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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
X the Unknown is an immensely enjoyable Horror flick produced by Hammer
Film productions in 1956. Scripted by reluctant screenplay writer (he
was originally a Production Manager) and regular Hammer contributor
Jimmy Sangster and starring an obligatory American lead (to ensure
American distribution) in the form of actor Dean Jagger, playing Dr.
Adam Royston, a character a bit like Professor Bernard Quatermass.
There is a good reason for these similarities. Following the success of
Hammer's 'The Quatermass Xperiment' the year prior (a film adaptation
of the 1953 BBC serial 'The Quatermass Experiment' scripted by Nigel
Kneale) the folks at Hammer were hoping for a quick return and the
opportunity to cash in on that first film. Besides which they had also
begun carving themselves a niche in the British horror/science fiction
market and films such as this paved the way for the glossy Gothic
colour Hammer films that were to follow with pictures such as 'The
Curse of Frankenstein' in 1957 and 'Dracula' in 1958. Although 'X the
Unknown' is a Jimmy Sangster script it was hoped that Nigel Kneale
would give the filmmakers permission to include the character of
Professor Bernard Quatermass thus making it a Quatermass picture.
Although Kneale would allow Hammer the rights for their three film
adaptations of his Quatermass TV serials and his unrelated serial 'The
Creature' (made by Hammer as 'The Abominable Snowman') he did not allow
Hammer to use the character for this production. Thus the character of
Dr. Adam Royston was born and in a way it's a pity that Dean Jagger did
not portray the role of Quatermass in the first two Hammer pictures,
the aforementioned 'The Quatermass Xperiment' and 'Quatermass 2'
because he is a lot better at portraying the curious, meticulous
scientist Royston than fellow actor Brian Donlevy ever was at playing
'X the Unknown' concerns a radiation hungry monster that appears in a Scottish gravel pit during a routine military exercise searching via Geiger counter for a harmless radiation source. Its forces create a fissure in the ground of the gravel pit at the start of the film and later its true power in unleashed. In traditional fashion it runs amok across the fictional Scottish village of Lochmouth, which also happens to be home to Dr. Royston who works at a nearby Atomic Energy Laboratory. The film is solidly directed by Leslie Norman and benefits from some atmospheric night shoots on location. 'X the Unknown' is notably quite graphic for the time in which it was made, allowing the filmmakers to secure the desired X certificate that the 'Quatermass' pictures also enjoyed. At the time this gave the film a certain notoriety and the melted faces of the victims of 'X' are highly effective and predate the famous sequence from 'Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark' (namely the death of Major Arnold Toht) by 25 years. It is worth noting that the film's original booked director was Joseph Losey, who went on to direct the classic Hammer film 'The Damned' in 1963. An American director, he had moved to the UK (initially working under the name of Joseph Walton) to avoid the Hollywood Blacklist after he was blacklisted for allegedly being a 'Communist sympathiser'. This was not unusual for 1950's Hollywood and many directors, producers and actors suffered under McCarthyism for simply having left wing leanings. Nevertheless actor Dean Jagger refused to work with Losey due to his politics and although a couple of his sequences appear in the film he was dropped (officially due to 'illness') during the picture's first week in production.
The performances of Dean Jagger and the supporting cast are generally excellent but special mention must go to Australian actor Leo McKern as Inspector McGill. A young Kenneth Cope (later of 'Randall and Hopkirk Deceased' fame) appears here as the first victim of 'X' Private Lansing. An even younger Frazer Hines (credited here as Fraser Hines and just 11 years old at the time of filming) plays local boy Ian Osborne here. An accomplished little actor Hines would later appear as the longest running Doctor Who companion to date (alongside Second Doctor Patrick Troughton) from 1966-1969 and later as a long running regular character in 'Emmerdale'. The film's main let down is the ridiculous sequence with Neil Hallett as Unwin and Marianne Brauns as Zena, a lustful Nurse who is after Dr. Unwin. They are both at a hospital where a boy who had come into contact with 'X' has succumbed to the radiation burns caused by the incident. Marianne picks this moment to get close and personal with Unwin who ultimately meets the same fate as the young boy. The sequence is demeaning to one of the very few women to appear in the film and was clearly crassly included purely for the benefit of the 'X' certificate rating. His death scene though is very well done.
The special effects are actually very successful throughout and there are some memorable sequences, particularly when 'X' almost envelopes a small child, only to be saved by the local priest in the nick of time. James Bernard's spooky, dissonant and minimal score (his second for Hammer following 'The Quatermass Xperiment') nicely counterpoints the action and all in all 'X the Unknown' is great fun. Sangster treats the scientific subject matter with great seriousness and sincerity, and although it is inevitably pseudo-science it has believability and does not patronise its audience. It is also an unusual film in that the threat is not man made, but a natural occurrence, a refreshing change from the much repeated idea of man creating its own enemies by meddling with things it does not understand.
