Tag Archives: a for andromeda

[August 20, 1962] A Galaxy of Choices (British TV: The Andromeda Breakthrough)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Science fiction on British television used to be one of those once-in-a-blue-moon events.  When it happened, what we got could often be very good.  Certainly Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass series was compelling viewing, which drew in a large audience from the general population with millions tuning in each week to find out the fate of the infected astronauts.

The impact of Quatermass cannot be over stated, the name having taken root in the British public’s imagination.  And, now we have a sequel to A for Andromeda, which I reported on last year, to carry the torch for science fiction on British TV, which also looks like it will enter public’s lexicon.  With the additional transmission of the anthology show, Out of this World, we seem to be entering a golden age of science fiction on television.

For those unfamiliar with A for Andromeda, let me do a recap.  The first series, a story set in the future circa 1972, was about a group of scientists building a super computer for the military made from plans decoded from a signal sent from the Andromeda galaxy.  This signal is a Trojan horse designed to take over our planet by creating an artificial human called Andromeda that the computer can control.  It’s all very clever how this is revealed, and when the hero, Dr. Fleming, discovers that Andromeda is a slave of the computer he saves her by destroying the computer with an axe.  Andromeda then burns the plans for the computer, and together they try to make their escape.  Unfortunately, she falls into a pool and apparently dies, while Dr. Fleming is captured by Army personnel.

The Andromeda Breakthrough therefore has to square the circle of how to carry on the story without undermining the climax of the first series.

It should be noted that Andromeda was played by Julie Christie in the first series.  This was a breakout role for her, and as a result she was cast in the film Billy Liar, and was too busy to reprise her role.  So the role was recast, with Susan Hampshire playing Andromeda for the sequel, who is generally referred to as Andre during the story.

The opening episode, Cold Front, starts with a shot of Dr. Fleming being unceremoniously brought back to the base in the back of a British Army Land Rover.  From there we are given a précis of what happened before.  The reveal that Andromeda had not drowned in the pool comes after the Army reports that they dragged the pool and didn’t find a body.  This is quite an effective way of introducing Susan Hampshire playing a traumatized Andromeda.  From there the plot proceeds apace as Fleming absconds with Andromeda to a remote Scottish isle.  But, after some dramatic shenanigans with lots of to-ing and fro-ing, they are captured by the British government.

The second episode, Gale Warning, ramps up the tension with the shadowy Intel Consortium, a multi-national corporation with lots of fingers in many pots.  It is revealed they have copies of everything that our heroes assumed they destroyed, and their own version of the computer.  They now want Fleming and Andromeda to complete their package.

Amongst all the action, the main plot is revealed: the weather of the world is changing, and not for the better, with storms increasing in both number and intensity.  Skullduggery proceeds as the agents of the Intel Consortium, led by Mr. Kauffman from Dusseldorf, eliminates loose ends and brings Fleming and Andromeda to Intel’s facility based in the newly independent middle-eastern country of Azaran.

Episode three, Azaran Forecast, now has Andromeda talking to the new computer, and the plot thickens as Fleming and her are reunited with Dr. Madeleine Dawnay, the biochemist who helped create Andromeda.  The Intel Consortium want the three of them to work for them as part of a plan to feed the world. The strangeness of what is happening to the world’s weather comes to the fore, and we discover that Andromeda’s health is failing.  Fleming and Dawney race to develop a formula to restore Andromeda, who is deciphering the signals from the computer, to health — but can the Earth be saved from what is happening?

The fourth episode, Storm Centres, has the Intel Consortium backing a military coup in Azaran because they are evil, which we know because only an evil corporation would murder people to further its agenda.  We are also shown the world being ravaged by storms, as the weather creates chaos through starvation and droughts.  Conflicts over food become wars as governments try maintain order

Episode five, Hurricane, piles on the effects of the changing weather, and the destruction of the world as we know it.  The scientists realize that an alien enzyme released by accident, flushed down the sink by Fleming in the first series, is behind the Earth’s atmosphere becoming thinner, which is what is driving the climate change.  Intel use this to get our heroes to develop a solution, which can be marketed to make the consortium money.  However, these plans are hanging in the balance as a counter-revolution occurs that overthrows the Intel Consortium.

