30 SF and fantasy TV shows and films that have criminally never found their way onto DVD
TV DRAMA * 1954
The BBC dramatisation of George Orwell’s dystopian novel was one of the most controversial TV programmes of its time. It was brought to the screen by producer Rudolph Cartier and screenwriter Nigel Kneale, who teamed up successfully the year before on the first of the Quatermass serials. A young Peter Cushing is superb as the beleaguered Winston Smith, with Andre Morell (later to play Quatermass) as his tormenter O’Brien.
Kneale had the good sense to remain pretty faithful to the novel – which didn’t please some. Many viewers complained about the horrific content of the Room 101 sequence (especially since it was shown on a Sunday), The Daily Express claimed that a viewer died of shock, and questions were raised in the Commons.
1984 was broadcast live, but fortunately the BBC had the foresight to make a telerecording of the second performance, which still exists in the archives. If someone released that on shiny disc it’d be double-plus-good.
TV SERIES * 1977-1978
As you can probably guess from the title, this ’70s series, which aired on BBC Two, isn’t far removed from George Orwell’s 1984, and is another vision of a dystopian near-future.
It’s set in a totalitarian Britain where every aspect of everyday life is rigidly controlled by bureaucrats. Food is rationed; permits are required for any kind of travel; dissenters are sent to “rehabilitation centres” for mind-altering drug therapy. Edward Woodward played the hero of the piece, Jim Kyle, a dissident-friendly journalist working for one of the UK’s three surviving newspapers, forever in danger of falling foul of the oppressive Public Control Department.
1990 fitted the pessimistic mood of the times perfectly, but many of its concerns – electronic surveillance, immigration, compulsory ID cards – are even more topical today. Which makes it doubly annoying that none of the 16 episodes have ever been repeated or released on video. Will someone please stick ’em out on DVD?
BLOOD AND ROSES
FILM * 1960
Sheridan le Fanu’s 1872 novella Carmilla has been adapted several times - most famously as Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers , which kick-started a trilogy of lesbian vampire movies for the British studio. This adaptation is less well known.
The man responsible was Roger Vadim, best known for helming Barbarella , and for being jammy enough to marry not only Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda but also this film’s star, the stunning Annette Vadim (née Strøyberg). Updating Le Fanu’s tale of a young woman who becomes the victim of a female vampire to modern-day Italy, it’s a gothic horror with an arthouse flavour, beautifully shot by cinematographer Claude Renoir, with an undercurrent of eroticism and a melancholy, harp-heavy score. The highlight is a surreal dream sequence, shot in black and white, which features a woman swimming up outside some windows, and a bizarre operating room scene.
It’s never been released on home video here in the UK, and the NTSC VHS release was of the dubbed American version, which had scenes cut and new material added. So it’s crying out for a proper DVD release of the original European version. How about it, Paramount?
TV SERIES * 1998-1999
Yet another American TV show cancelled before its time, this supernatural drama was more cerebral than most, but only lasted 13 episodes before the axe fell.
New York cop Ezekiel Stone (Peter Horton) was sent to Hell for murdering the man who raped his wife. 15 years after his death, 113 spirits break out of Hell, and the Devil charges Stone with tracking them down. His reward if he returns them all? A second chance at life.
Brimstone had a strong cast (with Smallville ’s Lionel Luthor – John Glover – particularly impressive as the teasing Devil), a rich vein of dark humour, and some neat ideas: the super-powered escapees (who originate from many time periods) can only be returned to Hell by piercing their eyes, and Stone is covered in tattoos of the missing souls, which disappear when they’re returned. For some reason, Reaper nicked most of its ideas, and turned it into a comedy.
TV SERIES * 1975
With fuel shortages, terrorism and soaring unemployment, mid-’70s Britain was a fertile breeding ground for post-apocalyptic drama. Like Terry Nation’s Survivors , this BBC children’s serial showed the total collapse of civilisation.
A weird noise causes people to turn against technology, smashing everything from cars to toasters; even words like “electricity” and “car” become taboo. In the chaos, quiet 14 year-old Nicky Gore is separated from her parents. Over ten episodes she joins up with a group of Sikhs, is accused of witchcraft, and ultimately discovers the cause of it all in a cavern: a strange force “deep in the roots of everything”.