This production is leagues above a great deal of the American and British science fiction/horror product of the decade, not to mention the following three decades too and is no doubt one of Hammer's best early Horror pictures.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'The Abominable Snowman' is a classic British horror film from the much
celebrated Hammer Film Studio filmed at Bray and Pinewood Studios in
1957. It was notably the first Hammer film to feature legendary English
actor Peter Cushing, who would go on to star in a further 21 films for
the production company. It was also the second and last Hammer film to
feature American actor Forrest Tucker in the lead role (to ensure
Hammer films made it into the American market),and the last
collaboration between Nigel Kneale as screenplay writer and Val Guest
This production is a film version of Nigel Kneale's original BBC play 'The Creature' remade by Hammer and even features some of the original cast members including Peter Cushing, Wolfe Morris and the excellent Arnold Marle. The rest of the roles were recast, including that of Tucker's (the role having originally been played by Stanley Baker). The story concerns, oddly enough the legend of the 'Abominable Snowman' or 'Yeti' if you prefer, as they are referred to in the film. 'The Abominable Snowman' begins with Cushing as Dr. John Rollason and his assistant Peter Fox, played by veteran actor Richard Wattis (who notably wears a series of unflattering jumpers in this particular picture) on a botanical expedition in the Himalayas as a guest of the Lama (played by Arnold Marle). Soon enough Dr. John Rollason's wife arrives, Helen (played by Maureen Connell) as well as a second expedition led by Tucker but also featuring Ed Shelley (played by future M actor in the Bond films, Robert Brown), photographer Andrew McNee (played by Michael Brill) and the Sherpa guide Kusang (played by Wolfe Morris). Their expedition is interested in one thing, capturing a live Yeti, and whilst Rollason and Tucker's character Tom Friend are instantly at loggerheads both have a mutual intrigue in the potential existence of Yeti, much to the chagrin of Rollason's wife and the Lama whose people clearly believe and fear in the Yeti.
For an early Hammer production 'The Abominable Snowman' has an impressive scale and effective location filming standing in for the Himalayan Mountains was filmed at La Mongie in the French Pyrenees. Whilst the Monastery set and the Lama's village were built and utilised at Hammer productions then home at Bray Studios in Bray, Berkshire it was quickly realised that for the snowy landscapes of the Himalayas more studio space would be required so in an unusual move these were staged at Pinewood Studios at Iver Heath in Buckinghamshire. The film's score by classical composer (but a frequent experimenter in the 'serialist' music form) Humphrey Searle is very effective and is reminiscent of Max Steiner's score for 'King Kong' from 1933 and was reputedly based on Ralph Vaughan Williams score for the 1948 epic 'Scott of the Antarctic' starring Sir John Mills. Although Forrest Tucker has come under some criticism for his performance in this film (even from director Val Guest) I consider his interpretation of Tom Friend, as an abrasive loud mouthed bully, throwing his weight around and blowing hot and cold to Peter Cushing's character Dr. John Rollason to be very effective and as the film comes to a close and much of the action is based around these two characters, Tucker and Cushing play off each other very well. Tucker doesn't give a subtle performance, but to me that is kind of the point. Fortunately for Tucker, writer Nigel Kneale was impressed with his take on the role. Peter Cushing as ever is wonderful as Rollason, playing him as a kindly, cautious and articulate man, the polar opposite of the trigger happy bluster of Tom Friend. All the supporting cast are good, with note going to the mystical performance given by German actor Arnold Marle as the Lama and Richard Wattis's humorous performance as Rollason's assistant Peter Fox. The only thing that really dates the film and lets it down slightly is the representation of women, particularly in regards to Rollason's wife Helen. We learn during the film that she is very cautionary, a bit of a moaner and is great at making hot food and drinks. Oh dear!
This aside, it's a great story and the realisation of the Yeti (who are barely seen until the penultimate sequence) are quite impressive. They have an intimidating look, but the use of human eyes behind their unusual beak like masks give them both an endearing and wise look. The actions of man are not to be celebrated here and Kneale presents the Yeti as mystical, intelligent and almost spiritual beings. The films ends on an uncertain note as we ponder as viewers whether Rollason in the icy conditions of the Himalayas hallucinated his encounters with the Yeti or whether they have purposely erased his mind of the events....or another consideration, the final line "There is no such thing" referring to the Yeti could be Rollason's understanding that man must never try to interfere with the great creatures ever again, hence the denial that he has come into contact with them. Val Guest's direction is superb throughout with effective use of hand-held camera shots and overlapping dialogue in an almost documentary style, a technique used in Howard Hawks's earlier films.
'The Abominable Snowman' in my view is an overlooked gem, ignored during its release largely because of the hubbub surrounding the premiere of Hammer's first colour Horror film 'The Curse of Frankenstein' (coincidentally also starring Peter Cushing) and no doubt also because of the critical failure of both the original television adaptation. The subtle and esoteric nature of the story hardly helped matters. Put simply, it lacked the same gory mass appeal as the aforementioned Frankenstein film. 'The Abominable Snowman' is to be savoured and remembered as a production from a time when British filmmaking was arguably at its peak, and Hammer's contribution to that period is unrivalled.
