[Sep. 20, 1962] Out of this World (the British Summer SF hit!)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


By Ashley R. Pollard

The end of summer has come, and autumn is upon us.  The result of the Earth’s journey around the sun, and as my esteemed colleague Mr. Mark Yon said, the weather here has been wet.  Sometimes we get good summers, but this year was not one of those, the icing on the cake being a miserable August Bank Holiday weekend after the weekend before’s promising sunny day.  But, Whether the weather be fine, Or whether the weather be not, here on Galactic Journey we will weather the weather to bring you the latest Sci-Fi news from soggy Britain.

This coming Saturday will see the last episode of Out of this World, which has made staying in on a Saturday night something to look forward to, rather than something that indicates one has no friends or better things to do.  Though to be fair, I’ve been babysitting for my friend, which I enjoy doing.

As I mentioned before, this series was launched with Dumb Martian shown as part of the Armchair Theatre series.  The new series has a very spooky theme tune called The Concerto to the Stars, composed by Eric Siday, which plays against a background of moving microscopic tentacles that sets the tone for the show.  For those who are interested, Tony Hatch has expanded the theme tune into very catchy 45 record, available from all good record stores.

The format of the show has each episode introduced by Boris Karloff, who is disarmingly charming with his bon mots about the story to come.  There are two breaks for adverts, which is annoying, but this is commercial TV, so it is to be expected.  Then Mr. Karloff signs off the story with an announcement of the cast.

The first actual episode shown under the banner Out of this World was the Yellow Pill by Rog Phillips, which was a story that explored the nature of reality and delusions.  As someone who works in the field of mental health, this was of particular interest to me, and it was interesting to see an author’s take on the subject.  The paradoxical ending pulled the rug from underneath the viewers’ feet.  It launched the series, pulling in eleven million viewers, which placed it as the eleventh highest rated show of the week.

Remarkable for any first episode of a series, let alone one advertising itself as science fiction.

The second story was an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Little Lost Robot, whose robot stories featuring Dr. Susan Calvin are some of my favourite SF reads.  While the adaptation is very good, it is a trifle over-cooked, and the ending of the story has been changed so that the robot kills the person who told it to get lost when it is found out.  This goes against Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, and is a failure of Leo Lehman to understand the story.  Still, a compelling piece, despite this egregious ending.

The third episode is a much truer adaptation, based on the Cold Equations by Tom Godwin.  There’s not much I can tell you that you all don’t already know about this story of a spaceship with a stowaway.  The play has the rather suave Peter Wyngarde, who was seen earlier this year in the film Night of the Eagle aka Burn Witch Burn, acting alongside a very young actress called Jane Asher.  Her biography mentions that when she was a child she appeared in The Quatermass Xperiment. This was the Hammer Films adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s story that I have mentioned on several previous occasions.

Episode four’s story was Imposter by Philip K. Dick.  A famous piece that, again, should not need an introduction by me.  It’s a classic tale of paranoia adapted for television by Terry Nation, who I mention in passing because he contributes one of the two original stories for this series.  Judging by his story Botany Bay, which was transmitted the following week, he is someone to keep an eye on.

Botany Bay was a story with twists that were disturbing in their implication, set in a psychiatric institution.  The setting alone grabbed me from the start, and the central conceit of alien criminals transferring their minds into the minds of the patients in the asylum set the tone, making the sinister story feel like something from Philip K. Dick.  The denouement that this wasn’t Earth, and the intruders were from Earth, was shocking.

Medicine Show by Robert Moore Williams is a story about two doctors who are alien miracle workers who take payment from their patients in the form of seeds.  Again, this adaptation veers a little off course as it tonally makes it all rather more mystical than the original story, but it feels fresh, and I suspect it will appeal to younger people’s sensibilities.

Episode seven is an adaptation of Katherine Maclean’s, Pictures Don’t Lie.  I loved this story of aliens spaceship travelling here, peacefully announcing their intentions and talking to the people on Earth, which then goes all horribly wrong, because of scale.  They’re really, really tiny, and are lost after they land in what they describe as a marsh.  The humans who go out to search for them fail to see the microscopic alien ship and tragically destroy the visitors from another world when they step on them by accident.

Vanishing Act by Richard Waring, is an original play for Out of this World.  It turns down intensity of the previous week’s tragedy by presenting a comedy (if one may call it that?) The protagonist, a conjuror in search of the late magician Great Vorg’s lost vanishing-cabinet, finds himself getting far more than he bargained for.

The next episode goes back to the more paranoid-conspiracy tone with an adaptation of Raymond F. Jones’s Divided We Fall.  I remember him as the author of This Island Earth — only from the film because I’ve not read any of his stories.  This play presents the intriguing problem of how to tell synthetic humans that are indistinguishable from everyone else.  It features the charming Ann Bell, an actress unknown to me, who I suspect will go far in her career.  Also, this story reminds me of the film The Creation of the Humanoids, reviewed here by fellow columnist Miss Rosemary Benton.

Episode ten, The Dark Star, by Frank Crisp was based on his novel Ape of London.  He’s better known for his children’s adventure books, but this is a credible story about what happens when people get superhuman strength from a disease that chooses its victims according to their standing in society.  I’ve not read the novel, so I can’t comment on how close to the original story this adaptation is.

Clifford D. Simak has not one, but two of his short stories adapted for Out of this World.  The first, Immigrant, is about the planet Kimon, a paradise where people go — never to return again.  A nice story that builds up the tension, ladles on despair, and finishes with an uplifting ending.

However, the second Simak story, Target Generation, based on his story Spacebred Generations, was my personal favourite.  It’s a generation-ship story where the descendants of the crew are ignorant of the fact that they are on a starship.  The hero has to figure what to do with a key that was handed down to him by father with the instructions “only to be used in an emergency.”  With the help of a forbidden dictionary he has to learn how to land the ship.  Gripping stuff, even if it’s a well-worn story; seeing it televised just made it better than it had any right to be.

The final story of the series is on this coming Saturday and titled, The Tycoons by Arthur Sellings.  This is a pseudonym of Arthur Gordon Ley, who is a former scientist turned author, and also known as a bookseller.  I’ve only read this weeks Radio Times blurb, so all I can tell you is that it’s a story of three aliens coming here to make a weapon to take over the Earth, billed as a comedy.

Well, this was an excellent summer-time show, but as you know Irene Shubik and Sydney Newman have gone to the BBC, so I fear we will not see a sequel, which is a shame because every Saturday night it managed to knock me Out of this World for the hour it was on.  Perhaps the American audience will be lucky to see it imported, as I understand Supercar was this Summer, and Danger Man the Summer before.




4 thoughts on “[Sep. 20, 1962] Out of this World (the British Summer SF hit!)”

  1. Boy … Asimov, Katherine Maclean , Clifford D. Simak and Phil Dick, Rod Serling probably knows those authors but turns a deaf ear to adapting them.
    The fascination with Tom Godwin’s Cold Equations has always puzzled me. Not because it’s a bad story, but it is not great prose and a bit like dramatized Popular Mechanics. The story has an ending enforced by John Campbell and seems more like a tomato surprise and an exercise in hard decisions. Campbell forced Godwin use physics to trump engineering physics!

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