Loosely adapted from a book trilogy by Peter Dickinson, this thoughtful series still stands up well. It makes extensive use of location work (its young star never set foot in a studio), its environmentalist message was ahead of its time, and its treatment of the Sikh characters – neither patronised nor exoticised – is deeply impressive for a show from the era of insulting sitcoms like Mind Your Language .
I CRIMINALI DELLA GALASSIA
FILM * 1965
Probably better known by its wholly appropriate American title, The Wild, Wild Planet , this bonkers Italian SF flick (the title translates as Criminals Of The Galaxy ) was directed by the ultra-prolific Italian director Antonio Margheriti, perhaps best known for 1980’s Cannibal Apocalypse . A young Franco Nero (later to achieve fame starring in spaghetti western Django ) has a small role.
The plot concerns a scientist obsessed with eugenics, who’s kidnapped hundreds of people in order to conduct experiments on them in his secret asteroid lab – experiments designed to create a master-race. The lackeys who snatch people on his behalf work in pairs: women with beehive hairstyles create a distraction, while four-armed, bald-headed robots in long leather coats and sunglasses shrink their victims to the size of Barbie dolls! Space commander Mike Halstead investigates after his squeeze goes AWOL.
Featuring psychedelic effects, swinging mod fashions, spaceships on strings that’d make Ed Wood blush with shame, and repeated use of the choice insult “you helium-headed idiot!”, this unintentionally hilarious movie is something of a camp classic.
TV SERIES * 1996-1997
Mulder and Scully should have been called in to investigate this case of cloning... With its abductions, implants and alien greys, this splice of The X-Files with The Invaders and The Fugitive shamelessly rode on Fox and Dana’s coat-tails.
Over 19 episodes, John Loengard and fiancé Kim Sayers investigated Government agency Majestic 12, unearthing a cover-up of the infiltration of Earth by microbial alien race The Hive. Audaciously (or tastelessly...) the show interweaved its SF with a revisionist history, incorporating real-life figures (from Jim Morrison to Carl Sagan) and events (from JFK’s assassination to the Watts riots). The plan was for every season to be set in a different decade, but the axe fell after the first, set in the ’60s.
A DVD release was pencilled in, but fell through, due to the cost of licensing the music used in the show. But hey, they could always replace the expensive stuff with library tracks, couldn’t they?
TV SERIES * 1970-1972
This eco-thriller was the brainchild of Gerry Davis and Dr Kit Pedler, formerly story editor and scientific adviser on Doctor Who , and creators of the Cybermen. Firmly grounded in science fact, it centred on a government agency investigating curious cases caused by new technology: a plastic-melting virus; pheromone-laden lipstick; killer dolphins!
Doomwatch wasn’t afraid to shock its audience: a lead character was killed off at the end of season one, and season three’s “Sex And Violence” was considered too strong for broadcast. But our most treasured memory is a scene where Robert Powell frantically tries to fight off some killer rats that are obviously sewn onto his trousers...
Sadly, of the 38 episodes produced, 14 are missing – including all but two episodes of the third series. But 24 do survive, and we reckon in these days of ecological concern a box set would sell like hot cakes. Come on BBC!
DOUGAL AND THE BLUE CAT
FILM * 1972
Why isn’t the Magic Roundabout movie on DVD? No, not the rubbish CGI version voiced by the likes of Robbie Williams and Kylie – the feature-length version of the original Magic Roundabout .
Like the TV show, Blue Cat was animated in France by Serge Danot, then redubbed by Playschool presenter Eric Thompson (father of Emma), ignoring the French soundtrack to make up his own story, and dropping in references to everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to NATO to keep adult viewers amused.
In the film, a nightmarish prophecy of Thatcher’s Britain (er, not really), the land of the Magic Roundabout is turned into a sea of blue, with blue flowers and spiny blue cacti sprouting all over the shop. It’s all due to an evil moggy called Buxton, who crowns himself king of the land, imprisons the Magic Roundabout crew, and steals Dougal’s magic moustache! Fenella Fielding provides the velvety tones of the sinister Blue Voice which inspires Buxton’s evil machinations.
