the pilot’s cynicism and made Max himself a little more obviously a good guy. One fact I didn’t manage to fit in is that US broadcast of this film featured extra Max Headroom, with clips from the Channel 4 pop show added to increase his presence in last act.
Important Max Facts for you: Edison Carter / Max Headroom – Matt Frewer Theora Jones – Amanda Pays Grossman – Nikolas Grace Bryce – Paul Spurrier Blank Reg – W Morgan Shepherd Dominique – Hilary Tindall Breugal – Hilton McRea Mahler – George Rossi
Written by Steven Roberts Based on an idea by Annabel Jankel, Rocky Morton and George Stone Produced by Peter Wagg Directed by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton
You listen to this episode at Anchor.fm, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and most major platforms. Or listen and download it from here!
The Nineties were a busy time for SF television, just not for British voices. Whilst the success in syndication of Star Trek: The Next Generation ushered in a purple patch for US television – The X-Files, Deep Space Nine, Stargate SG1 and countless short-lived shows with a range of quality, it seemed to me that the UK lost confidence in the genre once Doctor Who was cancelled (bar the one-off 1996 TV Movie). It’s noticeable that a lot of what was produced by TV companies in this decade for peaktime audiences put the emphasis on their ‘realism’ or carried assurances that they were not ‘science fiction’ but drama. Star Cops, Bugs, Space Island One. ITV’s The Uninvited is an interesting example of that. It’s an alien invasion story dressed up as A Ruth Rendell Mystery.
I enjoyed rewatching The Uninvited recently and I equally enjoyed talking with my friends John Isles and Nicky Smalley about it a few weeks ago for the next edition of Very British Futures. Turns out like me, John kept it on VHS tape for a long time, simply because it was British SF TV at a time of relative scarcity. I don’t think I quite managed to fit in my appreciation of Leslie Grantham as one of the chief alien bad guys, all intense stares and cool demeanor. This episode might feel a little different to the preceeding ones because I was testing the water by having a more wide-ranging conversation about the Nineties and novelisations too. Here’s some more details about the show for the record.
Principle Cast Douglas Hodge – Steve Blake Leslie Grantham – Chief Supt. Philip Gates Lia Williams – Melissa Gates Sylvestra Le Touzel – Joanna Ball David Allister – James Wilson Caroline Lee-Johnson – Sarah Armstrong
Writer – Peter Broker Music – Martin Kizsko, Toby Gilks Cinematography – Doug Hallows Editor – Colin Goudie Producers – Ruth Boswell, Leslie Grantham, Laura Julian, Archie Tait Director – Norman Stone
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