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Hi Fi Sci Fi

During the 1990s, British television became homogenised, streamlined and governed by formulae designed to conform to a politically correct ideology imposed upon it by old fashioned Marxist sympathisers in local councils and the media. Television programmes in every genre from soap operas to news broadcasts became bland, safe and harmless – that is to say, harmless to the government policies of the day. The actual harm done to every intelligent young person in the land was considerable, of course. We were encouraged to become utter consumers of entertainment and nothing more, sat in our rooms to be fed government policies via the cathode ray spoon. This disgusting process was consolidated by the national socialist government of Tony Blair which is the primary reason why, when my television ceased to function after the Olympics in 2002, I refused to replace it with a new model.


Be aware that this is no wretched descent into nostalgia. I have nothing but contempt for weak minded saps who desperately try to relive their lost childhood. (I’m trying to recapture my youth – he keeps escaping.) Seriously, apart from Doctor Who with which I was familiar from my childhood, I discovered every other programme mentioned in the text only in the early years of the 21st century when I bought myself a computer with an excellent DVD player attached. This essay is a result of my fascination for science fiction serials primarily designed for children that were made during the 1960s and 1970s. During these two decades, many people who worked in the media were still sufficiently bold, brave and courageous to create programmes that sought to educate, irritate, confuse and perplex the viewers; we were encouraged to think carefully about what we watched, particularly in the genre of science fiction. It is this genre that is favoured by writers who wish to promote unusual or controversial propositions since it allows the investigation of difficult or politically sensitive issues that would otherwise not escape the strict censorship that would otherwise be imposed by the government.


For example, in a Doctor Who story from 1974, The Monster Of Peladon, an autocratic monarch rules the entire planet. She is supported by government lackeys and religious fanatics whose position of wealth and privilege is only made possible by the continual hard work and suffering of ordinary people, particularly the miners who are bullied into accepting work conditions that are degrading. Now any attempt to produce such a script set on Earth, especially in Britain, in a contemporary time, would never be allowed; however, set it on an alien planet in some distant future and the story becomes acceptable. In the early 1970s, the miners in Britain were indeed engaged in industrial action as a result of a major dispute with the government – in fact, while their grievance may well have been justified, before the end of the decade, everyone and their mother would go on strike in an attempt to bring the nation to a grinding halt. Marxist agitators in unions persuaded, cajoled and even bullied workers into industrial action so that firemen, dustmen, power station workers and even the pampered darlings of television studios went on strike. Only when Margaret Thatcher was elected into office was our nation granted a leader strong enough to crush this red scum forever and rescue the country from complete chaos. Unfortunately, she possessed insufficient intelligence to recognise the crucial difference between communist fifth columnists (who seek only to promote their obscene ideology) and genuine union representatives (who seek only to improve and protect the welfare of employees) with the result that by the 1990s, British workers had virtually no rights or protection from unscrupulous employers at all.


There would initially appear to be scant relation between political debate and science fiction serials made for children. However, from the example of The Monster Of Peladon above (which is far from an isolated example), we have already discovered that programme makers (writers, directors and producers) were willing to imbue their stories with political and social comment, regardless of – or perhaps even especially because of – the target audience. There was clearly apparent a paradigm shift in the nature of television science fiction stories written for children in the 11 years from the earliest examples – Stranger From Space (1952) which was the very first science fiction serial for children ever broadcast on television, The Lost Planet (1954) and its sequel Return To The Lost Planet (1955), adapted for television from his own novels by Angus MacVicar and Space School (1956) – to the advent of Object Z (1965). The creators of these 1950s programmes believed it was their duty to encourage the desire for a scientific education among its target audience and that science fiction provided the most appropriate vehicle to achieve this. Also, authority figures and especially scientists, were generally heroic, decent and humanitarian. A scientist was someone you could trust – unless they were mad or came from some thinly disguised eastern European country (although both character types often became identical since, it was implied, one would have to be mad to be a scientist in a communist country).


Political events around the world during these 11 years evidently affected writers and even those involved in the media. The invasion of Korea by America, the creation of atomic warheads used for missiles, the first Aldermaston anti-nuclear weapon march and subsequent creation of CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) in Britain, the Cuban missile crisis, the launch of military satellites by both Russia and America, the invasion of Vietnam by America, the rise in political influence and military power of the communists in China, the assassination of American president John Kennedy and black civil rights activist Malcolm X all contrived to rob Britain of the safe, cosy and reliable society so many of its people believed existed in a nation that had finally begun to rebuild its infrastructure and economy after the ravages of the second world war. As a simple test of this assertion, watch any episode of Doctor Who from 1963 then compare those with almost any episode of the same programme from 1973. We see that it is no longer taken for granted that technological advancement will be beneficial to humanity; that scientists are frequently as corrupt and avaricious as military and government leaders; that the aliens may exhibit more intelligence, compassion and humanity than human beings. These are general trends apparent in the programme that I have chosen to illustrate my contention. I admit they do not take into account details that occasionally contradict it, such as the mutation of The Doctor (when portrayed by Jon Pertwee) into a respecter of authority figures – there he is on friendly terms with government and military leaders, a personality trait that would be inconceivable in the variants portrayed by William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton.


Despite the alleged superiority of Doctor Who (in terms of its popularity and the high calibre of actors, writers and directors) over all its rivals on both the BBC and ITV, in certain crucial respects it was remarkably old fashioned and had much to learn from its contemporaries. The role of women in Doctor Who has long since become infamous: the female companions to the famous time lord are inevitably fragile creatures prone to panic at the first intimation of danger. They scream their way through an entire story; they need to be rescued by the Doctor when they land themselves in trouble often through their own ineptitude; they frequently appear to serve no other function than to provide refreshments for the rest of the crew and ask inane questions such as ‘what now, Doctor?’ This is strange because the first producer of the series was Verity Lambert, one of the only female producers in television at the time. In addition to this, the series used the talents of most of the tiny number of female directors available, too. Even the original theme music was created by a woman, for while it was written by Australian composer Ron Grainer, it was arranged and realised as an electronic score by Delia Derbyshire, perhaps the most inspired and creative of all the people who worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.


There were only two attempts to address this problem. In 1970 Caroline John was introduced as Liz Shaw, a brilliant scientist who graduated from Cambridge with honours. All the same, despite her superior intellect, it wasn’t long before she, too, was screaming in terror and yelling for help until the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) came dashing to the rescue. In any case, she was in the programme for little more than a year before she was replaced by Jo Grant (portrayed with warmth, humour and affection by Katy Manning), who failed her science examinations at school and thus presented no cerebral threat to the Doctor. Being almost useless and screaming a lot became the familiar female role once more. The second attempt to address the problem was rather more successful. Louise Jameson played Leela, a jungle savage who entered the Tardis in 1977 when Tom Baker portrayed the errant time lord in his own inimitable style. Leela was aggressive and violent but also deeply loyal and honest. Only once did she ever scream, yet under the circumstances (she was trapped in a sewer tunnel in 19th century London and about to be devoured by a giant rat) we can forgive her this one lapse in her normally heroic demeanour! Despite this, Leela remained the noble savage, the Eliza Doolittle to the Doctor whose task was to educate and civilise her. The slightly offensive implication of a defence of a mentality akin to colonialism did not escape many commentators either.


This last observation leads us onto the other problem in Doctor Who: the depiction of racial minorities (or majorities for that matter). All the young people who travelled with the time lord in his Tardis were white and, usually, middle class. They also tended to be English. Language would not present a problem since the Tardis telepathic circuits automatically translate any foreign language into English so there is no technical reason why the Doctor could not have travelled with a 16th century Nigerian girl or a 23rd century Japanese boy. No, the fact remained that the creators of Doctor Who were white, middle class Englishmen and therefore white, middle class English people tended to be favoured by a Doctor who also elected to adopt the white, middle class Englishman as a model. We would have to wait until 2005 for any of this to change.