Darker than the bite-sized versions, it’s surprisingly creepy at times. Second Sight released a VHS nearly a decade ago – how about a DVD, chaps?
TV SERIES * 1994
This five-part BBC serial, set in North Yorkshire, concerns two schoolboys, David and Keith, who hear a mysterious drumming sound coming from a hill on the moor close to where they live. The source? An 18th century drummer boy, who walks right out of the hillside – much to his bewilderment.
Other memorable elements of the tale include a candle which never burns down, generates cold instead of heat, and causes visions; standing stones that inexplicably move around the moors; and King Arthur and his knights, asleep in a cave beneath the hill. David was played by Paul Nicholls, in his first TV role. Nicholls became a teenage heartthrob a couple of years later because of his portrayal of the troubled Joe Wicks in EastEnders.
Very sadly, Earthfasts has been somewhat tainted by grubby reality in recent years: in 2004, the author William Mayne (on whose 1966 book it was based) was convicted for a series of indecent assaults on young girls, carried out in the ’60s and ’70s. Will anyone want to release a DVD that’s going to earn royalties for someone on the sex offenders' list? We suspect perhaps not.
THE FANTASTIC JOURNEY
TV SERIES * 1977
Tapping into the ’70s obsession with the Bermuda Triangle, this short-lived show kicked off with a family passing through a mysterious green cloud in their yacht and ending up shipwrecked on an island where past, present and future co-exist. Each week, our heroes would pass through an invisible gateway into a different time-zone, helping to topple evil regimes as they tried to find their way home. Sounds a bit like Sliders , doesn’t it?
The colourful cast of characters included Varian, a 23rd century pacifist armed with a sonic screwdriver-like turning fork, which could do everything from opening doors to healing people. Roddy McDowall played Jonathan Willaway, a rebel scientist from 1963. Then there was Lianna, a half-alien, half-Atlantean telepath who could communicate with her feline companion, Sil-El. African-American physician Fred Walters and 13-year-old brain Scott completed the ensemble.
Guest stars included Ian McShane as an 18th century pirate, John Saxon as an alien warlord, and Joan Collins, leader of a female revolt against a male-dominated society. Only ten episodes were made before the axe fell. The series has never been released on any home video format, and it’s high time it was.
G VS E
TV SERIES * 1999-2000
This supernatural action-comedy from twin brothers Josh and Jonas Pate (who went on to create Surface ) was definitely axed prematurely. The concept? After reporter Chandler Smythe is murdered, he becomes a bounty hunter working for a secret organisation called The Corps, destroying demonic “Morlocks”, and tracking down “Faustians” – humans who’ve sold their souls for fame, riches or success.
A hip, witty, stylish show, G vs E is probably as close as we’re ever gonna get to a Quentin Tarantino TV series. A dollop of blaxploitation is provided by Chandler’s afroed partner, Henry, who died in the ’70s and still dresses and talks pretty much like Shaft.
The show could be very formulaic, simply changing the occupation of the Faustian-of-the-week (actor, wrestler, hairdresser...) but some zinger one-liners, neat in-jokes (one episode is chockablock with lines from Star Wars ) and great guest stars (like Antonio Fargas and Nichelle Nichols) more than compensate.
FILM * 1964
This underrated Hammer horror was helmed by Terence Fisher ( Dracula ), written by John Gilling (director of The Plague Of The Zombies ) and features Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (plus second Doctor Who Patrick Troughton). In a break from Hammer’s parade of vampires, werewolves and mummies, it draws on Greek mythology to present a case of the monstrous feminine. Barbara Shelley is the young woman unaware that, every full moon, she transforms into the last surviving Gorgon, Megaera (bit of a boo-boo there – Megaera was actually one of the Furies...).
Fisher was very proud of the film, and summed up its dreamlike qualities astutely: “It is a film that emphasises the poetics of the fantastic, rather than the horror” (though it still ends in a juicy decapitation!). Though its eerie atmospherics are undermined by the shoddy realisation of the creature, it remains an above-average effort. It’s high time we were able to gaze upon The Gorgon’s ghastly visage once more.
