Science Fiction season, BBC4

by | Dec 20, 2006 | All, Reviews

The Martians And Us, BBC4, Monday 13 November 2006

Did we like it?

A sober chronicle of British science-fiction that mined behind the imagination of its innovators to discover their inspirations, rather than gauchely dazzle the viewer with tiresome celluloid icons.

What was good about it?

* An impressive gallery of talking heads including Arthur C Clarke, whose West Country burr is still detectable in his collapsed-tunnel tones, Kim Newman, the British encyclopaedia of British sci-fi in the shape of one dandyish man with a silly beard, and other numerous academics and authors, many of whom seem benignly envious of the influence of HG Wells, John Wydnham et al.

* The illustrations of HG Wells’ novels, rather than just recycle clips from the film versions of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, to accompany the readings. We appreciated the simple, but evocative imagery such as bleak desert sands to illustrate Wells’ pessimistic view of humanity’s future, or epileptic cityscapes and sun shining through the trees. And when the readings were coloured in with dramatic reconstructions, they were mostly arranged so that most of the potency remained in the narration from the books, with only a few concessions to Hollywood.

* In such a well-trodden subject, an original perspective was required; and this was achieved by examining what provoked the authors’ imaginations. For HG Wells, we learnt that The Time Machine’s vision of a future human society split asunder between a bestial subterranean sub-species and a cultured but weak-willed, wan sub-species had its roots in the Victorian class system. While War of the Worlds came about after Wells mused, after reading about how European colonists had “exterminated” Tasmanian natives, that no matter how high up the evolutionary ladder you were, there would always be someone, or something, one rung higher

* It exhumed into popular culture (or BBC4 at least) the memory of Olaf Stapleton, the principle British sci-fi author between the wars. And if you didn’t believe them, you were immediately presented with the glowing testimony of both Arthur C Clarke and Doris Lessing.

* Peter Capaldi’s sparse, economical narration.

* Firemaidens From Outer Space, a dreadful British B-movie that sought to ape the flood of American sci-fi films flooding into Britain.

* Arthur C Clarke discussing 2001: A Space Odyssey, both in context to the Stanley Kubrick film and also its allusions to the age-old conflict of evolution vs. religion.

What was bad about it?

* The incongruous inserts of the BBC’s current cash-cow Doctor Who seemed so forced and out of step with the rest of the philosophy of the programme. Granted Doctor Who certainly purloined ideas from HG Wells, but the inclusion of clips from the show appeared to have been crowbarred-in in the same way that a studio producer insists on a gratuitous sex scene midway through an impenetrable thriller to maintain the interest of the dumb masses.

* Perhaps it was because of the concentration on literature, but Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass trilogy seemed to have been rather disdainfully skimmed over. And while not strictly sci-fi, George Orwell’s 1984 has been the foundation for countless books, films and comics globally for the past half-century yet wasn’t even mentioned.

How To Be Science Fiction, BBC4, Sunday 3 December 2006

Did we like it?

We wanted to but this one-off gentle satire (part of BBC4’s current British sci-fi season) looking at how to studiously convey aspects of science fiction was a five-minute sketch dragged out over one laborious hour.

What was good about it?

• The ‘taking a pause’ technique: one particularly amusing aspect of sci-fi acting identified by our guide Nigel Planer as his thespy alter ego Nicholas Craig. Used most efficiently when the plausibility of the script appears to be going wholly AWOL, it was revealed just how frequently programming of yesteryear relied on this skill so it could pretend it really knew what was going on.

• The retro footage containing classic and (sometimes justifiably) long-forgotten sci-fi programming was thoroughly enjoyable to watch. Although the tone of the show was ultimately affectionate in its mocking, our actual pleasure was in laughing at the awful set designs, camp costumes and horrific implausibility of it all.

• The ridiculous phrases and terminology used in the shows included. “You wouldn’t happen to have a grenade with a percussion destruction instrument to hand would you?” was one of many howlers.

• Brian Blessed.