Star Maidens is a curio amongst the crowded halls of science fiction television. An Anglo-German production featuring a mixture of both English and German actors, Star Maidens was produced by Portman Productions and distributed by German and Scottish companies. Filmed at Bray Studios (famous for being the original home of Hammer Horror) in Berkshire, the show was made by a number of personnel who had been involved with 'Space: 1999' the big budget science fiction drama that premiered in September 1975, most notably special effects designer Brian Johnson who worked in the same capacity on 'Space: 1999' who, here creates a similar look and tone, just on a massively reduced budget. Gareth Thomas who would later appear in the excellent 'Children of the Stones' and play the lead character Roj Blake in 'Blake's 7' plays Shem the reluctant male escapee from Medusa in this programme, with Derek Farr playing Professor Evans (he would later guest appear in 'Blake's 7). Two of the show's female leads Judy Geeson (Fulvia) and Lisa Harrow (Liz Becker) had also guest starred in 'Space: 1999' before they appeared in Star Maidens. All in all its links with other science fiction greats makes it of great interest. Created and often written by Eric Paice (who had previously written for 'The Avengers') the show is a sex comedy which follows the exploits of two male domestics Adam (played by French actor Pierre Brice) and Shem as they escape from the dominant rule of their home planet Medusa by women. The programme explores the theme of role reversal in great depth, the initial episodes setting up the story of Adam and Shem as they arrive on earth after stealing a Medusan spacecraft, the later episodes dealing with the predicament of Rudi Schmidt (Christian Quadflieg) and Liz Becker (two scientists from earth) as they are taken hostage and live out their lives in the peculiar society of Medusa. This thirteen episode mini series, each episode running to 25 minutes in length is often a little light on story, the second episode 'Nemesis' is essentially a runaround as the earth's police force fail to catch Adam and Shem and notably features the hilarious line "There are two funny men stealing our apples" as Adam and Shem raid a local farm for food, but the whole thing has a certain charm and is overall very enjoyable. Despite the low budget, the production values aren't too bad, the Medusa set for example is quite expansive and visually interesting and there is plenty of earthbound location footage. The Medusan women are gorgeous and Judy Geeson is excellent as Fulvia (long before Inseminoid!) but the curious blond streaks in the male domestics hair takes some getting used to, particularly if your used to seeing Gareth Thomas (a particular victim of the hair dye) in his Roj Blake persona. It's a pity that the series was shot on cheap 16mm colour film as the results are a bit jumpy when viewed today, but this series all in all is very good fun. Sit back, relax and don't take it too seriously, this is well worth purchasing on DVD!
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes marks the end of the Granada Sherlock Holmes series starring the unsurpassed Jeremy Brett. Collectively the series ran for ten years and in its time picked up a huge following from devoted Doyleans to the general public seeking a good evening drama to pass an hour with. The performances of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes and Edward Hardwicke as Dr. Watson (who took over the role from David Burke in The Return of Sherlock Holmes) were and are widely celebrated as the best Holmes and Watson, Brett mastering the darkness of Holmes, as well as his warmth for his friend Dr. Watson, his astute deduction and extraordinary charisma. Edward Hardwicke (my personal favourite Watson) ably followed on from David Burke's previous characterisation, making the character intelligent, observant and loyal to his best friend Sherlock. The Granada series was the most faithful, most detailed Sherlock Holmes production ever made, almost without exception Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories were respected to the letter. The Memoirs series however was beset with problems during its production, and had the misfortune to directly follow on from a shaky era in the Granada franchise. Following the previous series 'The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes', Granada departed from the usual fifty minute episode format for the programme and instead were commissioned to produce three two hour feature length episodes from the material that was left of the original Doyle stories. Although 'The Master Blackmailer' was widely celebrated by fans of the series, as it remained generally faithful to the original, the following two feature episodes 'The Last Vampyre' and 'The Eligible Bachelor' based on two more of Doyle's weakest short stories received harsh reviews from the critics and Holmes devotees alike, due to its general abandonment of Doyle's original text. This damaged the reputation of the Granada series and it was only due to a gap in the schedules that producer June Wyndham Davies was able to go ahead with a new six part series, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which much to the delight of Jeremy Brett, who began to dislike the two hour adaptations, returned the series to its original fifty minute format. Brett had also ensured that the series went back to maintaining its faithfulness to Doyle's stories due to his insistence that he would never play the role again unless the programme was loyal to Doyle's writings. The return to the original format helped the programme get back on track, but sadly the writers were still stuck with the barrel scrapings of the short stories. What the production team produced with this material is, in my view, nothing short of inspiring, the Granada Sherlock Holmes series as a whole is of such outstanding quality that it is difficult to imagine a better television drama, let alone a better adaptation of a cultural icon. Memoirs however does suffer slightly from the production problems that occurred which producer June Wyndham Davies fought so hard to deal with during the course of the series. The first episode produced 'The Golden Pince Nez' had to be made without Edward Hardwicke as Watson, he was unavailable as he was working on a feature film at the time so he was replaced by the wonderful Charles Gray as Mycroft Holmes, a role he had played twice before in the Granada series. This was a minor hurdle, but worse was to come. Jeremy Brett's health had greatly declined after The Casebook series and during Memoirs he was very unwell. A sufferer of manic depression and a heart condition, during 'The Three Gables' he collapsed on set and his hospitalisation delayed filming for some time. He later became even more unwell after 'The Dying Detective' so for the adaptation of 'The Mazarin Stone' (which due to shortage of material includes material from another short story 'The Three Garridebs') Charles Gray returned to the series as Mycroft Holmes, Mycroft's part filling in entirely for Sherlock as Brett was once again hospitalised. Jeremy Brett returned to the role for 'The Cardboard Box' the finale of the series, which is arguably the finest episode of the production. Unsurprisingly this would mark Jeremy Brett's final appearance as Sherlock Holmes. Despite its production problem's The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes continues the high standards that we would expect from a Granada production. The visuals are stunning, with the excellent directors Peter Hammond and Sarah Hellings chosen to helm the series. 