Admittedly during the 1960s and 1970s there were very few actors and actresses in Britain of other racial groups but they did exist. The first time we ever encounter a black face in the series is in Tomb Of The Cybermen in 1967. The role of Toberman, given to Roy Stewart (poor chap) is ridiculous: he talks (when he speaks at all, which is seldom) in a robotic monotone with the apparent intelligence of a primary school age child. He is electrocuted in Episode 4 so is finally relieved of his misery. It is simply embarrassing. The next black character we encounter is an African woman called Fariah in Enemy Of The World (1967), played by Carmen Munroe. She, at least, can speak and has a personality. Indeed, she is a heroic and sympathetic character but, like Toberman in the earlier story, she has to die: she is shot dead in Episode 4. The rule in the BBC production department appeared to be ‘before the end of the story, make sure the nigger dies’.


The poor old Chinese did not fare very well during the early days of Doctor Who either. In The Daleks Master Plan, a 12 part odyssey which ran from 1965 to 1966, the president of the entire solar system is Mavic Chen, of oriental origin, superbly played by Kevin Stoney. Only a magnificent character actor of this stature could achieve the formidable task of being able to play the part with such conviction. Nevertheless, being Chinese he has to be neurotic and hungry for power; naturally he dies horribly before the end of the story. In 1977, the BBC repeat this dubious achievement by giving us another fake Chinaman, Li Hsen Chang (played by another actor of high calibre, John Bennett) in the still enjoyable frolic The Talons Of Weng Chiang. In his desire for power and wealth, Li is quite prepared to abduct young women and aid their execution. He also smokes opium but, for this sin, he has one of his legs bitten off by a giant rat and dies horribly before the end of the story. The rule in the BBC production department appeared to be ‘before the end of the story, make sure the Chink dies’. However, there was a noble exception to this woeful state of affairs. In The Mind Of Evil from 1971, we encounter a Captain Chin Lee, played by Pik Sen Lim, a genuine Chinese actress who is not a power crazed tyrant nor does she die horribly before the end of the story. Admittedly her role is minor but it was the first time Doctor Who used the services of a Chinese person and treated her with a modicum of respect. There is another minor character, the Chinese attaché Fu Peng who is also played by a Chinese actor, Kristopher Kum. He, too, manages not to be shot, electrocuted or bitten by oversized rodents, even though he’s a communist.


In fact, the first time we encounter decent, intelligent and sympathetic non-caucasian characters in a Doctor Who story is not until Battlefield in 1989. First we see Brigadier Winifred Bambera (Angela Bruce) who, being black, female and in a position of authority, was no doubt a deliberate attempt by the writer, Ben Aaronovitch, to redress the sins committed against the rest of the worlds’ racial groups by the Doctor Who production team over the previous four decades. Then we meet Shou Yeung (Ling Tai), a young Chinese woman who befriends Ace (Sophie Aldred), the young companion of the Doctor, now played by Sylvester McCoy. The trouble is, by this time the programme was little more than a sick joke anyway. The dialogue, sets, stories and ideas were all so much truncated drivel, submerged under a barrage of dreadful synthesiser music which even McCoy (whose portrayal of the time lord was generally excellent and often inspired) could not salvage. The blame for this is entirely due to producer John Nathan Turner who alone was responsible for transforming Doctor Who from a strangely attractive, intelligent, humorous, occasionally frightening science fantasy series into a camp, ridiculous frolic that just might have amused pre-school toddlers provided they were below average intelligence or drug addled students provided they’d taken some particularly strong hallucinogenic substance.


For most people, Doctor Who ceased to matter or be relevant after 1980. Therefore it came as a magnificent shock when, in 2005, a new production team devised a version of the series for the 21st century in which the scripts were interesting, intelligent and articulate and the characters were believable, convincing and realistic. Any lingering doubts I may have had with regard to how well the contemporary variant compares with its 20th century analogue were finally dispelled once David Tennant adopted the role of the errant time lord. He is definitely the best incarnation there has yet been of the most famous citizen of Gallifrey. However, in the previous century, television science fiction programmes of quality for children tended to originate from ITV rather than the BBC as we shall now discover. Note: when I have given the names of actors and actresses in bold font, this generally means their performances are important to the stories or that they deserve special merit.


Object Z.


In this ingenious tale, a physicist with a social conscience (portrayed by Ralph Nossek) decides to concoct an alien invasion of Earth in order to frighten the governments of the world into uniting against a common foe and thus force peaceful co-operation between previously warring factions. When his deception is discovered and the hoax revealed, he is arrested and the governments return to their usual status as belligerent war mongers. The six part serial, first broadcast in 1965, was so popular that in 1966 a sequel was written in which this time genuine aliens invade the Earth; as they originate from a waterlogged world, they start to freeze the oceans of the planet and the physicist is released from prison in order to provide his expert knowledge to avert the disaster that threatens to destroy most life on the globe. Arthur White plays an intriguing character called Keeler who is portrayed as a curious hybrid of Oswald Mosley and Arthur Scargill in that he uses the fear and consternation of the public to promote his own agenda in both serials. The deliberate cultivation of mass hysteria and mob mentality by agent provocateurs which is then brutally suppressed by the government as portrayed in both serials can hardly be coincidental – this was the time of the Aldermaston marches, the Vietnam demonstrations and the emergence of the Black Panthers in America. While the sequel is not quite so interesting a story from a political perspective, both serials deserve release on DVD since they were offer a glimpse of Britain when people lived under the threat of the cold war between Russia and America and this permeated the media. Presumably original tapes of these no longer exist which is why they have still not been made available for modern audiences. Both serials were written by Christopher McMaster and directed by Daphne Shadwell, one of the few women employed in any position of power in television during this period.


The Master.


In 1966 ITV was finally able to usurp Doctor Who from its position of power and privilege as the most popular television programme for children. Using a script derived from the final novel (1957) of T H White (better known for his story The Sword In The Stone), writer Rosemary Hill, ably supported by directors John Braybon and John Frankau, created a genuinely frightening, haunting and suspense filled serial in six parts that became the second most popular television programme of the year. T H White himself produced the serial which added further credibility. Perhaps the primary factor responsible for the success of the serial was the quality of the acting. For the majority of childrens’ drama programmes, writing and acting of any quality was not considered important because the target audience would not be concerned provided there was plenty of action. This profoundly patronising attitude was a gross insult to children everywhere and while both the BBC and ITV were guilty of it (there were only two television channels in Britain until 1969), the BBC had begun to modify this by 1965 with historical costume drama programmes and Doctor Who itself that could boast decent scripts and higher class acting standards. The Master was the first childrens’ drama in ITV that actively promoted similar raised standards in these departments and these were supported by a budget of £6,000 per episode which at this time was extremely high for any drama and certainly previously unknown for a programme that had children as its target audience.


Veteran Scottish actor John Laurie played scientist Doctor Totty McTurk in a role that occasionally bears an awkward similarity to his more famous role as Private Frazer in Dads Army that would make him a household name at the end of the decade. Another top rank actor, Olaf Pooley, takes the eponymous role as the 150 year old evil genius whose telepathic powers are used to enslave and control a small community on the small Atlantic island of Rockall where he maintains his tyranny from a fortress. In fact, the island is actually not inhabited so the series was shot around Swanage and Portland in Wales. Obscure actor Terence Soall plays a nameless Chinese aide to The Master – remember that in the 1960s there were hardly any Chinese actors or actresses available for British programmes so Europeans were obliged to adopt the roles with appropriate cosmetic disguises.