What was bad about it?

• The length. The content of the show in no way justified the running time of 60 minutes – this was essentially only a slightly amusing idea which would have resulted in a few smirks from those watching at home but no-one suffering from their sides being split.

• A repetitive structure (ironic narrator identifies a trend, montage of BBC programming follows) meant our attention span quickly became strained.

• It was really annoying that none of the programming shown was referenced.

• We still haven’t forgotten Nigel Planer for his part in Queen-horrorfest We Will Rock You.

Timewatch: Parallel Worlds – A User’s Guide, BBC4, Tuesday 28 November 2006

Did we like it?

Aside from a few sporadic acute observations, this was a long-winded, repetitive rehash of science-fiction lore that anyone who has ever been entranced by a single episode of Star Trek or been beguiled by the literature of Michael Moorcock would be utterly au fait with. A better sub-title would have been A Novice’s Guide.

What was good about it?

• David Bradley, editor of SFX magazine and a thoroughly nice chap, who explained some of the more complex issues of multi-dimensional theory with clarity and insight.

• As with every single programme in BBC4’s sci-fi season there was the obligatory appearance by critic Kim Newman.

• Stuart Maconie added some much-needed levity to a show that dealt with a subject so dry it could be ground up and laid on icy roads to prevent cars from skidding.

• The theory of CM Jones that parallel worlds in fiction have to be as nightmarish as possible in order that we can ensure the same things don’t happen in ‘our’ dimension.

• The clips of Red Dwarf, even if the original ideas of that show seemed to be ignored and instead treated as a comical interlude to lighten the pseudo-profundity of the admirable, but intellectual gossamer of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Sliders.

What was bad about it?

• Many of the theories of parallel worlds are already virtually mainstream knowledge, yet much time was wasted by the talking heads monotonously going over the various clauses and sub-clauses of their existence. And each explanation would then be followed by a clip from a sci-fi film or TV show in which one of the characters gave an exposition on the very same theories the talking head had just laboured over.

• The segment on doppelgangers – the equivalents of dimension-hopping sci-fi characters in the parallel worlds – was ridden with psychobabble, and not made any more erudite through the use of such phrases as “moral contingency”.

• An over-analysis of the Star Trek episode Mirror Mirror, in which Kirk, McCoy and a few other Enterprise crew members were accidentally beamed back aboard a parallel version of their vessel. In this universe, the Federation was an empire and had adopted an according fascist doctrine evidenced by such things as a quasi-Nazi salute, brutal punishments and most bizarrely Spock sporting a goatee beard. From what was shown of the episode, the interesting premise was spoilt by the usually solid Chekhov and Sulu overacting in their evil guises; but the talking heads nevertheless senselessly salivated over the rudimentary plotline.

• The arduous slog through the quicksand swamp of multi-dimensional theory, in which every single decision made by every single person, every single animal, and even every single atom creates a new offshoot universe. See, we’ve explained it in one sentence, but Timewatch saw fit to get each talking head to wade out into its murky waters until they got out of their depth, and then asked another one to repeat what they said. And when that was done, clips from sci-fi shows were used.

• Despite most of the theories on multi-universes being originated in literature, there was a sole concentration on TV and film. This meant, for example, when the talking heads mused on the possibility that a dream was the brain venturing into a new dimension there was no mention of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which dealt imaginatively on just such a concept.

Random Quest, BBC4, Monday 27 November 2006

Did we like it?

A superb, intelligent drama that went well beyond the horizons of conventional science-fiction, and mused on the profundity of every day choices and fate.

What was good about it?

• As with so many other dramas produced by BBC4, such as last year’s A View From A Hill, obvious restraints in budget are dispelled through a combination of a minimal but excellent cast, innovative filming and locations and brilliant writing.

• Samuel West starred as dull, contented nuclear physicist Colin Trafford who is blasted into a parallel universe after an experiment goes wrong to discover he is still Colin Trafford, but this Colin is a successful author of pulp sci-fi and is in an unhappy marriage, unhappy largely because of his drinking and philandering.