'The Mazarin Stone' despite its affected production looks marvellous on screen, the final sequence in which Mycroft closes in on Count Sylvius is beautifully shot, the final ethereal presence of Jeremy Brett's Holmes in a dark night mist provides an excellent conclusion to an uneven narrative of cobbled together short stories. Crucially also, the series is generally faithful to the original text, something which had been lacking in the previous two feature length episodes. I give this series ten out of ten for overcoming all odds and maintaining a high level of quality as fantastic television drama. I'd recommend the series to all Holmesians and fans of good television, every episode has something to offer. Despite his illness Jeremy Brett gives another superb performance as Sherlock Holmes, a part which he made his own, and arguably brought to life better than any other actor. Edward Hardwicke is equally brilliant as Dr. Watson and one feels sad that no more episodes were made. But perhaps, with the best material gone, it was for the best. What we have left is truly special. The Granada Sherlock Holmes series, is, in my view, one of the finest television drama series ever made. With such a brilliant series still shining vibrantly in our memories, one wonders why so much of todays television is so shockingly poor. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes marks the end of a wonderful era for Sherlock Holmes, that may never be bettered.
Star Trek The Animated Series came about in 1973 following the cancellation of the original live action series in 1969. Produced by Filmation under the direction of animator Hal Sutherland the series closed a gap in between the cancellation of the original series and Star Trek: The Motion Picture which was produced in 1979. The show was born due to Star Trek's increasing popularity following its repeats through syndication in the early 1970's. With a considerable potential audience the Animated Series of Star Trek was a smart move at the time, with Paramount unwilling to finance a brand new live action series. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and later George Takei, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barrett were all keen to return to voice the characters they had played in the original series and original series writer and script editor D.C Fontana was brought in to ensure a knowledgeable hand had control over the scripts brought in for the series. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry acted as a 'Executive Consultant' and original series writers including David Gerrold, Samuel A. Peeples and Margaret Armen wrote for the programme. Walter Koenig was not able to return as Chekov due to budgetary restrictions, but he did pen the excellent episode 'The Infinite Vulcan'. Theoretically the animated series allowed the production team to be more imaginative in its creation of monsters and alien worlds, achieving results that would be impossible for a live action series. The show is certainly atmospheric, the limited animation is generally used to great effect and the layout artists do a fantastic job of conjuring unearthly settings. The writing is generally top notch, the stories rarely simplified for the younger audience it was largely intended for, with many adult themes running throughout. The fantastic 'Yesteryear' the only script contributed by D.C Fontana for the series is truly brilliant, a fascinating insight into Spock's childhood which one could imagine as an Original Series episode. The programme is often harshly criticised for its crude animation (an industry trait at the time) which admittedly is very repetitive. The reuse of certain monsters does become noticeable, certainly the usage of monsters becomes is considerable, countering the limitations the series had experienced in its live action format and certainly a good monster or two will keep the children entertained. Another criticism usually levelled is at the music in the series. I consider that criticism to be particularly unfair, the incidental cues (although recycled ad nauseum) are generally excellent, and the theme is a worthy homage of Alexander Courage's iconic original. Worthy of note is the initial unease of William Shatner and DeForest Kelley in the first few episodes with the voice-over format. Both fail to inject much emotion and enthusiasm into the performances initially but greatly improve by later episodes. DeForest Kelley later acknowledged that he found the voice work very difficult, not being able to interact with other actors. The show is also noteworthy for its sequels to Original Series episodes, most notably the excellent 'More Tribbles, More Troubles' and 'Mudd's Passion'. Star Trek The Animated Series ran for two seasons between 1973 - 1975 with 22 episodes being produced. It remains a considerable curio in the Star Trek universe, finally being released on DVD in full in 2006. Generally the short twenty minute episodes are of excellent quality, if less developed than the original series episodes. Favourites include 'Yesteryear', 'More Troubles, More Tribbles', 'The Survivor', 'The Infinite Vulcan', 'The Magicks of Megas-Tu', 'The Abergris Element', 'Bem' and 'The Pirates of Orion', but the whole series makes a truly enjoyable watch. It is a great shame that Gene Roddenberry would later 'decanonize' the animated series. In many ways it is far better than later Star Trek spin-offs and features some truly excellent stories and visuals. More recently it has been remembered with greater affection and has become something of a cult. It is, despite its flaws a good piece of television and in my view a worthy addition to the Star Trek franchise.