The Master (who is never given a name) threatens the world with supremely powerful lasers that can destroy everything from individual people to entire cities if he so desires. In this manner he intends to hold the entire planet to ransom. In 1966 the world was indeed being held to ransom – by the communist bloc (Russia and China each had stockpiles of nuclear weapons) and by America (whose military arsenal was also formidable). Even Britain possessed its own nuclear submarine, Polaris. The use of telepathic powers to coerce people into instant obedience is clearly an analogue for the use of brainwashing, another prevalent fear among people in the west. Is it therefore any coincidence that the aide to The Master is Chinese? The Master is able to detect dissent among the villagers and any overt display of rebellion is quickly and ruthlessly addressed: he exerts his telepathic influence and draws the miscreant into a secret room where a laser vaporises the victim in a blazing shower of sparks. McTurk and the Chinaman are both dispatched in this barbaric fashion once they begin to rebel against their former employer. The other central characters are two children, Nick and Judy, become stranded on the island. Nick possesses slight telepathic abilities so The Master grooms him as a potential successor until the boy begins to appreciate the true nature of the tyrannical rule the man has over the island inhabitants. Two peripheral characters are notable: Frinton, (played by George Baker) a squadron leader who almost adopts the traditional male heroic archetype and Pinkie, (played by Thomas Baptiste) a mute servant of The Master who remains the only successful rebel in that he survives the catastrophe at the end of the story in which the island erupts in a huge explosion. The two children are evacuated in a helicopter piloted by Frinton and are the only other survivors of the traumatic events. Even in 1966, air force pilots were still regarded highly as plausible contenders for the role of action heroes – after all, for most of the parents of the children watching the serial, the second world war would have been a vivid memory. The Battle Of Britain, fought with such inestimable courage and fortitude by the Royal Air Force in 1940, was the turning point – had we lost that, Britain would have been invaded by Germany with dire consequences. National Socialism would have come to Britain in 1940 instead of in 1997.


A key question is initially posed at the approach of the denouement – can it ever be correct or desirable to kill another human being? Are there times when murder is entirely justified? Obviously we know (after the Mi Lai massacre perpetrated by American thugs in Vietnam, the psychotic brutality of Pol Pot in Cambodia and other atrocities) that the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ but this is a television programme for children and the writer clearly intended to pose this question in order to provoke campfire discussions – however the televised version avoids direct confrontation of the issue. Nick realises it is his duty to kill The Master even though he has been taught to believe that all killing is inherently wrong. The Master, trying to escape, falls and breaks one of his legs in the process, an injury that proves fatal to the 150 year old tyrant. Thus the problem is never successfully resolved.


This serial also celebrates the first cameo appearance by astronomer Patrick Moore (playing himself) in a fictional programme. That this was made for ITV is significant since his own regular programme, The Sky At Night, was a stalwart of the BBC. However, it is for the central performance by Olaf Pooley that this serial is remembered and rightly so. In 1971 he returned to childrens’ science fiction in a Doctor Who story, Inferno, in which he plays the project leader of a team drilling for rare gas deep under the Earth crust; he is relentlessly driven on by an almost pathological desire to succeed at any cost, an obsession that ultimately causes his demise. Finally, consider the character of Pinkie. Thomas Baptiste had no lines to remember (and therefore would have been paid accordingly – i.e. less than actors with speaking parts) yet, not only was he a sympathetic, even heroic character who survives at the end but also he was the only black member of the cast. He may even have been the first black character ever to appear in a childrens science fiction television programme. Now compare this with the abysmal treatment of black characters in Doctor Who. Clearly in this department, the BBC had much to learn from its commercial rival.




Between 1970 and 1971 children (and adults) were delighted by this comical series created and written by Richard Carpenter. It concerns an 11th century wizard who, while learning how to fly, accidentally lands himself in the 20th century and befriends a young farmers’ son called Carrots. Most of the stories feature the attempts of Catweazle to comprehend modern technology which, to him, is simply wild magic. So successful was the initial series that a second one was concocted, this time with a different young boy as a companion, namely Cedric, the son of a local family of aristocrats. Geoffrey Bayldon played the eponymous wizard and other notable roles were Sam, a farmhand played by Neil McCarthy (series one) and Groome (Peter Butterworth) in series two. It ran for 26 episodes, 13 in each series, and other than the conceit of accidental time travel, has no other science fiction elements. I include it here, though, simply because it remains one of the most entertaining childrens’ series ever screened on television.




The young actor Spencer Banks will no doubt be familiar to most people due to his superb performance in Penda’s Fen, a television play written by Alan Rudkin and directed by Alan Clarke, an unusual departure for the director of Cathy Come Home, Scum, Made In Britain, Elephant and The Firm. Banks later appeared in the dreadful soap opera Crossroads, a spy drama Tightrope, another time adventure The Georgian House and as a particularly nasty youth in an episode of Crown Court which featured John Alkin, a regular character in the series who also appears in the first story of Timeslip, The Wrong End Of Time. However, back in 1971 he appeared as Simon Randall, a prim, young arrogant science student, complete with horn rimmed spectacles. Timeslip was an intelligent and occasionally thought provoking serial comprised of 4 separate stories linked by a common factor: the gap in reality, a hole into the time stream that enabled his sister and he to travel backwards or forwards (to possible future realities) in time. From the start we learn that Randall is being cared for by a girl (Liz Skinner, played by Cheryl Burfield) and her parents Frank (Derek Benfield) and Jean (Iris Russell) because his own parents have recently died. This allows the audience to display a certain amount of tolerance toward the petulant behaviour of Randall toward everyone around him.


The first two stories, The Wrong End Of Time (directed by John Cooper) and The Time Of The Ice Box (directed by Peter Jefferies), were preceded by an introduction given by Peter Fairley who was the science correspondent for ITN during this time, a position similar to that occupied by James Burke (who is primarily associated with the technology programme Tomorrows World and the Apollo Moon programme alongside astronomer Patrick Moore) for the BBC. This exposition was intended to explain how time travel might be possible and the series even had its own scientific adviser, Geoffrey Hoyle, son of famous astronomer Fred Hoyle. The Year Of The Burn Up (directed by Ron Francis) and The Day Of The Clone (directed by Dave Foster) dispensed with this introduction since by the time of the third and fourth stories, viewer ratings were sufficiently high and public response sufficiently articulate to indicate that there was no discernable sense of alienation by the target audience. Once again, the media had savagely under estimated the intelligence levels of its viewers.


One of the most impressive aspects of the series is the encounter in The Wrong End Of Time between Liz Skinner  and her father (in a superbly sensitive portrayal by John Alkin) as a young man in 1940. He has no idea who she is, of course, while her realisation of his identity causes her an emotional crisis from which she never properly recovers during the entire story. This idea is taken a stage further in The Time Of The Ice Box when she meets a young woman who is so arrogant, selfish and callous that Liz soon comes to despise her; then she discovers that this nasty little woman is in fact an older, adult version of herself. The poor girl has to suffer further when she meets her mother in this future and realises that she has become nothing more than a slave to a brutal scientific regime, bullied into submission by fear and alienation. Toward the end of this story there is revealed the first sign of sympathy and affection from Randall, a response motivated by the loss of his own parents perhaps.


In The Year Of The Burn Up we encounter science again used as a brutal tool of destruction and terror due to the policies implemented by a technocratic elite who now govern the country in the near future. Here Liz Skinner and Simon Randall both meet their future selves in a story that remains oddly topical even today, 38 years later. Randall has become (in this possible future) a weak willed technocrat, too frightened to challenge the forces that he suspects are causing the climatic ruination of Britain. His one spark of humanity is revealed as he secretly (and illegally) sends aid to one of the many underground villages of social outcasts who have rejected the cloying metal and plastic technocracy imposed on the nation by its power hungry rulers. The future Liz Skinner has become an artist and nominal leader of this village community – a stark contrast to her previous future self.


The ability to create human clones forms the subject of the final story. This must have been regarded as an outrageous conceit in 1971 yet in 2009 the concept has generated deeply acrimonious arguments not only within quaint eccentric bodies like the church but also in important agencies such as government and scientific circles. Time travel, longevity and cloning are all subjected to close scrutiny in this rather complex tale which forms a most appropriate finale to the series, whose creators sensibly elected not to continue it beyond this story. The primary writer (and script editor) was Ruth Boswell who would soon produce another science fiction serial for children and one that proved far more popular: The Tomorrow People.


Space 1999.