• The tension between Colin and his ‘wife’ Ottilie (Kate Ashfield) as he is uncomfortable seeing a woman he doesn’t know undress, while the man he has replaced makes her skin crawl. But as Colin falls in love with her, their relationship gradually thaws until he is catapulted back to his own universe.

• Once he gets back, the once meek scientist seems to have contracted some of the other Colin’s determination as he tracks down his own universe’s version of Ottilie, eventually finding and marrying her.

• But it was a clever twist that at his wedding Colin encounters a waitress whom he recognises as his mistress in the other universe and there is an obvious attraction, suggesting that while Colin may seem far more likeable than his counterpart they will ultimately succumb to the same weaknesses.

• Even though the concept of a parallel world has been flogged more often than pseudo-nasty judges on talent contests, the script was written in such a way that Colin believed he was the first person to ever conceive of such a possibility. And given that this short story by John Wyndham was written in the relatively naïve 1950s, and transposed to the modern day for this adaptation, this was entirely apt.

• The odd locations such as the parallel Colin’s house that had a totally white bedroom, while the downstairs was only occasionally punctuated with dashes and spots of vivid primary and secondary colours. And even places like the professor’s office resounded with a stirring realism such as Colin’s loud footsteps on the wooden floor or a clock ticking over a conversation; simple things that somehow made everything a little bit eerier.

• The economical use of dialogue as the plot and characters are propelled almost as often by an expression as by what is said. This is observed most keenly when Ottilie looks affectionately puzzled when the husband whom she had grown to despise suddenly starts to show her fondness once more.

What was bad about it?

• Hot Chip’s excellent Over And Over to soundtrack Colin getting up in the morning was an inappropriate theme, as Colin was evidently downtrodden, lethargic and conventional; something blander such as Snow Patrol would have fitted in better.

• While Colin and Ottilie progressively became closer, the sight of them at first turning away from one another in bed before embracing some days or weeks later was clumsy and unnecessary. Other instances of their growing trust and love were far more potent such as at a dinner party when Colin is distracted from talking about the sale of the film rights to his latest book by his wife’s smile from across the room.

• After Colin is transported back to his own universe, he exchanges places with the other Colin who has been in a coma for some weeks. But we don’t get to find out what happens in the other universe and does the poor Ottilie have her dreams of happiness dashed after the brutish Colin returns?

The Cult Of… The Tripods, BBC4, Tuesday 19 December 2006

Did we like it?

A retrospective that looked lovingly back at an innovative though cruelly abandoned entry in the history of British sci-fi, but which was tempered by some acute acknowledgments of its glaring flaws.

What was good about it?

• Archduke of British sci-fi Kim Newman was there once more as he has been throughout the whole of the Cult Of… series. And while we never get tired of hearing his expert views, his enduring jolliness suggests he never tires of giving his views. On the Tripods he remarked that the central characters “seemed to do a bit too much getting away from the Tripods”.

• While by modern standards the special effects look dismal, if you regress your brain to a mid-80s perspective full of blocky ZX Spectrum games, then you can appreciate them as pretty astounding.

• For the second series, a 1,200 square foot model of the Tripods’ city was made, and it looked very impressive with its glassy, alien architecture.

• The quite chilling sequence at the start of the very first episode where a caption read: “A village in England 2089AD” before a horse and cart slowly ambled into view followed by an impression of the world in the grip of Dark Ages feudalism. And soon afterwards a huge Tripod bestrode the landscape where a youth of 16 was taken into the Tripod as part of a coming-of-age ritual before being returned with a ‘cap’ that made the human population compliant and docile.

• The notion of a ‘cap’ was of course a metaphor for children growing up and needing to act as responsible adults, but the creepiness of the metal shard implanted on the crown of the skull and the vacant leer of the youth when he was returned still remain striking to this day.