Adam Adamant Lives! is very much a product of it's time. Produced by Verity Lambert (fresh from Doctor Who) and created by 'The Avengers' creator Sydney Newman, the show was made on a shoestring budget by the BBC on a disorientating mixture of film and videotape. With one episode being produced every week the production is understandably often shaky and rushed, but nonetheless some excellent material was produced during its short run between 1966-1967. The show's central protagonist is the wonderful Adam Adamant, a hero from Victorian times, who during an encounter with his mortal enemy 'The Face' is cryogenic-ally frozen and remains hidden in this frozen state for 64 years, eventually being re-discovered again in 1966. The casting is excellent, Gerald Harper gives a wonderful performance as Adam Adamant, a hero from the Victorian era, unaccustomed and often outraged by the starkly different society he has been thrown into. Harper plays the character as a pure gentlemen, a charmer to the ladies despite his naivety of modern times, and they often serve as a enticement towards danger for Adamant in the series! Juliet Harmer makes an excellent sidekick in the form of Georgina Jones, a young woman who is the epitome of 1960's Swinging Britain and the wonderful Jack May as the Butler Simms who always can be relied upon to add a touch of humour to the programme. The show is quite rightly a cult, it's premise is nothing less than inspired and certainly extremely memorable, earning the programme much following during its forty odd years existence. The opening episode 'A Vintage Year for Scoundrels' with a guest performance from the brilliant Freda Jackson is good fun and sets up the story nicely. Unfortunately the following episodes are generally quite poor, both 'More Deadly Than The Sword' and 'Allah Is Not Always With You' feature dreadful racial stereotypes which date the programme considerably. Thankfully the series improved as it went along with the excellent 'The Sweet Smell of Disaster' by Robert Banks Stewart, no doubt an influence for the classic Doctor Who story 'Terror of the Autons' and the Brian Clemens script 'The Terribly Happy Embalmers' which put the programme as close as it has ever been to 'The Avengers' territory, Clemens notably being a regular writer and later producer for 'The Avengers'. Many see Adam Adamant Lives! as a attempt to emulate the success of the aforementioned programme, and there are certainly many similarities. In terms of production values Adam Adamant Lives! could never really compete. As the programme stuck rigidly to the common practice of film and videotape production, 'The Avengers' had just premiered its fourth season with Diana Rigg's Emma Peel as the new sidekick and new glittering production values which included an extra week for production (every episode was recorded in two weeks) and with American backing behind them, 'The Avengers' team also had a lot more money behind them. Adam Adamant Lives! could never afford the slick style of 'The Avengers'. As a result of this the direction of the programme is quite often industry standard for the time, making it easily distinguishable from the polished direction of 'The Avengers' or any of the ITC action series it was competing against during its original run. However, there are some exceptions. The excellent Ridley Scott shows off some of his early talent in the only surviving episode he directed 'The League of Uncharitable Ladies' which comes complete with some slick location footage and freeze frames aplenty and the late Paul Ciappessoni also directed some memorable work, as did the excellent Moira Armstrong who helmed probably the finest existing episode 'Black Echo' an early episode from the second season with a guest appearance from legendary actress Gladys Cooper. The show ran for two seasons and 29 episodes before being cancelled in 1967 after it failed to continue with any considerable success. Verity Lambert would later consider the show as a bit of a failure and it's a shame that it was never given the chance to grow on audiences, and perhaps more importantly that it was never given a bigger budget. Certainly the 17 episodes that remain are a mixed bag of the brilliant, to the quirky to the downright awful. Other than the episodes already mentioned, essential viewing includes 'The Last Sacrifice', 'Sing a Song of Murder', 'The Village of Evil' and 'A Sinister Sort of Service'. It is a tragic shame like so many other series that 12 episodes of Adam Adamant Lives! are missing, only two episodes exist from the Second Season and seeing as they are two of the best it is a great disappointment that more does not exist. Despite its flaws Adam Adamant Lives! is a fascinating piece of 60's television, one which brilliance often lies in its fantastic premise and performances from the lead actors rather than its execution. Not a classic, but worth a watch. To use a frequently used cliché 'They don't make them like this anymore!'.