Gerry Anderson shall forever be associated with daft puppets and equally ludicrous adventure serials from the 1960s that include Supercar, Stingray, Fireball XL5, Captain Scarlet and his most famous creation, Thunderbirds. Because the puppets tended to have American voices, many people assumed these programmes were themselves American. Anderson is in fact British but his programmes tended to be far more popular in America than in Britain. Space 1999 was his one venture into what purported to be an adult science fiction series with live actors rather than puppets. After nearly 2 years of planning and a small fortune spent on actors, special effects, sets and promotion, in 1975 ITV managed to produce one of the most ridiculous serials ever shown on British television whose absurd plots and grimly pompous acting managed to drive the nation to distraction with 48 episodes of unmitigated tedium. Each episode was an hour long and when, in 1977, the series finally fizzled out into an inglorious end, very few people even noticed. Among the regular cast were Martin Landau (famous for his role in the American spy series Mission Impossible) as Commander Koenig, Prentis Hancock as Paul Morrow and West Indian actor Clifton Jones as David Kano. The multiracial nature of the cast was further enhanced by Yasuko Nagazumi as Yasko. (Hancock appeared in 3 Doctor Who stories. In the Jon Pertwee era tales Spearhead From Space and Planet Of The Daleks and the Tom Baker era story The Planet Of Evil.) None of these actors was able to rescue the programme from its dreary tedium, however.


The dismal failure of the programme is even more remarkable when we look at just some of the actors involved in it over its 3 year course. These included Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Julian Glover, Brian Blessed, Philip Madoc, Peter Bowles, Leo McKern, Kevin Stoney, Geoffrey Bayldon, Bernard Kay, Lee Montague and Patrick Troughton. Two episodes were even directed by Peter Medak, the man who directed The Ruling Class, the infamous satire on the British aristocracy with Peter O’Toole and Carolyn Seymour who later played Abby Grant in the Terry Nation BBC science fiction serial Survivors. So what went wrong? This is a perfect example of why it is not the amount of money spent on a television series that determines its success. No, that is governed by decent stories, quality acting and intelligent scripts. In fact, with insufficient finances and poor resources, a series can still be substantially successful (both economically and artistically) if decent stories, quality acting and intelligent scripts are provided – Timeslip and Doctor Who provide adequate proof of that.




In 1976 Bob Baker and Dave Martin (known to Doctor Who fans for the creation of the robot dog K9) wrote a strange and occasionally disturbing 7 part serial for HTV called Sky which was directed by Derek Clark. Sky is a young extra terrestrial from the future, one of a group of beings who have prompted paradigm shifts in the evolution of humanity through the ages. His character is permeated by impatience with human stupidity and a disdain for their petty concerns. Indeed he is one of the least sympathetic characters ever to be given a primary role in a childrens’ television story. In this he is matched by a trio of west country teenagers (Arby Vennor, his sister Jane and their next door neighbour Roy Briggs) who are generally argumentative, selfish and almost as dislikeable as Sky himself.


The central conceit is that the Earth possesses the ability to reject any foreign incursion into its biosphere such that it will force the surrounding vegetation to attack Sky in an attempt to expel or expunge the alien from the planet in the manner of white corpuscles when they attack invading bodies that enter the human bloodstream. This leads to a bizarre climax when the spirit of the Earth is given a human form (a strange character called Goodchild) to eject Sky after previous attempts have failed. Sky wants only to return home to his time and place; to achieve this he has to locate the ‘juganet’ which, it transpires, is his name for the ancient stone circle we call Stonehenge. All the action occurs in Glastonbury and Avebury as well as Stonehenge itself. Ancient stone circles also provide the inspiration for Children of The Stones (1977) and Stig Of The Dump (both in 1981 and especially the remake in 2001) as well as a Doctor Who story The Stones Of Blood (1978). There is a curious scene that features two hippies in a caravan who erroneously mistake Sky for some mythical God. When they realise their mistake they become openly hostile and, for once, we can experience genuine sympathy for Sky who had already warned them he was not their saviour. The awkward marriage of mystery, fantasy and science fiction accounts for the occasional lack of conviction during some of the scenes and yet this also adds to the disturbing nature of the story.


Perhaps what children found difficult to tolerate when it was first broadcast was the absence of any obvious heroic figure. Indeed, besides the strangeness and diffidence of the central characters, even the supporting cast seem touched by elements of surrealism. This is especially apparent in Major Briggs, the father of Roy, played with remarkable restraint by Jack Watson, a stalwart of many cinema and television dramas, most famously The Hill in 1964 with Sean Connery, Roy Kinnear, Ossie Davis, Ian Bannen, Ian Hendry and Harry Andrews. The Major becomes increasingly unable to cope with the bizarre events that surround him and he escapes into an alcoholic stupor when he realises he unable to maintain any control over his wayward son. Roy Briggs is played by Richard Speight who had already ventured into time travel via appearances as a lad called Peter in two stories from The Tomorrow People. To be honest, there his clumsy acting and flimsy grasp of the role was irritating but here, perhaps because he is given the role of a spoilt, selfish and somewhat arrogant youth no doubt over indulged by his father, he is far more convincing and gives a thoroughly rounded performance although he is the minor member of the teenage trio in the tale.


Meredith Edwards plays Tom, an eccentric elderly Welshman, who is under psychiatric care because he hears voices. In fact he is a latent telepath and is used by Sky to rescue him from a hospital where Goodchild, posing as a surgeon, intends to kill him on in an operating theatre. The Tom character is a facet of childrens’ television dramas that recurs throughout the medium: the fool archetype who, in reality, is necessary for the plot development and is also far from foolish. We have already met a version of this character in The Master (pinkie) and we encounter the archetype again in Children Of The Stones (Dai, a neurotic tramp played by Freddie Jones).


Children Of The Stones.


While 4,000 year old stone circles were an important but secondary feature of Sky and Stig Of The Dump, they are an essential component of this excellent seven part serial from 1977. The central characters are physicist Adam Brake and his son Matthew. Dr Brake is played by Gareth Thomas who, less than a year later, would become a household name when he portrayed the tortured rebel leader Roj Blake in Blakes 7 by Terry Nation. Unknown child actor Peter Denim provides a most creditable portrayal of Matthew Brake but, while the story is granted gravitas by the inclusion of high calibre actors Iain Cuthbertson, John Woodnutt and Freddie Jones, it is really the story, its excellent script and the tense, concise direction (by Peter Graham Scott) that have contrived to generate such interest and enthusiasm for this superb little conceit. In a concept similar to those devised by Nigel Kneale, there is a curious amalgam of science fiction and supernatural fantasy, elements that have utilised our ancient stone circles in many such television dramas for children and adults throughout the history of the medium.


Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray are the writers of this intelligent and articulate tale set in Milbury. We find most of the village inhabited by dazed, slightly deranged people who exist in a state of gentle euphoria. The only people exempt from this affliction are those who are new to village such as museum curator Margaret, her daughter Sandra, Doctor Lyle, his son Kevin, Mr Browning, his son Jim and Hendrick, the village squire who is himself a scientist. Hendrick, however, has lived in the village for some considerable time so the reason for his immunity from the affliction initially presents a mystery. The final person unaffected by the affliction is Dai (Freddie Jones), the village eccentric who is part tramp, part local handyman. Here we meet once again the fool, the harlequin, the palanquin common to so many of these stories. Here, too, is a central character who, while given scant dialogue, is crucial to the advancement of the plot. This is the same archetype as Pinkie in The Master and Tom in Sky.


During the story, these newcomers gradually become victims of the malaise until finally only Adam Brake and his son remain unaffected. In time we discover Hendrick to be solely responsible for the condition of the villagers and thus we encounter a popular archetype of television and cinema: the evil lord or squire whose primary exemplar must be that portrayed by Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man by Anthony Shaffer and Robin Hardy although we find the same kind of character in many Hammer horror films of the 1960s. Hendrick (Iain Cuthbertson) is a discredited astronomer who discovered the black hole that is the primary cause of the strange malaise that afflicts the village. Aided by his butler (John Woodnutt), he channels its curious energy into the area by secreting complex electronic equipment in the crypt of the church (thus, in one reading, both the representative of science and the representative of religion are implied enemies of ordinary people). We discover that previously unaffected people are taken over by the strange force only at specific times during the night (when the black hole passes a particular point in the sky) and during the period, all the villagers gather outside the church, form a circle and sing an ethereal song that is all the more menacing because of its apparent beauty. This is another reference to the pagan song of the villagers on the Scottish island in The Wicker Man when they burn the Christian policeman.