• The humorous contrast between star Jim Baker’s naïve awe at the first appearance of the Tripod and the production team’s more cynical perspective was nicely arranged. No full size Tripod was ever made; the nearest they got were two huge legs that kept floating away when placed in the lake for the Tripod’s first scene.

• Special effects man Mat Irvine remembering with relish how the crew had got their hands on a Quantel Paintbox. This machine that greatly aided the production of TV graphics and meant the production crew could merge images to make it seem as though the Alps were only a stone’s throw away from a Kentish quarry, or enabled Tripods to stalk the heroic Henry and Will through the forest. But again the reality was much more mundane, as the crew had to “beg, borrow and steal” the contraption from the BBC weather department as they owned the only two models in the country.

• An appearance from Simon Groom on Blue Peter; a man who defined the 80s for a young generation as much as Boy George, perms and Margaret Thatcher.

• The way the script was re-written to accommodate the axing of the Tripods so that when Will and Beanpole returned from their mission to the Tripod city they found the base of their rebel friends had been destroyed by the Tripods. Will wailed: “Has it all been for nothing?”, which was also a subtle lament from the production team who saw that all their hard work over two years would be unfulfilled. Still, you could always read the book to find out what happened.

• SFX’s Steve O’Brien offering a sober analysis of the Tripods, applauding its “ambition”, but also being quite scathing about how it was “dull” and “worthy”.

What was bad about it?

• That not more of the original cast were interviewed. For Blake’s 7 last week, they were practically queuing up, but here only Jim Baker (Henry) appeared.

• The ‘caps’ affixed to anyone over 16 didn’t just seem to make them lose all sense of imagination; judging by the awful plastic overalls the inhabitants of the Tripod city wore it also stripped away all sense of fashion.

• The fact that the books weren’t long enough to fill a series of 13 episodes resulting in four episodes taking place in a French vineyard that wasn’t in the original tale.

• The BBC suits decided that despite being a groundbreaking show, it was costing too much to produce and therefore the third climactic series was cancelled. A view compounded in their fiscal-obsessed minds by the viewing figures that showed effluent dross like The Krankies Club. Did you also know that in the past few days Leona’s A Moment Like This has probably sold more copies than Love Will Tear Us Apart has in 26 years? Dolts.

• Jim Baker’s quite sad outlook on his life after his acting career pretty much ended after the Tripods was axed. He later became a bus driver and is now a delivery driver. He stated that the last 20 years could be summed up “in just one sentence”, while his time working on the Tripods had been so much more.

The Cult of… Blakes 7, BBC4, Tuesday 11 December 2006

Did we like it?

Ah, Blakes 7. This lookback at the wobbly-sets, camp costumes, and ham-acting of the sci-fi Magnificent Seven was pure nostalgia from the moment they showed the opening credits and that superb title music started – and we loved it. Most of the original cast were interviewed, the exceptions being the late David Jackson (Gan) and the curiously absent Jan Chappell (Cally) All acknowledged the huge impact the programme had had on their lives.

What was good about it?

• Blakes 7 took the 7pm weekday slot that had previously been occupied by Z Cars, also inheriting a similar budget. This meant effects on the cheap, but ensured that great scripts, compelling characters and imaginative plots compensated for the inevitable ‘quarry doubling as an alien planet’ filming.

• Mat Irvine, the special effects designer was articulate and entertaining in describing the challenges his team faced on a shoestring budget.

• The first series was actually pretty dark – Blake is framed on child molestation charges; there are torture scenes reminiscent of a Clockwork Orange; the whole scenario is very dystopian. They’d obviously set out to make intelligent sci-fi.

• The excellent cast and well-drawn characters. We still love the witty Michael Keating as the thieving, cowardly Vila; Thomas as the noble Blake; Peter Tuddenham as the voices of the supercomputers Zen and Orac; the huge slice of ham that is Paul Darrow as Avon plus, of course, the clearly barking Jacqueline Pearce as the evil Servalan. Sally Knyvette’s Jenna – a vision in a leather jumpsuit – also kept the Dads and teenage boys interested.