THE GREEN SLIME
FILM * 1968
This Japanese/American/Italian co-production came out in the same year as 2001: A Space Odyssey , but couldn’t be more different… Although shot in Japan by the prolific Kinji Fukasaku (nowadays best known for helming Battle Royale ), it features an all-Western cast. It kicks off Armageddon -style, with a Commander brought out of retirement for a mission to blow up an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. One of his team unwittingly brings back an alien spore to a space station, where it produces scores of one-eyed, tentacled monsters that feed on energy, and can electrocute with a touch. If just one speck of their green goo gets back to Earth, humanity is doomed!
The subject of the unaired pilot for Mystery Science Theater 3000 , this is garish B-movie cobblers of the so-bad-it’s-good kind, with midgets in latex monster suits, stock situations (including a dreary love triangle featuring Bond girl Luciana Paluzzi), wooden acting, and model spaceships running on visible wires. Fukasaku keeps the action coming at a fair lick, though. And the psychedelic theme song, drenched in fuzz guitar and theremin, is downright groovy.
THE HALFWAY HOUSE
FILM * 1943
Ealing’s anthology horror Dead Of Night has earned classic status, but not many people know about the British studio’s other foray into the fantastic.
Directed by Basil Dearden, it sees a disparate group of characters coming together at a Welsh inn. There’s something strange about The Halfway House: the radio plays year-old news broadcasts, and the landlord’s daughter casts no shadow. Soon the guests find the strange atmosphere of the place changing their perspective on life. The fact that the inn was bombed to bits a year before might have something to do with that...
This Twilight Zone -ish tale won’t chill anyone to the bone but does make interesting viewing, especially for students of morale-boosting wartime propaganda. The guests include an Irishman who decides against accepting a government posting in Berlin (the Irish were neutral, of course), a black marketeer who sees the error of his ways, and a couple who step back from the brink of divorce. Failing that, the accents might give you a giggle – even the Irishman sounds like The Fast Show ’s Mr Cholmondley-Warner, and the script is thick with exclamations of “By jove!” and “Steady on, old boy!”
THE INCREDIBLE ROBERT BALDICK
TV DRAMA * 1972
This one-off by Blake’s 7 creator Terry Nation aired in the Beeb’s Drama Playhouse strand, a slot showcasing pilots for potential series.
It’s a period paranormal piece: think The X-Files if it was set in Victorian times, and Mulder had mutton-chop sideburns. Robert Hardy plays Baldick, an aristocrat and inventor with a fascination for the inexplicable. Accompanied by oo-arring gamekeeper Caleb (John Rhys Davies), valet Thomas (Julian Holloway) and pet owl Cosmo, Baldick travels the country in his luxuriously-appointed private train, investigating strange phenomena. In his one and only case (“Never Come Night”), he investigates mysterious deaths in the ruins of an abbey, caused by a force which materialises people’s worst fears – in Baldick’s cause, a bad case of cobwebs!
Further adventures were never commissioned, but this curio still exists in the archives and deserves to see the light of day, if not as a standalone release, perhaps as an extra in a box set of another Nation series?
TV SERIES * 2003-2004
Starring Odyssey 5 and Ugly Betty 's Christopher Gorham as Jake Foley, Jake 2.0 is a modern take on the superhero genre, with arch nods towards The Six Million Dollar Man . Jake is a tech-support guy at a US government building who gets infected with nanobots while poking about a lab. In an “accidental upgrade” reminiscent of Spider-Man, the secret molecular-level technology boosts this one-time nerd so he can run at high speed, jump long distances and control machines directly from his brain.
It's mildly ludicrous that Jake is instantly given a post on the NSA staff and not dissected, but the ensuing spy-fi adventures deliver some light-hearted action stories, including one where he has to go undercover with a crack unit of marines, in which this one-time science geek has to try and win their respect. Sixteen episodes were shot, and it's a crying shame that they haven't seen a DVD release on either side of the Pond yet. Then again, we could just watch Chuck and play spot the difference.