The most disturbing feature of the story is the gradual yet relentless infection of the few unaffected people in the village. This is compounded by a further plot device, namely that once people enter the village, it becomes physically impossible to leave. Every attempt at an exit is foiled by a (possibly mental) barrier. We see Matthew and Sandra at the local school where all the affected children are capable of incredible mental acuity in mathematics. This property of the malaise is never developed further which is perhaps unfortunate. As Doctor Lyle, Kevin Lyle, Mr Browning and Jim Browning are each infected, the remaining four characters become increasingly desperate and even the possible escape or hope of redemption represented by Dai is crushed when he is found dead on a hill. When Margaret and Sandra are also trapped in the squires’ house and succumb to the affliction, a crisis is reached that promotes the climax of the story.


The purpose of the ancient stone circle is to focus the rays that emanate from the black hole. This is almost identical to the device used in the 1979 film Quatermass, the final instalment by Nigel Kneale in his quartet of Bernard Quatermass stories. In that film, young people are vaporised by a stellar ray and their energy extracted for some dreadful purpose that is deliberately never properly explained. In Children Of The Stones the purpose of the mass affliction of all the villagers is never revealed – this emphasises the alien nature of the attack and increases the dramatic threat it poses. Ultimately science, logic and reason are utilised by Adam Brake and his son to destroy the source of power and finally escape from the village. In a brief epilogue we see a local businessman enter the village to enquire about the purchase of the house previously owned by the squire – and the businessman is played by Iain Cuthbertson while the estate agent is John Woodnutt. The implication here is that the celestial power has not been destroyed after all and the cycle could begin again. All in all, this is one of the very best examples of that curious hybrid of science fiction and the supernatural made for children in which ITV excelled during the 1970s.


Stig Of The Dump.


Technically, this serial is not ‘science fiction’ but the central concept – a Neolithic youth is discovered in a rubbish dump by Barney, a small boy on holiday with his grandparents – is sufficiently strange for me to justify its inclusion here. Besides, it is one of my personal favourites and this applies to both versions; the original version from 1981 made for ITV and the remake from 2001 made for the BBC. Those ancient stone circles, this time situated around Glastonbury Tor, once again comprise an important aspect of the narrative. The story is known to children (and many adults) everywhere as a classic book by Clive King. The two adaptations made for television differ considerably. The first remains faithful to the book in every respect. Readers will recognise the characters, the incidents and the chronological flow of the narrative. The second retains all the original characters but populates the story with additional personnel in order to accommodate extra scenes and events added to the original plot. The gentle surrealism of the narrative (so expertly contrived by Clive King) is retained, however, so that the supplementary incidents will only be apparent to viewers sufficiently familiar either with the book or the first televised version of the story.


The 1981 version for ITV is adapted by Maggie Wadey and directed by Richard Handford with Keith Jayne as Stig. This was a stroke of genius by the casting director since this young actor would already be familiar to viewers who had seen Survivors (in the episode Corn Dolly with New Zealand actor Denis Lill), Rumpole Of The Bailey, The Onedin Line or the Doctor Who story The Awakening (in which Denis Lill also appears). Here we are treated to a tour de force of acting since he has no actual dialogue, only rudimentary, vowel heavy guttural sounds that serve as an imagined approximation of Neolithic speech. So successful and so popular did his performance become that, to many people, Keith Jayne will forever be associated with Stig just as Tom Baker is the archetypal Doctor Who.


For the BBC variant 20 years later, Peter Tabern both produced and adapted the story, extending it considerably with the addition of new scenes and incidents but written in the style of Clive King. Directed by John Hay it features veteran actor Geoffrey Palmer as the grandfather (a character mentioned but never seen in the ITV version) and Stig is given a sympathetic portrayal by Robert Tannion. However, the voice of Stig is by Nick Ryan, presumably because Tannion was unable to speak coherently (in any language) due to the formidable prosthetic surgery applied to his face in order to give his features a genuine Neanderthal appearance. Whereas Barney investigates Neolithic history in a library book in 1981, in this modern version he looks up Neolithic men via the Internet on his computer. Barney is played in the BBC version by Thomas Sangster who (looking much older) appears in the 2006 Doctor Who story The Family Of Blood. Phyllida Law also deserves credit for her profoundly stoic performance as the long suffering grandmother.


Both television adaptations reveal considerable merit. The fox hunting scene subjects the hunters to ridicule but with delicious restraint in the former version as Stig allows the fox to escape. In the 2001 variant, the same scene loses this understated satire since the participants engage in a drag hunt (where the ‘victim’ is a young human runner). The second version is definitely the more exciting and entertaining of the two while the first version features a slightly superior portrayal of Stig, thanks to the magnificent performance of Keith Jayne. However, Tannion is still able to provide a highly original and emotional caveman due to the flexibility of the prosthetic make-up that allows him facial expressions. No rational or scientific explanation is attempted to account for the existence of Stig in 20th century Britain. This definitely adds an aura of continual mystery to the drama denied to the remake in which we witness Stig transported back to Neolithic times via a stone arch on the last day of summer. However, the extra scenes (not written by Clive King in the original book) are by turns dramatic, exciting and humorous. One odd contribution to the remake is the inclusion of a family drama that concerns Barney, his mother and her separation from his father. Barney clearly finds the separation of his parents difficult to tolerate while his sister appears grudgingly resigned to the situation. This is (almost but not quite) justified by a much later scene in which Barney realises Stig desperately seeks to return to his own parents, especially his father. Personally I recommend both versions as a set – two variations on a splendid original theme.


The Tomorrow People.


The Tomorrow People is beyond doubt the most eccentric and even surreal series ever created for British television. The stories were often utterly preposterous and the dialogue frequently bizarre. The creator and primary writer of this oddly appealing series (in both its incarnations) is Roger Price, whose aggressive hostility toward authority and capitalist greed are rarely far below the surface of any of the stories; indeed they are often blatantly displayed as an integral aspect of the scripts. This remains a production seriously flawed by the uneven quality of its scripts, by occasionally clumsy acting by some of the younger participants and by a failure to utilise the resources available in the form of both actors and alleged special powers granted to them. There are moments – and they are all too frequent – when attempts at slapstick comedy are inserted incongruously into stories with the result that the scripts become muddled and the plot development emotionally unstable. In fact, this is probably the primary reason why the series never attained one its desired intents, namely to usurp Doctor Who from its place of superiority over all other such childrens’ programmes. All of this is unfortunate because there are also young actors who rose to the challenge and provided superb portrayals, particularly Elizabeth Adare and Nigel Rhodes, each of whom are excellent and manage to give consistently fine performances despite the often daft plots and inept scripts.


The Tomorrow People is the name invented for themselves by a small group of teenagers who discover they have special powers. These include telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation (which they refer to as ‘jaunting’). This is balanced by a total inability to kill other human beings, even to defend themselves. They realise they represent the next stage in human evolution. Their technical name is homo superior, to differentiate themselves from homo sapiens (which they refer to, not always charitably, as ‘saps’). When a young person first begins to realise he or she is different from ordinary people, this often adopts the form of hearing voices and they are then in the process of ‘breaking out’. Once this is achieved, it becomes imperative to bring that person to The Lab, a secret laboratory hidden in a derelict and never used tube train station underneath central London. This bizarre place is presided over by a biological computer known as TIM (voiced by Philip Gilbert). This was constructed following instructions telepathically broadcast to John, the first of the tomorrow people on Earth.