• The design of the 7’s spaceship, Liberator, still looks fantastic after all these years.

• The crop-haired Servalan made a superb villainess. Jacqueline Pearce was genuinely pleased to have been the masturbatory fantasy for a whole generation of young men!

• The fantastic last episode, which brought back Blake, then proceeded to kill off him and the rest of the crew. Or did it…?

What was bad about it?

• Mat Irvine’s mullet, which made him look like an aging Billy Ray Cyrus. Why such a visionary designer was sporting such a passé haircut was beyond us…

• Almost 30 years on, some of the special effects were so shoddy you would have automatically assumed the show was a spoof.

• Chris Boucher’s recollection that the reason Gareth Thomas quit the show was because some of his highbrow actor friends were very sniffy about it. We hoped that Thomas’ version – that the programme had strayed too far from its character and dystopian vision roots into the realm of dodgy monsters on alien planets – was the more accurate reason.

• Series 4, which featured the frankly rubbish replacement for the Liberator – Scorpio – and the Uriah Heep-like ship’s computer, Slave, had clearly ‘jumped the shark’. Too much camp comedy and not enough darkness. Time for Blake’s 7 to disappear into deep space…

The Cult of… Survivors, BBC4, Tuesday 5 December 2006

Did we like it?

It was a fascinating look at one of the most distinct dramas of the 70s, but we weren’t told until about two minutes from the end that really only the first series was worth watching. Subsequent series degenerated from a desperate struggle to survive into a kind of insipid Good Life without Margot and Gerry.

What was good about it?

• The original plotline for Survivors by sci-fi demigod Terry “Daleks” Nation, which imagined a desolate world where almost the entire population has been wiped out by a virus.

• The bleak realisation of this empty world, which was partly assisted by a BBC strike that meant the first series was filmed in gloomy winter rather than luscious summer. And this was evocatively recalled by the stars as they spoke of frozen muddy fields and snow covered roads.

• Oddly for a 1970s show, it was female-orientated with two of the three main characters being women (Lucy Fleming as Jenny Richards and Carolyn Seymour as Abby Grant), while only gruff Greg Fleming (Ian McCulloch) was there to represent male pragmatism.

• The cock-ups that included the survivors being menaced from a pack of rabid hounds; the director mirthfully remembered that they looked like they had been “got from Crufts”, and was accompanied by a clip of a bunch of well-behaved, immaculate dogs sitting calmly outside the survivors’ van.

• Much of the drama in the superior first series centred on the efforts of the survivors to resurrect society after everything that they had taken for granted had been obliterated by the virus. This was most arrestingly portrayed in the episode Law & Order in which a man with learning disabilities was put on trial for the murder of a girl. The council had to decide whether his punishment was to be death or banishment. It was left to the survivors’ leader Abby to make the casting vote, and she chose death – much to the anger of actress Carolyn Seymour.

• And a further dilemma was cast on the survivors when Greg and Carolyn found out that the executed man had not been responsible for the death – should they tell the rest of the community or not?

What was bad about it?

• After creator Terry Nation stopped writing after the first series, the show went into a rapid decline and almost all the clips on this show were from that initial run. Indeed, Ian McCulloch was so fed up with the dreary second series that he volunteered to write his own death that came about after Greg contracted small pox and exiled himself to prevent spreading the infection further.

• We didn’t discover what happened to the character of Abby Grant after Carolyn Seymour was “fired” by producer Terence Dudley after the first series.

• Carolyn Seymour’s incessant pleas that she was a “strong woman” who only ever played roles of “strong women”. Having listened to her we don’t doubt that she is a “strong woman” but we didn’t need to be told this every time she spoke.

The Cult Of… Star Cops, BBC4, Tuesday 28 November 2006

Did we like it?

It’s difficult to say as we cannot remember Star Cops when it was on and so only have this highly subjective appraisal that worshipped what appeared to us as a fair sci-fi/ detective drama as if it was the exhumed remains of some lost god.

