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'A For Andromeda' (AFA) is renowned as one of the great science fiction
series of the 1960's. Produced by the BBC in 1961 and co-written by revered
and controversial scientist Fred Hoyle, the programme made a star of Julie
Christie and also featured a superb performance from Peter Halliday as the
scientist with a conscience, Dr John Fleming.
AFA is basically the story of the events following the receipt of a message transmitted from the Andromeda galaxy. The message, once decoded, gives instructions for building a massive and very advanced computer. Once built, it is clear that the computer is not a gift, it has its own agenda and after giving instructions on 'building' a giant eye, it then gives out some DNA coding which leads to the creation of a beautiful girl called 'Andromeda' (Christie). What makes this even more sinister is that she is a blonde replica of a brunette lab assistant who apparently committed suicide in the computer block....
What follows is a superb drama, and the interplay between Mary Morris' Professor Dawnay and Dr Fleming is something that is impossibly rare in modern science fiction - superb characterisation, superb dialogue, and genuine unease being built through the discussion of ideas alone. Is it good, is it evil, or is it just so far beyond our understanding that we can't hope to grasp what is happening? Dr Fleming, whose scientific curiosity was instrumental in its creation, cannot come to terms with what is happening and is burdened by guilt. The other side of the coin is Dawnay, who is driven by her scientific curiosity to see what will emerge, regardless of the outcome.
The story is complicated by the world situation. It is set in a near future where a large corporation called 'Intel' (spooky!) calls the tune and Britain is a minor power. The British hope is that the computer will help to increase their position in the game of world politics.
The story has often been criticised by devotees of the 'Quatermass' school of science fiction for being too slow and wordy, but this is a sad comment on the critics rather than a valid flaw in the series. AFA is not just a 'sci-fi' story - it deals with many concepts and ideas, as well as the basic human struggle of everyday survival. We don't even know if the enemy is an enemy - it is a story of ideas and suggestion, and such it is superb. If you want to know how good it is, just compare it with two recent films that have blatantly stolen its initial premise - 'Species' and 'Contact'. I rest my case!
Sadly, like so much TV produced by the BBC in the 1950's, 1960's and early 1970's, it doesn't exist anymore, having been wiped. There are some extracts remaining, mainly filmed inserts and the last 15 minutes or so of the final episode. There are also rumours of an episode existing in the hands of a private collector, but this has yet to be confirmed. It is a terrible loss, for which the BBC can have no valid excuse, but for them it is just one of many.
However, the series was remade in Italy in 1971, as 'A Come Andromeda', so it is possible to see it and visualise what went on, even if you don't speak Italian. And, perhaps more importantly, the series writers Fred Hoyle and John Elliott turned out a novel that is a superb work in its own right, and is a worthy substitute for the series itself. Combine the Italian series and the book and you might at least feel you have gained a glimpse into what was a ground-breaking and superb series.
The story doesn't end here, however. What is less well known is that there was a sequel, 'The Andromeda Breakthrough'. This featured the same cast, with the exception of Julie Christie, who, for whatever reason, was replaced by Susan Hampshire. This series does exist in its entirety in the BBC's vaults, but they seem unwilling to release it, which is a shame because it is a seamless and logical progression of the original story, leading to a revealing and satisfying conclusion. There is also a Hoyle and Elliott novel of this story, which is every bit as good as AFA, so if you can't get to see the series, then the book is, again, a worthy substitute.
In summary, AFA was epoch-breaking television, the like of which has rarely been seen since, and also features one of the most under-rated and underused actors of the late 20th century - Peter Halliday, whose performance as Dr John Fleming is not only superb, but is perhaps a defining role in science fiction.
I concur with author Martin Dench. I was only ten years old when A For
Andromeda was screened but I remember vividly being riveted to the TV
screen. A For Andromeda dealt intelligently with the discovery of extra
terrestrial intelligence and its social and political consequences. The
serial was totally believable and way ahead of its time. It is one of
the great tragedies of television history that the BBC wiped this
series. If this had not happened it is likely that A For Andromeda, and
its sequel serial, The Andromeda Breakthrough, would have become world
wide cult series like The Prisoner.
There are informative articles with episode synopses in the British TV fantasy magazine Timescreen of March 1987, and the American TV science fiction magazine Epi-log of March 1992.
I had thought that the BBC had wiped all of A For Andromeda, but a whole episode, The Eye of the Tiger' is now on Youtube.
Another beloved time-capsule for "fossils" such as myself who walked the
earth in what must seem quasi-Jurassic times now - the early sixties. The
Beatles with Stu Sutcliffe were still in Hamburg, Arnold Schwarzenegger
12, Steven Bradley had just been convicted in Australia of the murder of 8
year-old Graeme Thorne and I was about to sit for my final school
Like half of Britain I watched the opening episode of this eagerly awaited and promoted sci-fi series which promised everything and delivered perhaps 50%. Problem was, it screened not long after QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, a totally impossible act to follow!