Armed with this superb scenario, the programme could hardly fail to become a success. Indeed, but for the caveats mentioned earlier, this could easily have become a serious rival to Doctor Who. Seasons 1, 2 and 3 were produced by Ruth Boswell which may account for the generally serious nature of the stories. Season 4 was produced by Roger Price and it includes the only story from the 1970s incarnation of the series which he did not write. Seasons 5, 6, 7 and 8 were produced by Vic Hughes. Ruth Boswell was the script editor for Season 4. Add to this the frequent changes in personnel with regard both to directors and main actors and we have another reason for the turbulent history of the series with its associated imbalanced story content and script quality.


Nick Young plays John, the oldest and first of the Tomorrow People, who is not only their leader but also the only actor to appear in all eight seasons of the series. West Indian child actor Stephen Salmon plays Kenny, the youngest of the tomorrow people and, allegedly, the one with the most advanced powers. However, after the first story, no further reference is made to this – indeed he spends most of the remaining stories kept in the laboratory to play with protractors and compasses while the others jaunt away into exciting adventures. Dean Lawrence plays Tyso, the young son of a gypsy family, who is introduced in season three but, (presumably along with Jamieson), is sent to the galactic trig at the end of season four. Like Kenny, his character is generally restricted to the lab where he is given even less to do than his predecessor (not even a set square or ruler to play with). The final minor character to appear in the series (seasons seven and eight) was Nigel Rhodes who played a young Scottish miscreant Andrew Forbes. Of this minor trio started by Kenny and Tyso, Forbes is easily the most successful, not only because Rhodes was easily the most competent actor of the three (in fact, he is the most competent actor of all the tomorrow people) but also because, unlike the previous incumbents, his character was given plenty to do and plenty to say so the character could develop further and integrate himself into the stories.


Peter Vaughan Clarke plays Stephen Jamieson who remained a central character but was sacked by Roger Price at the end of season four for reasons that remain unknown. This was a major blow to the programme, especially among the voluminous and vociferous teenage female fan base! Unlike all the other characters who left the series, no mention of or reference to his departure was written into the script after he left so that his absence at the start of season five seems mysterious and unaccountable. So he represents the first half of the series. For Seasons 4 to 8 his place was taken by Michael Holloway playing Mike Bell, a working class council estate lad (whom these days we would call a chav), possibly to retain the interest of the teenage girls but also to remove some of the cloying middle class bias among the central characters of the programme. Holloway provided an added bonus to the series since he was the drummer of a boy band called Flintlock (the only such band to date whose members could actually play their instruments and write their own music and lyrics) who had already achieved a degree of success both in the pop charts and on television prior to joining the intrepid gang of homo superiors.


Sammie Winmill plays Carol, who only appears in season one. Her character was never fully developed and while she was one of the more competent actors in the programme, she could not be persuaded to remain with the series. Her place was taken by African actress Elizabeth Adare who plays Elizabeth, a young student school teacher, who first appeared in season two and remained for the rest of the series. Indeed, Miss Adare provided a focal point for the series and was the most important female character in its entire history. Japanese actress Misako Koba plays Hsui Tai from season six onwards although she is not given very much to do in the three stories in which she appears. Using a Japanese actress to play a Chinese woman may appear somewhat naughty but given the scarcity of any oriental actors in Britain at this time, credit must be given to the programme makers firstly for introducing an oriental character into the show anyway and secondly for at least using someone of south east Asian origin. One can only imagine, with grim foreboding, how the makers of Doctor Who would have dealt with the situation! Nevertheless, there was only usually one female tomorrow person in action during a story. When Hsui Tai is introduced, Elizabeth is ensconced in the infamous galactic trig – in fact Miss Adare was pregnant at the time and so was absent from the programme to give birth to her baby so the scripts were tailored to allow for her temporary disappearance. Miss Koba was thus introduced to fill the role of the female contingent until Elizabeth returned. In fact throughout the series, it was usually the boys who participated in most of the action so the female fans would have to wait until the 1990s before they could watch young women being dynamic and forceful on screen.


Season One – 1973.


The Slaves Of Jedikiah – written by Roger Price and Brian Finch; directed by Paul Bernard. Here we are introduced to Stephen Jamieson, one of the most important Tomorrow People characters, in the process of ‘breaking out’. There’s also a large green alien who turns out to be a rather benign character, unlike Jedikiah (played by veteran character actor Francis De Wolff), his rather neurotic shape shifting robot. The story also introduces us to Ginge and Lefty, the two most useless, dim witted and thoroughly third rate bike gang members ever – but they still end up as friends of the tomorrow people which begs the question: if these examples of the tomorrow people require the assistance of the most utterly crap hells angels in the world then evidently these members of homo superior still have a long way to travel along the evolutionary road.


The Medusa Strain – written by Roger Price and Brian Finch; directed by Roger Price. In this tale we are introduced to Richard Speight as Peter, a young time guardian, who has been kidnapped by a space pirate who also discovers the remains of Jedikiah (the shape shifting robot from the previous story) drifting in space and rescues it. Speight is out of his depth in this absurdity and his acting simply cannot match the surrealism of either the sets of the script. To be fair, he redeems himself with a far stronger performance as Roy Briggs in Sky. Sammie Winmill gives easily her best performance in this story even though she spends much of it imprisoned in a Perspex cylinder.


The Vanishing Earth – written by Roger Price and Brian Finch; directed by Paul Bernard. We encountered John Woodnutt as the sinister butler in Children Of The Stones; here he is an alien hidden under a white pointed hood (the resemblance to the ku klux klan was probably intentional) but this superb character actor is rather wasted on this absurd frolic (about an alien who deliberately causes earthquakes and volcanoes in order to mine a rare mineral from the Earth crust) although Kevin Stoney (as galactic police officer Steen) manages to rise above this nonsense and commit a convincing performance to videotape as usual. Poor Stephen Salmon spends almost the entire story being ordered to stay behind in the lab with little more than a Woolworths geometry set for company while everyone else jaunts off to do all the exciting stuff.


The reliance of stories centred around daft aliens with dreadful dress sense detracts from some interesting questions posed by scripts which could, in more capable hands, be highly intriguing. As it stands, the first season of stories epitomise unfulfilled potential. Hells angels as friendly, decent people; aliens as benign and gentle beings; the Earth threatened by ecological catastrophe while the mass of humanity remain indifferent; all these concepts could have been explored intelligently but instead are just hinted at while Roger Price enjoys himself in hours of self indulgent fun often at the expense of the audience. This was therefore not an auspicious start to the series touted as the first serious rival to Doctor Who.


The introduction of a young black working class boy (Kenny) as one of the main characters was a bold and brave move in British television in 1973; certainly the powers behind Doctor Who (for instance) were unable or unwilling to challenge the institutional racism of the media in so dramatic a manner at this time. What an utter shame, therefore, that the production team possessed insufficient courage to persevere with the character and use him properly. True, his acting ability was questionable but, to be fair, it was no worse than that of Peter Vaughan Clarke at the time but whereas Clarke was given the time and the material with which to hone and improve his skills, Stephen Salmon was virtually ignored and, by the end of the series, was simply written out of it, i.e. he was sent to the galactic trig, the fate of all those child actors with whom Roger Price lost patience or became bored. Salmon left the media in disgust after this and went to work for the post office. Let us hope he was at least able to lose a few of Prices’ letters in the sorting office – after all, petty revenge is better than no revenge at all.


Season Two – 1974.