What was good about it?

• While proud of Star Cops, actors David Calder and Trevor Cooper recalled the problems of acting in an environment where there was supposed to be no gravity. This meant either hanging around on wires all day long, or as the exasperated Calder eventually formulated acting extremely slowly to simulate the weightlessness.

• As God and the Devil wage constant wars through their minions on Earth using such puppets as revolutionary and tyrant, Kurt Cobain and Celine Dion and John Peel and Simon Cowell, so one of the eternal battlegrounds between brave, visionary writer and oily, conservative producer was fought out on Space Cops. Writer Chris Boucher constantly warred with producer Evgeny Gridneff over the direction of Star Cops over such things as set design and theme tune.

• While it had many faults, one matter most of the talking heads agreed on was the quality of the scripts, which often extrapolated common or garden detective scenarios into the cosmos of 2027 such as a Mafia plot to smuggle uranium back to Earth in rockets that dumped rubbish on the Moon.

• David Calder recounting how after a strike by the BBC electricians had paralysed production when they finally got back on set one of the regular cast members was ill (Erick Ray Evans who played Calder’s deputy), and as writer Chris Boucher was absent Calder himself had to reallocate Evans’ lines amongst the rest of the cast.

What was bad about it?

• The talking heads had to try extra-hard to evoke memories of Star Cops as it had faded so badly from the public consciousness. We’re a little baffled why we can’t remember it as in the year of its broadcast, 1987, were still ravaged by our Star Wars addiction. We even remember Captain Zep Space Detective, and the theme tune (“Captain Zep!/Captain Zep!/ Super space de-tec-tive”), so god only knows why we can’t remember Star Cops.

• This general ignorance also allowed the talking heads to make delusional eulogies to Star Cops, with sci-fi uber critic Kim Newman even musing that it could have been British sci-fi’s greatest ever series. Thankfully, we had enough clips from the show to prove this could never be the case in much the same way as we can predict that Ben X-Factor will not be the new Joe Cocker.

• The utterly dreadful theme tune that sounded as though one of the many unmarked graveyards of South American soaps had been raided and the putrefying theme tunes moulded into one heinous Frankenstein’s Monster of a song. If the MacDonald Brothers sang it, it would be the first time you’d want to shoot the composer rather than the Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee of reality TV.

The Cult of… Doomwatch, BBC4, Tuesday 21 November 2006

Did we like it?

The second part of the series about classic British sci-fi took a fascinating look at the early 1970s drama Doomwatch. The premise behind the programme was taking real scientific advances, and then creating a ‘worst-case scenario’ storyline which the Doomwatch team investigated – what happens when technology goes wrong. All of which served to scare the bejesus out of the British viewing public and press and turn a whole generation into Luddites.

What was good about it?

• The revelation that co-creator Dr Kit Pedler was a real life scientist who deliberately picked plausible storylines to develop.

• The prescience of the programme which covered storylines such as genetic engineering, environmental issues, nuclear proliferation and sinister government offices.

• Robert Powell, the de facto hero, looked about 12 in the clips, but he revealed that the programme turned him into a sex symbol, despite having a face that one critic memorably described as looking like a “haunted parking meter”!

• Simon Oates, who played Dr John Ridge, admitted that not a lot of acting was required as he played a chauvinistic ladies’ man with a very dodgy taste in clothes – essentially his real-life persona.

• Doomwatch’s focus on the dangerously high levels of lead in fuel got the real life government’s backs-up and seemed to have a direct influence in the development of unleaded petrol.

• The brave and pioneering decision to kill off the hero (Robert Powell’s Toby Wren) mid-way through the second series prompted the biggest mailbag of correspondence to the Radio Times since the war.

• When a recent planned revival of the show for Channel 5 was pitched, it was discovered that all the new ideas the writers had for storylines had already featured in the original show, proving how far ahead of its time it was. (and also how little research of the original show the new writers had undertaken!)

What was bad about it?