Long before the inauguration of S.E.T.I. (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) A FOR ANDROMEDA concerned itself with the discovery of a radio emission from the Andromeda galaxy that appeared to be a blue-print for creating life itself. (Not too much was made of DNA double-helixes and the like in 1961). This pitted scientists Dr John Fleming (Halliday) and Professor Madeleine Dawnay Morris) against one another, since neither were sure of the moral, social or scientific implications of pursuing the seeming opportunity. Naturally, stupidity won out and a being was created. Does this all sound rather familiar? Yes folks, SPECIES was a total conceptual rip-off....and no-one ever noticed!
The 'being' however (Andromeda, as she was named) was one awesomely pretty and excessively young Julie Christie, in her first screen role (It catapulted her to international success in just a few years). As always happens. the authorities fear what they don't know and Miss Christie was soon very much in harms way, much like Natasha Henstridge in SPECIES thirty five years later.
This was never GREAT sci-fi as it was way too talky and a tad low on action. However, the concluding episodes WERE good and if this exists anywhere on video in an abridged form even, it would be well worth a look, if only to see why Julie Christie broke so many hearts, one of which was Stanley Kubrick's....but that is another story!
As a 12 year old, my parents considered it inappropriate for me to
watch this nonsense, so I didn't get to see every episode when it first
came out, and I had to content myself with reading the novelisation of
"A4A" and its sequel "Andromeda Breakthrough". I'd heard that the BBC
had destroyed all the prints (of A4A) although some episodes had been
recovered, "The Face of the Tiger" (Ep 6) in its entirety.
So imagine my complete and utter amazement when yesterday I saw that the BBC was releasing both serials on DVD. I hied myself down the video shop this morning and lo and behold there they were. Sadly the missing episodes were still missing but using a technique called "Telesnap" which had involved somebody sitting in front of their TV taking a still photograph every time something interesting appeared on screen, and inserting captions taken from the script the entire story was reconstructed. There were also some short excerpts gained from various sources which were inserted.
The last two episodes were virtually complete.
So, I was introduced to (the late) Sir Fred Hoyle and his sometimes eccentric but always entertaining writing by this TV series, and a much wider world, so bless you Sir Fred.
It also inspired me with an almost fanatical dedication to computers that even as a 12 year old I wanted to own one. I bought my first one (Apple II) in 1979, and in 2007 I have them lying all over the floor and hanging on shelves.
Having finished watching the entire "A4A" and one episode of "Breakthrough", despite having had the novels since 1964 or so, I'm amazed how relevant the storyline and its ideas are. Genetic engineering. Human cloning. Climate change. Exploration, subjugation and even destruction of a foreign species by remote means. Tissue regeneration. Computers "taking over everything". Biological warfare. Middle Eastern oil!!! "Third World" nations becoming electronic sweatshops to increase their economic wealth. The list goes on.
The plot? It's almost exactly the same as "Contact" with Jodie Foster (or to be more pedantic, vice-versa). A radio telescope picks up a signal from space, it's decoded into a design for a "super computer", with a program and data. The computer starts working out what makes the earthlings tick. It creates a mass of protoplasm with an eye which enables the computer to see what's going on around it. Eventually the computer kills a girl and reads her DNA, then clones her, but she's actually part of the computer. And then the fun REALLY starts. interstellar/interspecies love story. World domination. Security of one nation's air space from hostile intrusion and threat.
The cast? First and foremost, the absolutely unbelievable Julie Christie in her first appearance in front of the camera. Although deliberately given a very limited emotional range to work within (she plays the protoplasmic computer) she is stunning both in looks, her icy menace and eventual (unintended) human frailty. (Susan Hampshire plays Andromeda in the Breakthrough and has a very difficult job to fill Jules' shoes - but she gives it a damned good go).
Peter Halliday as the rebellious but brilliant (probably unstable) physicist who tries to warn all and sundry of the danger.
Mary Morris as Madelaine Dawnay, the biologist who "creates" Andromeda.
I know almost every word by heart from reading the novels, but this DVD release gives me a refreshing re-view of this timeless classic.
Trivia: Julie Christie's character is created by a computer. In Demon Seed she is impregnated by a computer. Does she have a thing for electronic sex?