The final episode is called Roman Peace.  The episode title is a reference to the peace that comes after war.  The series denouement is that mankind must be free to make its own mistakes, if it wants to save itself, and not rely on the hidden message within the message from Andromeda, which turns out to be a cunning alien plan to socially engineer mankind’s survival.  I have to say that I was swept along by the story, and having to wait each week for the next episode kept me fully engaged with the plot.  However, on reflection, mostly from writing this piece in fact, I have to say it all feels a bit melodramatic.  But, still a lot of fun to watch.

Nevertheless, mustn’t grumble because there are still five more episodes of Out of this World to come, and I can say that so far, the standalone stories have been well worth viewing.  Next month I will write up my thoughts for you all to read.  Until then, keep watching the skies.




[November 10, 1961] EARTH ON FIRE (UK Sci-fi Report)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Last month, I wrote about the shocking explosion of the world’s largest atomic bomb.  Now, I plan to entertain and delight you all with a review of the film The Day the Earth Caught Fire, which will be on general release in Great Britain from the 23rd of November.  Its subject matter is serendipitous, if not unnaturally timely, cast in the light of recent events.  This can’t hurt its chances of doing well at the box office, and if you’ll pardon the levity, it’s surely guaranteed to become a blockbuster.  This early review has been made possible by influence of the Traveller, who has gone to great lengths in assisting me with gaining the credentials to see a pre-release screening of the film. 

The Day the Earth Caught Fire stars Edward Judd, Leo McKern and Janet Munro and starts in a most striking manner with Judd’s character walking in sweltering heat through the deserted streets of London.  The story then flashes back to how it all began when both the Americans and Russian simultaneously exploded atomic bombs at the Earth’s poles.  This caused both the axial tilt to change and also shifted our planet in its orbit around the Sun.

The effects of the axial tilt mean disruption to the regular weather: torrential rain and floods for example.  It’s only later we find out that the Earth has also been pushed closer to the Sun, which means the planet will soon become too hot for human life.  Unlike other nuclear horror stories, the emphasis here is on the hero discovering what is happening by putting together the bits of the puzzle, using his skill as a Fleet Street journalist to tell the story.  The way the film is shot has an almost cinéma-vérité feel to it, and arguably, the story pacing has produced a very British end of the world as we know it.

I was very much reminded of the Hollywood adaptation of Nevil Shute’s On The Beach as both stories deal with the anxiety generated by the existence of atomic bombs in the world.  However, while the former ends with the impending death of mankind, The Day the Earth Caught Fire has a more ambiguous ending, leaving us with the news of the detonation of bombs set to reset the Earth’s orbit, but without telling us whether the plan succeeded or not.

My understanding is that the film will be released in the United States in May of next year.  Also, for those readers who are concerned about atomic bombs knocking the Earth out of orbit, I have it on good authority that the energy required would be far greater than is currently achievable with our technology.

Now, last time I also promised to finish my summary of A for Andromeda.  We left-off waiting for what would happen to Fleming, Dawnay and Professor Reinhart in the next episode called, The Murderer. This episode gripped viewers around the country as the series premise of alien’s sending us the means to create life, and what that would mean for humanity, chilled people to the bone.

Christine, the character played by Julie Christie (who died in the previous episode) is re-created when the computer give the scientists the code for creating the next alien life form, which produces a clone of her called Andromeda.  The performance by Christie in her new role as the computer’s cat’s paw is compelling, and I expect she will go on to star in other things.  Now that the alien intelligence is embodied in Andromeda, the original cyclops creature host is killed by the computer.

In episode six, called The Face of the Tiger, Andromeda is put to work on developing an orbital missile defence program for the British government.  Further developments also include the producing an enzyme that will aid in healing injuries.  But it soon becomes clear that humanity is in peril of coming under the influence and control of the computer, which is using Andromeda to further its own agenda.  The computer reveals itself when opposed by Fleming by making Dawney, the biologist working on the project, sick.

In the final episode, called The Last Mystery, the story is moved forward into the year 1972, when the signal from the Andromeda Galaxy has stopped.  The military are now in full control of the project, and the computer having failed to kill the other scientists, tries to kill Fleming by using Andromeda.  This plan fails, and Andromeda is revealed to be a slave of the computer; the scientist agree that it must be stopped, otherwise the world will fall under the alien computer’s control.