• The clip of the infamous ‘rat invasion’ episode featured some of the most unconvincing stuffed vermin since Basil Brush’s last TV appearance..

• The programme had a very 70s attitude to women – most of them being bimbos and airheads, until a backlash meant a strong female character was brought in.

• The expense of re-shooting scenes meant that there were quite a few fluffed lines remaining in the programme.

• Back-stabbing between the producer Terence Dudley and creators Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis eventually killed the programme – which seemed an oddly pathetic way for such a groundbreaking series to end.

The Cult of… Adam Adamant, BBC4, Tuesday 14 November 2006

Did we like it?

A dashed fine retrospective of one of British sci-fi’s most decent heroes, played by Gerald Harper, but tinged by an indefinable sense of pointlessness.

What was good about it?

• The absurd notion of Adam Adamant – a gentleman crimefighter is encased in a block of ice in the early 1900s by his arch enemy ‘The Face’, assisted in his dastardlyness by Adam’s one true love. Skip forward to 1966 and he’s resurrected when workmen discover his tomb. Such foundations seem both imaginative and ridiculous, and as sci-fi almanac Kim Newman reflected: “It’s the sort of series you think you might have dreamed.”

• Dogmatic puritan Mary Whitehouse waterlogged and weighed down by the huge bundles of signatures she had collated from like-minded outraged TV viewers who wanted to bring down the wrath of God on any organisation that dared to suggest that people have sex for pleasure rather than merely to procreate.

• And it was Whitehouse, incidentally, who provoked the BBC’s head of drama to dream up Adam Adamant as an icon of austere probity of whom the white-haired harridan would approve. A noble idea in practice, as Adam Adamant contained no sex or bad language; the violence, however – which included villains being skewered by javelins – raised her hackles.

• Gerald Harper’s dismay at the slapdash nature of the first day’s filming. He had forsaken a role on Broadway to take the part and found himself in a wig, with false eyebrows galloping along a street.

• Another of Gerald’s recollections summed up the sometimes chaotic daily life on the series when he was playing Adam as he staggered out of a hospital and into the 1960s world for the first time since he was defrosted. As Gerald emerged into Piccadilly Circus, he was the target of the ire of taxi drivers as they had to avoid his shambling, disorientated form. The modern day equivalent would be Laurence Olivier exiled in the world of Footballers’ Wives.

• The tale of Jack May (who played Adam’s manservant Sims) breaking off rehearsals every 25 minutes to place a bet on the horses.

What was bad about it?

• Adam Adamant was born out of the fertile loins of the Swinging Sixties, when the whole of middle-class Britain, and especially London, deluded itself that they were living in some kind of halcyon utopia where postmen whistled joyfully on their round knowing their place at the fag end of society; where women could feel liberated and wear mini skirts while men obligingly gazed at their unclothed legs; a place where mop-haired bands could compose a number of fine ditties and condemn the rest of history to the futility of trying to match their opuses.

• Adam Adamant may provide some kitsch amusement for people who believe that kitsch is something they can enjoy while pretending not really to like it in order to save their credibility, but it did seem to have been cancelled for being not very good; or at least not as good as The Avengers, which it was put up against in the schedules and lost out dismally.

My Science Fiction Life, BBC4, Friday 29 December 2006

Did we like it?

How fantastical sci-fi has seeped into the lives of ordinary people, and how they are using it to inspire their often quite dreary lives; dreary lives that are often of little interest to the viewer.

What was good about it?

• Star Trek fanatic Ann Thomas having her Klingon ‘name’ as ‘Kickarse’ to show that at least some Trekkers do have a sense of humour. In Klingon it apparently means ‘beautiful warrior’, which was ironic in its own way too.

• The retelling of the Orson Welles radio broadcast of War of the Worlds in 1938 that was so realistic that it had Americans flooding into the streets in a panic.

• Professor Kevin Warwick’s research into cybernetics that has enabled him to implant electrodes into his nervous system and connect himself to a computer.

