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.