FILM * 1983
This little-known early work from Michael Mann ( Collateral , Heat , Manhunter ) sees a group of WW2 German troops occupying the titular fortress to defend a mountain pass in Romania. Unbeknownst to them, a demon is imprisoned inside. When soldiers plunder silver crosses from the walls, it’s released, and the Germans start mysteriously dying...
It’s an artsy horror film, with some eerie atmospherics, a Tangerine Dream score, and appearances by Gabriel Byrne (as an SS officer) and Ian McKellen (as a Jewish linguist). Unfortunately it’s also very confusing, with a terribly perfunctory ending. The author of the novel on which it’s based summed it up as “visually intriguing, but otherwise utterly incomprehensible”. Apparently Warner took the film away from Mann before it was finished, and cut it down from over three hours in length, which would explain matters. Rumours of a DVD release (perhaps even a director’s cut) have been surfacing periodically for years, but Keep fans just keep getting disappointed...
KNIGHTS OF GOD
TV SERIES * 1987
It’s not hard to see why this 13-episode children’s series is not a major contender for a DVD release. Not counting the endless difficulties associated with releasing a series that originally aired on a now-defunct ITV subsidiary, the plain fact is that the content of the serial makes it a marketing executive’s nightmare.
Set in 2020, it depicts a devastated Britain recovering from a civil war that has left London in ruins, the royal family slaughtered, fascist religious order the Knights Of God in power, and a resistance group scouring the country for the “last King of Britain” to take the country back.
A fine cast of character actors includes genre stalwarts such as Gareth Thomas ( Blake’s 7 ’s Blake) as the leader of the resistance (typecasting, eh? It’s a bitch) and second Doctor Patrick Troughton, as well Julian Fellowes and Don Henderson, and John Woodvine as dictator Prior Mordrin (yes, Mordrin – there are a few echoes of Arthurian legend here). Knights Of God has never even been released on video, never mind DVD. Someone stick it out!
THE LAST TRAIN
TV SERIES * 1999
Long before Gene Hunt was even a gleam in the eye, Life On Mars co-creator Matthew Graham wrote this six-part series, which follows the experiences of a group of train passengers who are accidentally cryogenically frozen. Decades later, they wake to discover they’re amongst the few survivors of a devastating asteroid strike (yes, this was the era of Deep Impact and Armageddon ...). Struggling to survive acid rain, feral dog packs and armed horsemen, they head north on a quest to find a top-secret government bunker...
One of the few high-profile SF series made in the dark days before Doctor Who ’s return, it’s a worthy entry in the bleak British tradition of post-apocalyptic drama ( The Changes , Survivors , Threads ), and boasts a strong cast, including This Life ’s Milly, Amita Dhiri. Although periodically repeated on the Sci Fi channel, it has yet to hit shiny disc. Surely it’s overdue for a defrosting?
EL LIBRO DE PIEDRA
FILM * 1969
If you thought Mexican horror was synonymous with masked wrestlers, think again. El Libro De Piedra ( The Book Of Stone ) is a subtle ghost story. Written and directed by Carlos Enrique Taboada, it’s strongly reminiscent of Henry James’s The Turn Of The Screw (filmed as The Innocents ).
It centres on a governess whose new charge, Sylvia, has a best friend called Hugo... except “Hugo” is actually a 500-year-old stone statue of a smiling little boy. The story goes that Hugo’s father was a black magician who possessed a book which gave him the knowledge to be reborn 1000 years after his death. Instructing his son to hold the book, he turned both to stone so it would be safe as the centuries passed. As the film progresses, there are more and more strange occurrences: Sylvia’s stepmother starts suffering terrible stabbing pains; a family friend’s dog dies of fright...
It’s an atmospheric, suspenseful film, with a horrifying shock ending. Strictly speaking, it is available on DVD – but only as a region one release with no subtitles! How about a DVD for those of us who are linguistically challenged?
MAN FROM ATLANTIS
TV SERIES * 1977-1978
Probably the nearest we’ll ever get to a Namor the Submariner series, The Man from Atlantis featured future Dallas star Patrick Duffy as an amnesiac washed up on a beach. When scientists discover his gills, webbed hands and superhuman strength, they conclude he’s the last survivor of the lost civilisation.