• BT futurologist Ian Pearson put forth an interesting, though somewhat fantastical, idea about the future of computers. Apparently, the next step beyond the silicone microchip is for bacteria to contain electronic devices so that they can congeal into hyper-computers. And eventually take over the world, obviously.

• Architect Will Alsop’s mission to transform Barnsley into a contemporary vision of Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner.

• Tony Alleyne who has renovated his studio flat to mimic the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation. “I live here! I eat here! I sleep here!” he mechanically stated. And as far as we could tell he was the only person who slept there.

What was bad about it?

• Nick Pope, a man who for about five minutes in the 90s was in charge of finding UFOs for the government, but who since leaving his post has become a totem for every deluded soul who wishes to believe in the existence of extra-terrestrials. He also seems to relish being viewed as the British Fox Mulder. “I shared Fox’s frustration,” he confided about his colleagues’ scepticism for his alien obsession as they whistled the X-Files theme tune whenever he walked by.

• Jeff Wayne, who composed a musical adaptation of War of the Worlds that reflected the different voices of the humans and Martians as they struggled for survival and supremacy. All very worthy, but sadly aside from its orchestral pomp the songs seemed to be factory processed offal from Mark Knopfler’s soporific slaughterhouse mind.

• The smugness of Professor Kevin Warwick as he linked himself electronically to his wife and claimed it gave him a transcendental experience beyond the reach of the rest of us humans, when in fact it made him appear pitiful and emotionally remote from the rest of humanity that he needed such clumsy and empirical ways of communicating with someone whom he loves.

• The wild guessing by some of the supposedly expert contributors on the advancement of robotics.

• On the topic of British people being the most under surveillance in the world, Nick Pope dragged that old favourite from the lake of paranoia when he claimed: “We are living in 1984; we are living in Big Brother.” You do begin to start to wonder how many of these folk who make blind allusions to Orwell’s classic novel have actually read the book. Yes, suffocating surveillance is certainly one aspect of Oceania’s tyranny; but if some former government worker had spread seditious rumours, such as those Pope was thrusting forward, then he would ultimately end up with a bullet in the back of the neck. Fortunately, such freedoms still exist so we do not “live in 1984” nor are we any way approaching such a totalitarian state, Pope’s suspicion is just scaremongering propagated by people who profit from fear.

• A number of the technological innovations were simply dull. Take contact lenses that enable you to customise and distort your own vision to your heart’s desire, so rather than develop your own perceptions of an object through your own imagination you have some pre-packaged sprite tattooed onto your vision altering it to what someone else wants you to perceive.

• And then there’s the website Second Life. “Life beyond reality,” the advertising jingle coos. “Where imagination has no bounds!” But it does have bounds, very narrow bounds – as the target audience are people who are slaves to materialism. Second Life seems to offer a shortcut to people too poor to go surfing in clear, blue tropical seas, buy expensive cars and coerce young (wo)men to find them attractive by the size of their wallet alone but who can afford a PC and a broadband link – all the while pandering to the desires of people with absolutely no imagination, who are also no loss to the human race if they want to mentally rot in a computer game.

• Star Wars-obsessed Reverend Neil Hook who colours his sermons with references to science-fiction. He didn’t exactly seem to be bursting at the seams with an attentive flock as about his church was scattered a fairly bored-looking bunch of church-goers.

• Right, we’re watching a programme called My Science Fiction Life about science-fiction and exclusively featuring people obsessed with science-fiction – so was it really necessary to deliver a précis of Star Wars?

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


Follow us:

Our Latest Posts:

Borgen proves TV revivals can work.

Borgen proves TV revivals can work.

Borgen is the best political series on television. It's not an area television drama dabbles in that often. There's the original House of Cards and the Netflix version...

The BBC confirm second series of Sherwood.

The BBC confirm second series of Sherwood.

As the critically acclaimed Sherwood finishes its much talked about run on the BBC tonight (28 June) it has been confirmed that it will return for a second series with...


Submit a Comment