Timeslip is one of many science fiction series from the 1970's. However, crucially it is also one of the best, standing the test of time better than say the excruciatingly cheap but entertaining romp that was the Tomorrow People or the imaginative fantasy series The Ace of Wands. Created by Ruth Boswell and husband James Boswell, the series focused on crucial issues in an increasingly technological age and did so all under the banner of a serious children's television drama, which for its time was really quite something. Aimed as a rival to the BBC's Doctor Who, the Boswell's and excellent television writer Bruce Stewart produced something entirely different from what was available on British television at the time. Doomwatch - the gritty and often rather lacklustre series covering moral, social and environmental issues was the only programme that came close to Timeslip at this time, but Timeslip was overall much more successful. The premise of the story - a young girl finding a time barrier at an abandoned naval station - is truly intriguing, add in some atmospheric direction from a team of excellent directors, sparse but brilliantly executed location footage and some solid performances - special note goes to the flawless and concentrated performance of Denis Quilley as Commander Traynor and you have a remarkably entertaining and memorable series. The regulars, intrigued by local gossip about the young girl and drawn to the time barrier were an excellent choice as central characters - as children from 1970 could instantly relate to them. Simon, portrayed by the excellent child actor Spencer Banks is the brainy one, interested in science and maths, with an instinct for discovery he single-handedly figures out all the crucial plot points for the audience to absorb, whilst (rather unfortunately) the naive and whining Liz, played by the admirable Cheryl Burfield, whines a little longer. In this respect the serial has dated - but the concepts and ideas put forward, and its ability to predict many future issues put the series way ahead of its time. Timeslip is quite simply 26 episodes of virtually flawless television. Throw away the minor grumbles about the sexist interpretation of Liz and the opening stories slightly laboured execution and delve in. The Wrong End of Time is a fantastic instalment in which one of our central protagonists encounters her father in a 1940's naval station - coincidentally where the time barrier stands in 1970's England - and with the first appearance of Commander Traynor - a character so crucial to the overall story. The Time of the Ice Box gives viewers a terrible insight into future earth - and Liz's alter ego Beth. One of the strongest stories of all - The Year of the Burn Up gives us an equally bleak presentation of future earth - Buckinghamshire turned into an Amazonian jungle, with the issue of climate change being brought to the fore - and all this occurring as a possible projection (like the Ice Box) of the Earth in 1990. The final story - written by the excellent Victor Pemberton - effortlessly following on from Bruce Stewart - addresses the importance of individuality and the limits of genetic progress - with another appearance of the excellent John Barron as Devereaux and a marvellous final twist concerning the malevolent and untrustworthy Commander Traynor. And so after 26 episodes, the series ended. Could it have ran for another series? ........ Quite possibly - but what we have is truly special, consistently brilliant, consistently thought provoking and remarkably well made for its small budget, skillfully avoiding ambitious special effects and concentrating on character, mood and atmosphere. Timeslip is a slice of television gold - one of the best TV series of its time. So sit back relax, and watch the excellent DVD set of all 26 episodes. Beware though, you might want to adjust your lenses for episode 12! To repeat a hideous, but fitting cliché - they don't make them like this anymore!!!
The Outer Limits was (and is) a total rarity in the crowded halls of Science fiction. Produced on a very low budget by Daystar Productions (the production company owned by the series creator Leslie Stevens) and broadcast in America by ABC as a contender to the hugely successful Rod Serling fantasy anthology series The Twilight Zone, the series explored some fascinating concepts (usually deep routed in a science fiction context) and was admirably non conformist in its execution. Far more intelligent and thought provoking than other enjoyable mainstream science fiction fare such as Lost in Space or even Star Trek, The Outer Limits challenged dominant ideologies beautifully in a number of episodes - 'Nightmare' being the finest example. The first season's production team of Leslie Stevens, Joseph Stefano (the man behind the screenplay for 'Psycho', and largely responsible for the series Gothic style) and Dominic Frontiere (whose chilling music characterised the Gothic nature of the series) the show was extremely well made. This was largely helped by a fantastic line up of directors, such as Byron Haskin, James Goldstone, Gerd Oswald and Laslo Benedek, and also Leslie Stevens himself who was responsible for the iconic opening, which has been parodied in so many series (even The Simpsons) featuring the Control Voice. Due to the flexible format of the series it could be almost anything, from a typical science fiction plot line to one of a Gothic horror (like the deservedly celebrated The Forms of Things Unknown). Like most series, however, there were some poor episodes along the way - the very poor and confusing 'Production and Decay of Strange Particles', 'The Hundred Days of the Dragon' and 'Specimen: Unknown' but all in all the first season of The Outer Limits was breathtakingly new and exciting, well written and well made. It is very hard to achieve this level of quality in any television series, but Leslie Stevens and his team had succeeded with relative ease. The most notable episodes from the first season include 'A Feasilibility Study', 'Fun and Games', 'Nightmare', 'The Galaxy Being', 'The Man Who Was Never Born', 'The Chameleon', 'Corpus Earthling' and 'The Guests'. Unfortunately like most things that are bold, new and most importantly non - conformist the first season failed to live up to the expectations of the ABC executives and when a Second Season was commissioned the budget was drastically cut and the programme makers were ordered to make the show a more generic/mainstream fare. Joseph Stefano (who had worked extremely hard on achieving the look and quality of the first season) was understandably outraged by these suggestions and left immediately. He was followed by Dominic Frontiere and