Given the name Mark Harris, and recruited by the Foundation For Oceanic Research, Duffy’s character was soon exploring the oceans in their sub, the Cetacean. Deep-sea time/space portals allowed for all sorts of bizarre adventures, so when he wasn’t encountering a two-headed seahorse or a mermaid, he was travelling to the Wild West or meeting Romeo and Juliet!
Thirteen regular episodes followed four TV movies. Doctor Who fans of a certain age will have the missed the show – it aired opposite their favourite in most UK regions. In 1980 it became the first American television show aired in China, and was hugely popular there.
TV SERIES * 1983
Producer Glen A Larson created a whole load of cheesy SF shows in the ’70s and ’80s. Cheesiest amongst these is Manimal , which ran for just a feature-length pilot and seven regular-length episodes before the axe fell (being pitted against Dallas on US TV probably didn’t help).
Simon MacCorkindale starred as Dr Jonathan Chase, a British zoology professor at New York University who used his ability to transform into any kind of animal – a bull, a dolphin, a horse, a snake... you name it – to fight crime. We can only recall actually seeing him turn into a black panther and a hawk on-screen, though – frustratingly, the transformations usually took place off-camera. The two on-screen transformations were created by effects legend Stan Winston, and looked pretty impressive back in the day – if you were ten.
Years later, Chase made a guest appearance in an episode of another Larson show, the superhero series NightMan , so maybe they could stick that on the DVD as a bonus? And while we’re about it, can we have an Automan box set too?
TV SERIES * 1987-1988
It’s easy to get confused about Max Headroom chronology. The pop video show with the computerised host ( not CGI, but actor Matt Frewer, plastered in Latex) came first. A Channel 4 TV movie, Twenty Seconds Into The Future gave Max a backstory. That span-off into an ABC series.
It’s the only TV show that’s come close to putting the cyberpunk visions of the likes of William Gibson on-screen. Prescient and darkly humorous, it’s set in a dystopian near-future where TV networks will do anything for success. Thugs kidnap people to sell their organs, and an underclass of “blanks” live off the radar. Frewer plays reporter Edison Carter – a recording of whose brainwaves accidentally creates Max.
Ironically, since a recurring theme is TV ratings (obsessively monitored minute-by-minute), poor viewing figures saw the show pulled after 11 of 14 episodes, denying us a story by fantasy scribe George RR Martin, which was in pre-production.
THE MOON STALLION
TV SERIES * 1978-1979
This six-part serial synthesised British folklore with horsy shows like The Adventures Of Black Beauty . Writer Brian Hayles created the Ice Warriors for Doctor Who , and star Sarah Sutton went on to play companion Nyssa.
Diana, a blind girl, moves to Uffington in Wiltshire with her archaeologist father, so that he can study the local White Horse hill figure. Diana is able to sense the titular mystic horse, a messenger of Ipona the moon goddess. Superstition has it that no-one can see the stallion without dying soon after, and the patron of Diana’s father blames the beast for his wife’s death. Meanwhile, his stablemaster (a warlock) wants to capture it to harness the power of Ipona. Add the Green King, a personification of nature which grants Diana a vision of future nuclear destruction, and you have a pretty heady brew! A feature-length edit was released on VHS many moons ago, but it has yet to canter onto shiny disc.
NO BLADE OF GRASS
FILM * 1970
This post-apocalyptic road movie follows events after the advent of a virus that kills all forms of grass – bad news for cricket players, obviously, but also for anyone who likes eating, since it also wipes out crops like wheat, barley and rice, and poisons the animals that feed on them. It’s based on The Death Of Grass , the classic 1956 novel by John Christopher, who also wrote the Tripods trilogy.
And boy, is it bleak – its portrayal of a society unravelling into bloody anarchy makes Survivors look like a Sunday-afternoon picnic. As architect John Custance and his family head north for his brother’s farm, picking up followers and struggling with the likes of marauding bikers along the way, it’s not long before they drop their old ethics, resorting to cold-blooded killing to survive.