I first watched this TV series when I was nine years old, it terrified
me, especially the scenes when "andromeda" gripped the bars and
seemingly was electrocuted. I carried the images with me to school the
next day and tried to engage anybody who had seen it to see if they
felt as scared as me. Through IMDb I have been able to revisit the
essence of the production (actors, director) A stunningly "realistic"
production for it's time. I have rarely been genuinely affected by
small or silver screen but " A for Andromeda" remains in my memory 45
years later, and I had no idea that the yet to be great Julie Christie
was Andromeda. Does anybody have remotely the same memories as me?
It was probably 1963 before we saw A for Andromeda "downunder" and I thought it was the most exciting show I'd ever seen. I could feed and bath 4 kids and be in time to watch each episode (my husband was at work). There had never been anything like it on Australian TV before. Don't remember much about the actors and reading the cast list was amazed to find just who was in it. I was intrigued with the actor who played the female professor. Is there a photo of her? I thought the part was played by Patricia Hayes but obviously I was wrong. Had no idea Julie Christie was Andromeda. Would love to see it again but maybe it would be disappointing. Sorry I can't add any more, after all it is over forty years since I saw it. Have only just found IMDb and am enjoying it very much. Please someone put A for Andromeda on DVD soon - my time is getting shorter!
Well, part of it is. The good news is that there is now a BBC DVD set
containing what remains of "A for Andromeda" (the whole of the last
episode, and stills from the others linked with text commentary plus a
few scenes which were probably taken by people filming their TV sets,
or possibly from copies of copies sent to TV companies abroad) and the
whole of the sequel "The Andromeda Breakthrough". The bad news is that
it is now extremely unlikely that we will ever see the 'lost' episodes,
unless some alien race intercepted the TV transmissions from 1962...
Having been a bit too young to watch them when they were originally televised (I was only 6 at the time, and only just remembered that they existed when I found the novelisations as a teenager) but having read and reread the books many times, I was thrilled to find the DVD set. I just wish that more of the first series had survived with Julie Christie (don't get me wrong, I've completely fallen in love with Susan Hampshire's Andromeda, but I wish I had more of Julie Christie's for comparison as well).
Dr. Fred Hoyle has a special place for me, he was the author who first got me interested in computers (through his book "The Black Cloud" which contains a description of programming in those days, as well as AforA). Many of his themes were very advanced for the time and still relevant. Some of his scientific ideas are currently discredited (for instance he supported the "steady state" hypothesis, that the universe has always existed, instead of the "Big Bang") but both his fiction and nonfiction was among the best at the time. Unlike many modern SF authors his romance was low-key and suggested rather than explicit, and his plots are thoughtful rather than full of action, but I find that a nice change from modern Hollywood and TV productions, and many modern SF writers.
I was 13 when I saw 'A for Andromeda' and had to walk to my grandmother's house to see it on a 12" B&W TV - where the picture frequently distorted into bands of interference whenever a car went by. I was totally enthralled by the series. I have never seen anything since that affected me as much (granted, I was at an impressionable age.) Like John Carr above, I was totally horrified when Julie Christie had to hold onto the bars and be subjected to electric shock by the 'machine' - an image burned into my brain. Dr. Fleming was also a very memorable character. I was glad to find out "The Andromeda Anthology" is now available on DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Blimey! This site reads like a geriatric ward, so I think I'll just
draw up a bath-chair and add my two-pen'orth.
As a youngster of 10 years old, most of the political and social implications of the series passed me by. I just remember an extremely spooky development of the story in terms of how it affected the characters.
It was, I think, a little more high-brow than 'Quatermass & The Pit'. That had been screened a few years earlier when I was still in primary school. Yet despite my youth I followed most of the events and understood them well enough to have many a frightful night. 'Andromeda' was less inclined to horror than to suspense and drama, which is probably why I do not have a detailed recollection of the story.
What I do recollect was very entertaining if just a wee bit wordy for me (at that age). So that was July Christie who played Andromeda, was it? Whaddaya know; I'd never have guessed that.
The extremely insightful comment by Martin Dench suggests that he is some kind of authority on the subject. That, or his memory is far better than it ought to be at his age. Either way, it's a very helpful addition and complements the detail provided by IMDb, for which I am very grateful.
I've given it 8 stars, but I don't know if it would answer to that score nowadays. Still, others have been more generous than I; so who knows? As it's apparently been destroyed, we'll never really know.
I personally did not see this Sci-Fi series as I was too young at the time but my father did and he always raved on about how fantastic this show was. Dad was also quite smitten with Julie Christie's appearance in the series, which of course helped the show's viewer appeal I guess. It certainly is a shame that the series was destroyed as I would have loved to have seen what all the fuss was about! At least I can get an idea of what it was about now due to one episode popping up recently and as I can gather is now on Youtube, so I will have to check it out! I do though have a memento of the series in the form of a tape recording that my father did of the show's dramatic opening and closing theme music which I play every now and then.
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