a number of the original production team that had all been crucial in the originality and success of the first season. This had a very negative effect on the following season. Bizarrely, ABC chose Ben Brady (producer of Perry Mason) to replace Joseph Stefano for the new season and implement the desired changes. Brady turned the series into an unusual combination of Science fiction and Perry Mason, with the episodes 'The Expanding Human' and 'I. Robot' being the most blatant examples. The one excellent choice Brady did make was hiring Seeleg Lester as Story Consultant for the second series. Lester was an extremely talented television writer, and had a notable understanding of what The Outer Limits was all about. Perhaps because of him a number of the episodes are of fantastic quality. Some other benefits of the second season was that Brady was able to keep many of the original directors, including Byron Haskin and Gerd Oswald and a number of new writers were drafted in to provide scripts. The most notable of these is of course Harlan Ellison who provided two top notch stories 'Soldier' and 'Demon With A Glass Hand', the latter of which won two prestigious awards including 'Best Script for an Anthology Series'. Lester himself would also provide the excellent 'Wolf 359' and other classic episodes include 'The Dupicate Man', 'Cold Hands, Warm Heart', 'The Inheritors' and 'Keeper of the Purple Twilight'. Also, composer Harry Lubin produced some excellent, mysterious and moody music for the new season, and a memorable new theme (incorporating the eerie vibrations of the theremin (the ultimate electronic instrument) - even if a certain percentage of the music was recycled from his scores for the earlier anthology series 'One Step Beyond'. However, despite these successes the series had lost its visual intensity and moral drive. Put in competition with the hugely successful 'Jackie Gleason Show' (in another attempt by ABC officials to kill the programme) the second season was axed after 17 episodes, ending on the mediocre episode 'The Probe'. Thus, one of the finest science fiction series ever produced had come and gone in a very short space of time. Maybe if the impatient ABC officials had waited a little longer when the programme was under the control of Stevens and Stefano the show would have lasted, but like so many television series, this was never allowed to be. Thankfully though, once the show entered syndication it picked up many new fans and gathered a cult status. Due to this, today the series has a considerable fan following, and a 1990's revival to keep its spirit alive. This is all thanks to the creative talent and genius of Leslie Stevens, Joseph Stefano and later Seeleg Lester for making a totally different series, one with many moral messages and one that was beautifully told - from the Gothic Art House film feel of 'Forms of Things Unknown', the fairytale like execution of 'The Guests' to the claustrophobic and shadowy 'Demon With A Glass Hand' each episode has something to offer. Television at its very best. Truly exceptional. The Outer Limits is a fine example of an era in television we may never see again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sapphire and Steel follows a long line of great creativity in 1970's programming. The series had an incredibly short run, was shown on the rapidly dying ATV Network at a crisis time and was made on an very small budget. However, this never stopped it becoming one of the most memorable science fiction series ever made. There are so many reasons for this, and I will attempt to explain some of them in this brief summary. P.J Hammond was and is an incredibly intelligent and skilled writer, never one to talk down to his audiences, Hammond had contributed scripts to the highly successful Ace of Wands series and the anthology series Shadows before pitching the idea of Sapphire and Steel - or as it was originally known 'The Time Menders'. The idea took some time to catch on, but eventually it was picked up by ATV and filming began in January 1979. The appealing factors to ATV about Sapphire and Steel was the fascinating concept - the idea of two time travellers (elements from the stars) called to solve dangerous breaks in time, no one knows who they are and where they really come from, but they simply appear when they are needed. The other factor is that P.J Hammond was happy with the show being a low budget production, this in many ways was always the original intention. The strength of this lies in the nature of the material written by P.J Hammond and later writers Anthony Read and Don Houghton in Assignment Five. No major special effects were needed, sets could be small and few in number, the beauty of the concept is that it actually relied upon small, claustrophobic, poky settings to work and thats why in so many ways the series has stood the test of time. Throughout its three year run, the programme was (despite the restrictions) extremely well made, the excellent sets and wonderful low key lighting standing out as making the production particularly creepy and mysterious, in an era when television lighting tended to be hideously over-lit (you only have to look at the early 1980's episodes of Doctor Who to realise that!) P.J Hammond's strength was working with the power of suggestion. No violence and very little blood is ever seen and yet the series was (and is) extremely frightening to audiences. Cyril Ornadel's marvellous music is also a highpoint. Subtle, often beautiful and deeply sinister, the music was a key ingredient that complimented the other qualities of the series perfectly. Another essential ingredient was the excellent casting. The programmes ITC connections allowed the series to hire two leads that many low budget shows would never have dreamt of. David McCallum is excellent as the cold and ruthless Steel,playing all of his scenes with astonishing conviction and pathos,complimented by the excellent Joanna Lumley as Sapphire, a more compassionate character, but equally as sinister and unnerving in many instances. As a result the trend of acting throughout is exceptionally good (the only exception being the woeful child actress playing the little girl in Assignment One). The supporting artists were never big names like the leads but they still gave tremendous performances. The excellent David Collings as Silver, a superb, quirky actor (now also known for his terrific performances in Doctor Who and Blakes 7) John Golightly, Edward De Souza and the particularly excellent Gerald James, who plays Tully in Assignment Two (one of the finest stories). The final sequence where Steel gives up Tully for sacrifice is a highlight of the series. The scene is