1 December 2014

DVD Review - Out of the Unknown (TV 1965 - 1971)


Genre:
Science Fiction
Distributor:
BFI
Release Date:
24th November 2014
Rating: 15
Directors:
Philip Saville, Rudolph Cartier, Peter Sasdy and others
Cast:Terence Morgan, Milo O'Shea, Yvonne Mitchell, George Cole, Wendy Craig, Graham Stark, Rachel Roberts, David Hemmings, Warren Mitchell, Hannah Gordon, Burt Kwouk.
Buy: Out of the Unknown (DVD)


Out of the Unknown was the UK equivalent to the American shows of the late 50s and early 60s, such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. It all happened because Irene Shubik, a story editor on Armchair Theatre, proposed doing a sci-fi version to the BBC due to her love of the genre. They eventually agreed to green light the series, with it premiering in 1965 and running up until 1971. Unfortunately, most of the episodes are now lost due to The Beeb destroying much of their archive in the 1970s.

The first 3 seasons were adapted from shorts from most of the renowned sci-fi writers of the day. Isaac Asimov for instance, had 6 of his stories adapted for the show. It’s a mixed bag for the most part, the kinds of sci-fi explored in the show range from hard sci-fi (space travel) to more interesting mind-expanding, trippy sci-fi which was very much of it’s time. The more interesting episodes are adapted from writers like J.G. Ballard and Robert Sheckley who were still starting out, but would become some of the finest writers in the realm of science fiction.

The series takes a massive leap downwards in the final season, mostly because it’s original stories that move more towards psychological horror rather than sci-fi. This disappointed many fans of the original show and it’s not hard to see why it was cancelled soon after. It however would become a cult classic and it’s influence on British TV can be seen in the more recent Black Mirror.

BFI has salvaged what they can of the series, half of what remains is the first season, which is the best season by some distance. The remainder are what is left of the other seasons, and are in some cases reconstructed but not complete. The discs are loaded with bonus features as expected from BFI; the highlight being the newly commissioned documentary Return of the Unknown which gives a detailed history of the show. It also features commentaries on 11 of the 20 episodes along with a interview with director, James Cellan Jones, extensive still galleries, and a lengthy booklet with essays by Mark Ward.

Out of the Unknown remains a fascinating footnote in British TV, coming from a time when it was far more adventurous in its programming. For example, the release of cult classic show The Prisoner, which came out a couple of years after Out of the Unknown’s first broadcast, was allowed partly due to the initial success of Out of the Unknown.

Ian Schultz



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