The Blue & The Green – written and directed by Roger Price. Gang warfare in school and violence in the classroom formed the primary motivation for this story and as such it is the first script we may regard as memorable and sufficiently intelligent to merit repeated viewing. The title refers to the badges given out to students at the secondary school attended by Stephen Jamieson. Pupils are asked to choose either blue or green badges. Once this is done, they begin to develop an irrational hatred of anyone wearing a different colour badge to their own. This is clearly a commentary on the green (catholic, nationalist) and orange (protestant, loyalist) of Scotland and Ireland (indeed an actual reference to this appears in the script). However, the basic idea and even the choice of colours originates from an actual incident that occurred during the collapse of the Roman empire and this again is mentioned in the dialogue during the story. Unfortunately Price finds it expedient to bring in an extra terrestrial element and from that moment the story loses much of its power. Jason Kemp plays the alien who masquerades as a schoolboy and Ray Burdis also enjoys himself as one of the class members in his first television appearance before he became renown in various soap operas. Kemp first appeared on television as King Edward 6th in Episode 1 of Elizabeth R, a magnificent serial broadcast by the BBC in 1971 that depicted the life of Queen Elizabeth 1st. In this story we are introduced to a different Elizabeth – this one is a new tomorrow person who breaks out in spectacular style: the realisation of what she is nearly causes her mental breakdown. However, within minutes of entering The Lab, she suddenly accepts knowledge of teleportation, extra terrestrials and even the dreaded galactic trig with bizarre equanimity. This momentary lapse of consistency is the kind of clumsiness that afflicts most of the stories in the seventies version of the series.


A Rift In Time – written and directed by Roger Price. This strange tale includes the second appearance of Richard Speight as Peter the time guardian although there is a marked improvement in his acting here. There is also an early appearance of Peter Duncan (as a boy slave, Cotus) who later moved onto more prestigious pastures, first in Space 1999 and as a regular minor character in Survivors and finally as a presenter in Blue Peter. A group of militaristic people travel back in time and introduce an English village to the delights of steam engines during the Roman occupation. As a result, space travel is achieved by the 19th century and the entire solar system is governed by the Roman empire. Our intrepid heroes must destroy all knowledge of this and return the Earth to its original time line. In an early episode, our team meet Professor Cawston (Brian Stanion) who becomes the first sap allowed to become aware of the existence of The Tomorrow People. He is paid to study unusual mental abilities in people such as extra sensory perception and telekinesis (you can almost imagine the public reaction to this – the things they awarded grants to in those days – typical labour government wasting the taxpayers money etc) and his character makes further appearances in later stories. Character actress Sylvia Coleridge makes a regrettably brief appearance as Professor Freda Garner, an eccentric archaeologist. She does return in a later story, however. She resurrected the role (this time in the guise of a botanical artist) in a Doctor Who story The Seeds Of Doom in 1976 and also appears as Mrs Butterworth in the magnificent Survivors episode A Little Learning. However, her most intriguing role was as the desperately pious and fanatical Christian proprietor of a shop selling religious artefacts in the BBC adaptation from 1971 of Jude The Obscure by Thomas Hardy. Rarely has such a thoroughly despicable and odious character been played with such conviction. Ms Coleridge merits far more credit for her skills than she has so far received.


The Doomsday Men – written and directed by Roger Price. This is beyond doubt the first really strong story of the series and the absence of aliens or bug eyed monsters is no doubt a contributing factor to its success. The central conceit here is that a public school is the centre of operations for a secret society pledged to ensure that the glory and honour of warfare is promoted, even to the extent of physically sabotaging peace conferences and preventing disarmament treaties. The school is situated in Scotland and we learn that its headmaster and teachers celebrate wealth, privilege and the encouragement of military pursuits. In fact, the deliberate implication here is that all public schools train their pupils to become supporters of militarism and defenders of wealth, privilege and the oppression of ordinary people, both in the third world and here at home. Typically Roger Price shovels on his political messages with all the subtlety of a JCB but in this case one can hardly blame him since his targets deserve nothing less. Roger Gipps Kent plays Frazer, the schoolboy friend of Jamieson when he jaunts to the school as an undercover agent. Kent acquits himself well and as a result of his fine performance here he was cast in the infamous Tom Baker era Doctor Who story The Horns Of Nimon alongside Graham Crowden in 1978. Chinese actor Eric Yeung (listed as Eric Young in the credits) plays an astronaut whose life is saved by The Tomorrow People when his lifeline breaks and he becomes detached from the space station Damocles on which he works. The rescue itself is pure Dada: Stephen and John (ably assisted by a matter transporter kindly provided by TIM) send a Bedford van into space to collect the astronaut before he suffocates.


The Blue & The Green and The Doomsday Men are a generally excellent pair of stories and represent the primary reason this is remembered as the first classic season in the series. By this time there were two Tomorrow People books published, both written by Roger Price. The Visitor (published in 1973 and co-written by Julian Gregory) features the first quartet of homo superior but even here, Kenny is given very little of any substance either to say or do. Once again a military establishment is included as an excuse for Price to attack a particular bête noir. The story is simple: the quartet seek to return to his father an alien child stranded on Earth. In the second book, Three In Three (1974), Kenny and Carol have been banished to the galactic trig and Elizabeth has joined John and Stephen. The Man Who Knew Too Much concerns a physicist who discovers how to make a small black hole, realises this could be used as a terrible weapon and then tries to evade various foreign powers who search for him in order to gain access to the knowledge. An especially enjoyable romp is the second story, The Great Mothers Of Matra, in which we encounter living teddy bears and giant women who have granted themselves immortality at the cost of becoming sterile. In The Guru we witness the third and final return of Jedikiah, a singularly unappealing and uninteresting character for which Prices’ enduring fascination remains unaccountable.


Season Three – 1975.


Secret Weapon – written by Roger Price; directed by Stan Woodward. Throughout the entire series, we are reminded frequently that the primary reason The Tomorrow People must keep their identities unknown to the world at large is because governments and military establishments would seek to use such people as weapons against foreign countries. Indeed this is just what happens when Colonel Masters (played by Roger Bannister), the leader of a military research establishment, kidnaps Tyso and Stephen then holds them to ransom in order to secure the services of Professor Cawston for their work. Frank Gatliff provides a wonderfully sympathetic performance as Father O’Connor, a catholic priest who runs a centre for homeless boys. It would have been easy (and expected) for Price to portray Colonel Masters as a callous, selfish, power hungry thug. It is therefore to the writers’ credit that despite being ruthless and even cruel, the primary motivation behind the actions of Masters is a desire only to protect Britain from the military might of communist countries that he is convinced, rightly or wrongly, constitute a genuine threat to the nation. This is the story that introduces us to Tyso, the gypsy boy destined to become the fourth tomorrow person and an unfortunate replacement for Kenny; in future stories, he will lose count of the number of times John tells him to ‘stay behind’ in The Lab without even a protractor to play with. Here he spends most of the story asleep in a transparent plastic box with only an equally comatose Stephen for company.


Worlds Away – written by Roger Price; directed by Vic Hughes. This is the first time in the series when we actually see Philip Gilbert, the voice behind TIM. Here appears as Timus Irnok Mosta, ambassador to the galactic federation. He made appearances in many future stories because his over the top melodramatic performance proved so popular with viewers. A running jape here is that he has no idea how people on Earth dress and he is always given advice by Kenny – but naturally each time he appears, his attire is ever more eccentric and outrageous. Perhaps Roger Price realised Stephen Salmon would seek retribution for his shabby treatment by the production team and this was his attempt to stop his letters being misdirected or dropped in puddles. The story (aliens enslave a planet and prevent its people from using their natural telepathic powers) is otherwise forgettable, despite nice performances from Keith Chegwin as Arkron and splendid Australian actor Reg Lye as Vanyon. Lye appeared in a 1967 Patrick Troughton era Doctor Who story The Enemy Of The World and also made two appearances in the seventies series Thriller.


A Man For Emily – written (for reasons known only to God) by Roger Price; directed (in spite of it all) by Stan Woodward. It seems every science fiction series has one story that is universally loathed and despised by its fans. In Doctor Who it was Ghostlight, a truly dreadful concoction of cod Victorian drivel from 1989 that is best forgotten. In The Tomorrow People the story in which future Doctor Who incumbent Peter Davison made his screen debut is that which nearly all its fans implore the gods of the universe to airbrush out of history. It is easy to see why: an absolutely abysmal performance by Margaret Burton is poured all over a truly preposterous tale devoid of logic, suspense, interest or sense. There is a brief appearance by Bill Dean as a greengrocer. He will be remembered as the elderly warden in Scum (Roy Minton and Alan Clarke, 1979) and also as a hapless criminal in The Sweeney. Davison somehow manages to acquit himself well as a space travelling cowboy. His wife, Sandra Dickenson, plays his sister and she also does credit to her acting abilities despite being dragged into the abyss by a script that really should have been taken into the car park and shot like a dog.