heart wrenching, tense and poignant, with actor Gerald James easily matching the marvellous acting talents of David McCallum as he has an inkling of his impending fate. Beautifully directed and acted, with exceptional music, the audience have a real sense of sympathy for Tully, by all accounts a nice individual, an ordinary man who is ultimately consumed by darkness. Steel watches and listens emotionless as Tully gives a final wave, and screams. Probably the most memorable scene (that and Sapphire's mind being taken over by Darkness - in Assignment Two)in the entire series. Generally speaking every story is memorable, thought provoking incredibly complex and intelligent, and therefore deserves a huge amount of respect. The writing, the excellent direction (often the supremely talented Shaun O'Riordan) and acting is top notch. From a modern day perspective the series is admittedly very slow in its pacing, but this is part of the overall style, the laboured realisation of ideas adds to the suspense and intrigue of the story lines. This is also not a series to watch if you want answers (much is left to the imagination) - the lead characters are an enigma themselves, and to this extent the series can be likened to the equally excellent 'The Prisoner' or 'Children of the Stones'. But if you want intelligent, memorable and thought provoking drama, with wonderful elements of science fiction and fantasy, Sapphire and Steel is the one for you. Essential watching includes Assignments Two, Three, Four and Six, but all are excellent. Assignment One suffers from its toned down nature (a response to what was thought to be its original time-slot - 5:30) to appeal more to a younger audience and Assignment Five is a more generic fare, but all beat the hideously generic, repetitive and self obsessed drama that is modern day television. P.J Hammond has recently written for Torchwood (which is a fine showcasing of all of those negative qualities). Because of its very nature many of the episodes stand up better now than some Doctor Who stories (which always tried to be more ambitious with a similar budget) in production value terms and equally well in the script writing quality as say Doctor Who or Blakes 7. Like the latter series Sapphire and Steel had a poignant downbeat ending. A remarkable, well acted series - a fine example of television of its era - an era we may sadly never see again.
Space: 1999 to me is a truly excellent series. Produced and created by the great Gerry Anderson, it was the most expensive science fiction series of it's time and looks it!! The first Season provided us with some excellent episodes, and some excellent performances from the series leads - Martin Landau, Barbara Bain and Barry Morse. Some of the best episodes of Season One include the wonderfully dark and menacing 'Dragon's Domain', 'The Alpha Child', 'Voyagers Return', 'The Last Enemy', 'Breakaway', 'The War Games', 'Space Brain' and many others. The series writing was, despite the bad press it has often received since, pretty exceptional, although there are a few let downs. Despite the series brilliance occasionally in the Season you will see episodes that suffer from poor pacing - 'The Troubled Spirit' for example, but these episodes are few in number only about 2 or 3 really, so they are easy to overlook, and all series will usually slip up somewhere!!! It is entirely forgivable. I mention this because I am trying to be a reasonable critic to the series, and not just include all the qualities I love about it!! Unfortunately the first season didn't really take off, but a surprisingly generous I.T.C backing allowed a Second Season to be made. I say this because I.T.C's usual concern about how British programmes appealed to the American audience led certain series to have a very short life. Many Gerry Anderson series have been affected by this, The Secret Service seems to be the best example. Due to the marital breakup of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, Gerry had to hire a new producer. He chose Fred Freiberger, ex- producer of the final series of Star Trek. He changed the series already shaky continuity completely and made the show more Action orientated. This idea appealed to some, but Martin Landau has gone on record for saying that although Freiberger may have helped the show in some aspects, his ideas were (in the opinion of Landau) very boring compared to the way that Season One had been produced. Johnny Byrne the series regular script editor has gone on record in saying (in his words) that Season 2 was 'complete rubbish'!, even basing the story 'The Dorcons' on his dislike to the way that Season 2 was produced. Whatever your views on the Second Season (I personally like it very much, although it takes time to adjust to Season 2 compared to Season 1) some classic stories were produced during it's time. 'The Metamorph' introducing Maya a wonderful character that can change into most forms of living matter, played superbly by Catherine Schell, 'The Rules of Luton', 'The Dorcons', 'The Immunity Syndrome', 'The Lambda Factor', 'The Exiles', 'New Adam New Eve' and many others. The second season was arguably though, the most exciting, with upbeat music and lots of action, the flaw being that some of the scripts were pretty poor. Although 'The Beta Cloud' is a good episode in many aspects, the script is admittedly lousy. As he had done in the First Season, excellent Sci-fi writer Johnny Byrne provides some of the best scripts in Season 2, usually much more serious than other stories, obviously refusing to bow down to Freiberger's 'Scooby Doo action' idea as Freiberger himself described it, lots of action with lots of often silly humour. 'The Bringers of Wonder' despite being very exciting is a ludicrous story in places, and 'The Taybor' despite having some good qualities also suffers from this weakness. However overall I feel Season 2 was a good Season, and it is deeply sad that a third season never got past the drawing board stages. However we must be grateful for what we have got. All the episodes are now provided on shiny DVD's for the enjoyment of all who remember or have come to like the series over it's 30 years existence. Season 1 provided us with lavish and menacing stories, often with hidden morales and examples of the failings of human nature and it's fight to survive in a frequently hostile environment. Season 2 provided us with upbeat and exciting stories, exploring often the most bizarre and intriguing aspects of Science fiction 'The Rules of Luton' for example - highly evolved plants!!! Overall an excellent series, one which belongs with all of the Science fiction greats.
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