Out Of The Unknown
TV archaeology unearths classic anthology
Release Date: 24 November
1965- 1971 | 15 | DVD Creator: Irene Shubik Cast: David Hemmings, Milo O’Shea, Patsy Rowlands, Yvonne Mitchell, Anthony Ainley
Surprisingly sophisticated and unapologetically challenging, Out Of The Unknown was, for two seasons at least, one of the jewels of ’ 60s sci- fi. A BBC anthology series created by Irene Shubik – another female protégé of Sydney Newman, brought with him from ITV, just like original Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert – it adapted stories by SF legends ( John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov, JG Ballard) for TV audiences without ever a thought for dumbing them down.
The results may have dated in terms of production ( like early Doctor Who, it was recorded “as live” in a series of long, continuous takes), and there’s the occasional amusingly naive SF faux pas, but the subject matter is often as fresh and relevant now as it was then. Some episodes, such as the EM Forster adaptation “The Machine Stops” are quite simply small- screen SF masterpieces. The variety of stories also impresses; there are even a couple of genuinely funny comedy episodes.
With season three the show was broadcast in colour for the first time, but the stories have a slightly less ambitious, Tales Of The Unexpected vibe to them. The series really came off the rails with its final season, which, under a new production team, eschewed SF in favour of supernatural horror; pretty bog- standard, occasionally downright misogynistic supernatural horror at that. Sadly, as with Doctor Who, the BBC junked many episodes from its archives in the early ’ 70s. This impressive BFI box set collects together all 20 surviving episodes, and adds reconstructions of four more created from audio recordings and publicity photos.
It’s worth buying for those early episodes alone, which stand the test of time. The horror episodes, though, are sadly very much a product of their time.
Extras: Eleven episodes have audio commentaries featuring an impressive range of surviving cast and crew members; these are moderated by comedian/ classic TV geek Toby Hadoke with his usual affable enthusiasm. There’s a slickly- made Making Of featurette ( 42 minutes); an interview with TV director James Cellan Jones; stills galleries; and a minute- long shot of the side of a house from “Deathday” – you need to be a completist to appreciate that! An exhaustively informative 44- page illustrated booklet completes the package. Dave Golder
Ridley Scott got one of his first screen credits as the designer on the series one episode “Some Lapse Of Time”.
“Just a shampoo and set, please.”