Fleming is able to release Andromeda from the computer control by destroying it with an axe, and Andromeda burns the plans for the machine.  The pair try to make their escape, but Andromeda falls into a pool and dies, while Fleming is captured by the military.  As endings go, this is great for mankind, but a bit of a downer for the hero.  Still, there’s always the possibility of a sequel, because, after all, this is science fiction…

[Oct. 31, 1961] A is for Atomic (UK TV Sci-fi… and the Tsar Bomba)


By Ashley R. Pollard

A is for atomic and apocalypse, and this month also for Andromeda.  Of the three, the most entertaining is the new TV series on the BBC, called A for Andromeda, written by Frederick Hoyle and John Elliot.  Hoyle is an astronomer and noted cosmologist who also wrote the science fiction novel The Black Cloud, while Elliot is novelist, screenwriter and television producer.

Andromeda gripped me from the very first episode, called The Message, the opening sequence being an interview with Professor Reinhart, explaining the project as something that had happened in the past.  The story cuts to the professor and his research assistants, Jason Fleming and Dennis Bridger, working at the new radio telescope at Bouldershaw Fell…in 1970.  If that’s not a hook that grabs your attention then I don’t know what is.  The episode title gives the gist of the plot — alien message — and the series title tells you where the aliens are from — Andromeda.

The second episode, The Machine, builds on the message and we discover it is the plans to build a better computer, which the British government decide to do at a military base in Thorness, Scotland.  Here the plot starts to twist and turn with Dennis Bridger selling the information to a slightly sinister corporate conglomerate called Intel (a clever name; someone should put it to good use).

The third episode, The Miracle, moves the story into Hoyle’s special area of interest: life from space.  You may have heard of his famous stellar nucleosynthesis paper of 1954 — Frederick Hoyle is one of the foremost scientists of his generation and a populariser of the philosopher Anaxagoras theory of panspermia, a controversial theory.  The story introduces Madeline Dawnay, a biologist, who joins the team to help with the creation of a synthetic life-form that the computer instructions have given them.  Dennis Bridger’s betrayal is discovered, and he gets his just desserts while fleeing justice…when he falls off a cliff.

In last week’s episode, The Monster, the story has moved forward to 1971, where we bear witness to the creation of a protoplasmic life form named “the cyclops.”  Fleming, our hero of the series, is skeptical of the machine’s agenda and worried that it can affect the minds of those who come into close proximity to the machine.  We are left wanting more, and next week’s episode title, The Murderer, certainly leaves us something exciting to look forward to!

However, this time, reality has the jump on fiction, excitement-wise.  It comes in the shape of what the press is calling the Tsar Bomba or Kuz’kina Mat’ — Russian for “Kuzma’s mother” — a reference to Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s promise to show the United States the true might of Soviet power during the United Nations General Assembly earlier this month.

Or more simply, the mother of all bombs.

The Russians turned their premier’s statement into a demonstration of their nuclear might at 11.32 Moscow time on October the 30th by detonating a 50 megaton bomb over the Mityushika Bay the Soviet nuclear testing range.  For those of you whose geography is a little hazy, this is just north of the Arctic Circle over the Novayo Zemlya archipelago.  The shock wave from the blast is reputed to have circled the Earth four times.  Reports of seeing the explosion came from a nearly thousand kilometres away from the blast site.

The size of the explosion is almost beyond comprehension.  The only way I can get my head around it is knowing that it’s the equivalent to ten percent of all the nuclear bombs detonated to date or ten times the combined energy from all the bombs dropped during the second world war.  Such numbers are frightening and make the threat from aliens trying to take over the Earth pale into insignificance by comparison.

Perhaps it is because the threat to all life on Earth becoming extinct is an existential one, now that we live in the atomic age, that we enjoy such outrageous fare as Andromeda.  When we consider such matters, our minds are overwhelmed by prime emotions, which reduce our reasoning to that of the hominids we’re descended from.  I would argue that science fiction allows us to discuss that which is too frightening to comprehend.

So whether A is for atomic, apocalypse or Andromeda is really not the question.  Rather, our need to tell stories to understand ourselves is the way we face the end of life.