Director Cornell Wilde uses hand-held camerawork and improvised dialogue to create a documentary feel. Some of his other tactics are a little annoying, like the regular spoilersome flash-forwards to dramatic events that have yet to play out on screen, but this remains an impressively grim, hard-edged piece of work.
NOW AND AGAIN
TV SERIES * 1999-2000
There was widespread lamentation when this critically-acclaimed series was axed by CBS after 22 episodes. The brainchild of Moonlighting and Medium creator Glen Gordon Caron, it starred Eric Close (Agent Fitzgerald in Without A Trace ) and Dennis Haysbert ( 24 ’s President Palmer).
Close was middle-aged family man Michael Wiseman (initially played by John Goodman). After accidentally dying in a subway train accident, his brain is transplanted into a body with superhuman speed, strength and healing powers (engineered as part of a government super-soldier programme) and he’s trained in espionage. Haysbert played the dour scientist handler.
As well as bold SF ideas, the show was blessed with wisecracking humour and a strong emotional core: although forbidden from contacting his wife and daughter, Wiseman can’t resist, and soon finds ways to inveigle himself into their lives. Sadly, the cliffhanger ending (where he goes on the lam with his family) will never be resolved, but a DVD release would help to dull the lingering pain of cancellation.
PLAY FOR TOMORROW
TV SERIES * 1982
The success of The Flipside Of Dominick Hyde in the Play For Today slot led to the BBC commissioning this six-part series of speculative dramas.
Stephen Lowe’s “Shades” is a typical example, exploring a future Britain where lotus-eating young people in futuristic silk pyjamas escape into fantasy using virtual reality sunglasses. One girl becomes fascinated by footage of CND protests, now seen as symptomatic of a sort of mass mental illness. In some ways, the future it predicts has come true: in 1983, nuclear war seemed imminent, action essential. Now most people are blasé about living in the shadow of apocalypse.
Other equally downbeat entries include “Easter 2016”, in which Northern Ireland is still divided by a wall, and Caryl Churchill’s “Crimes”, in which murderers are cured by electronic implant, and government TV gives advice on defending your nuclear bunker. Only “Cricket” provides light relief – it’s about a village cricket club that’s actually a front for a guerilla movement!
THE QUESTOR TAPES
TV MOVIE * 1974
Before Star Trek returned to our screens in the shape of The Next Generation , Gene Roddenberry had several shots at launching new TV shows with a string of pilots. The high concept of this one involves an android who’s a bit of a dry run for Data – just like him, he’s “fully functional” and desperately wants to be more human. The plot sees the titular Questor (Robert Foxworth, who now voices Ratchet in the Transformers movies) going in search of his mysterious creator in order to discover his purpose; it turns out to be guiding humanity on behalf of an ancient alien race.
A 13-part season was greenlit, but fell through due to creative differences between Roddenberry and the network. They were fearful that the show’s god-like aliens would provoke the ire of Christians, and wanted the series to ignore the ending where Questor uncovers his origins, turning it into more of a chase series like The Fugitive in the process.
The Questor Tapes is the sort of thing you can sometimes find on slightly dodgy stalls at conventions, but a legitimate release with some contextualising extras would be so much better. How about it, Universal?
STARS OF THE ROLLER STATE DISCO
TV DRAMA * 1984
Seemingly founded on one almighty wonky pun, this one-off BBC drama is set in a kind of live-in job centre in an unspecified near-future. Unemployed youths bunk surrounded by food vending machines, TV screens looping inane training videos and... a rollerskating track! As they wait for their number to be called, they circle to the endless thump of disco instrumentals – a clumsy but effective visual metaphor. It makes for bizarre viewing: in how many dramas do boy/girl heart-to-hearts end with one partner furiously wheeling it away?
Coming across like Grange Hill spin-off Tucker’s Luck if it had been written by George Orwell, Stars was helmed by king of the grim institutional drama Alan Clarke, the man who brought us Scum . Although marred by one too many clumsy monologues about how life sucks for The Kids, its hypnotic long takes are weirdly compelling, the vast set still impresses, and the downbeat ending is just plain shattering...