The Revenge Of Jedikiah – written by Roger Price; directed by Vic Hughes. Quite why Price found the character of Jedikiah so enduring remains a mystery. In any case, this is far better script than either of the previous stories in which this shape shifting robot was featured. An intriguing feature of this story is that Jedikiah adopts the form of Stephen which obliges Peter Vaughan Clarke to play himself as Stephen Jamieson and as Jedikiah impersonating Stephen Jamieson. The subtle differences between the two roles are difficult to portray in a convincing manner and yet Clarke manages to achieve this with a fair degree of success. For once, Tyso is allowed out of The Lab, albeit only for a few brief scenes. At the end of this tale, Jedikiah is turned into a tramp and sent out to roam the streets of London in abject poverty for the rest of his life. All four tomorrow people are whisked away to the galactic trig for their own safety.


From a stark and grim exploration of the military mind to the wretched absurdity of space cowboys, this season was the most uneven in terms of quality. Only Secret Weapon stands the test of time although the early episodes of The Revenge Of Jedikiah are memorable, primarily for the performance by Peter Vaughan Clarke.


Season Four – 1976.


One Law – written by Roger Price; directed by Leon Thau. The success of this story is that it dispenses with aliens, bug eyed monsters or fantastic conceits; instead we encounter another pet target of Roger Price: the aristocracy. A peer of the realm (Lord Dunning played by Harold Kasket) runs a chain of betting shops and casinos. He employs nasty (but typically dim witted) thugs to collect the profits from his enterprises, one of whom (Two Tone) is played by the ever excellent John Hollis who also appeared in A For Andromeda with Peter Halliday, the Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who story The Mutants and an episode of Blakes’ Seven called Powerplay. Hollis has one of the strangest accents of any actor I’ve seen – it’s a curious amalgam of south London, German and Australian. This story heralds the arrival of a new tomorrow person in the form of Mike Bell (played by Michael Holloway) who reveals a previously unseen talent among the members of homo superior who inhabit The Lab: the ability to open doors regardless of the kind of lock used. Veteran Irish actor Patrick McAlinney plays Mr O’Reilly, a pensioner who lives on the same council housing estate as Bell who opens his front door for him after he accidentally locks himself out of his flat. McAlinney became a familiar face on British television during the 1960s with appearances in Z Cars and various situation comedies. Bell is soon targeted by Dunning for ambitious bank robberies in which he is forced to co-operate when his mother and sister (played by Debbie Thau, the directors’ daughter) are held captive as prisoners by our noble lord. The intervention of the other Tomorrow People fails to prevent Bell from having his revenge on Dunning and his thugs in this powerful study of poverty and violence, neither of which are ever exaggerated or gratuitously emphasised. Apart from very occasional forays into slight melodrama and exaggerated vocal delivery, Holloway handles the part well and, once settled into the programme, proves himself a capable actor.


Into The Unknown – written by Jon Watkins; directed by Roger Price. In various magazine interviews almost all the main cast members have complained about this story, not for reasons of controversy or absurdity (the usual contenders for dissention among the actors and fans) but for sheer boredom. In fact this is really a four part story in which virtually nothing happens. In a Jean Paul Sartre manner, I find this tale remarkably appealing but I am definitely in a minority here. Humanoid aliens from a distant star system are detected and our quartet (John, Elizabeth, Mike and Stephen) investigate. It transpires there is a battle for power on their home planet and, bizarrely, the leaders of the factions are all stuck inside this spaceship and its associated escape pod. Once again these aliens, while sufficiently evolved to have developed interstellar travel, still elect to govern their planet in accordance with a strict totalitarian form of fascism – but don’t worry, by the end of the story The Tomorrow People will convince them that parliamentary democracy is the only viable form of government since that is what we have here in Britain (therefore it must be the best way to run a country, obviously). Shall I list all the reasons why, in fact, the preposterous system of government we have in this country is neither democratic nor successful? Well, since I’ve done that in other essays on our website, I shall (grudgingly) avoid doing so here. Watkins does provide an intriguing idea here: if you could travel through a worm hole in space, what would happen? These entities exist in theory and in 1976 the concept was popular among astrophysicists. Such an uneventful script does give the central characters time to establish their personalities and interact. Also, there is considerable suspense in the narrative despite the absence of significant action sequences. By the way, in case you wonder why it’s only a quartet who jaunt into the adventure, that’s because Tyso has been told to stay behind in The Lab...throughout the entire story. Perhaps Kenny had left behind a set square and the galactric trig ordered Tyso to find it for him.


With two dramatic and highly contrasted stories to comprise this season, the series appeared set to consolidate its strengths. However, Peter Vaughan Clarke had become an accomplished actor by this stage and viewers had come to accept him as an equal to Nicholas Young. Therefore it is ironic that not only was he sacked from the series but he was forbidden even to visit Young and Ms Adare in the television studio. To this day, nobody has discovered quite what Clarke is supposed to have done to warrant such disgusting and unacceptable treatment.


Season Five – 1977.


The Dirtiest Business – written by Roger Price; directed by Vic Hughes. Both Stephen and Tyso are absent – Tyso is mentioned in the script (another victim of the galactic trig) but Stephen never receives a single acknowledgement; he has, it appears, been totally airbrushed out of tomorrow people history. That caveat aside, this is otherwise one of the most successful stories in the entire series with a highly emotional narrative that concerns a young Russian woman who goes temporarily absent without leave when she is taken to England. She is a telepath and probably a fledgling tomorrow person. She has the ability to record detailed information and remember it all like a tape recorder and camera combined. This quality makes her extremely valuable to the Russian government and also highly desirable to the British secret service as a potential weapon. A clandestine British paramilitary group kidnap her from the Russians and attempt to extract the information stored in her head. The Tomorrow People discover her existence and seek to rescue her – but, for once, even their formidable abilities cannot match the devious devices and cunning abilities of the Russian and British military, whose actions result in the death of the wretched woman since her commanding officer is able to trigger a bomb surgically implanted in her head to prevent her ever revealing her knowledge to a foreign power in the event of her capture. Thus we realise she could probably never have escaped into freedom no matter what homo superior tried to do for her. Mike is absolutely distraught at the manner in which this Russian teenager, an unwilling tool in the hands of the military, has been sacrificed by the callous brutality of both the Russians and the British. Any previous doubts concerning the acting ability of Michael Holloway up to this point would have been utterly quashed by his superb performance at the denouement of the parable.


A Much Needed Holiday – written by Roger Price; directed by Richard Mervyn. An appearance by Timus Irnok Mosta, ambassador to the galactic federation, allows us to see Philip Gilbert again rather than merely be the voice of TIM, the faithful if somewhat petulant computer. Our intrepid trio are taken to a planet where the children of a village are enslaved by an alien race and forced to extract diamonds in underground mines. Guy Humphries as Trig, one of two boys (the other is Trog) rescued by our heroic trio, is memorable (the scene where he is trying to grapple with the English language is particularly enjoyable) but otherwise this is one of the weaker stories of the season. One assumes his name has no relation to the infamous galactic trig. The choice of names by Price for his characters was often rather eccentric.


The Heart Of Sogguth – written by Roger Price; directed by Vic Hughes. This is the first occasion in the series when the musical ability of Holloway forms an integral aspect of a story. The other four members of his group Flintlock are also featured in the tale. The heart of Sogguth is an ancient African drum which, when played in a certain rhythm at a specific tempo can summon Sogguth himself. He is portrayed an ancient psychic force responsible for various demonic myths and legends in all the various religions of the world. A university professor who secretly leads the a clandestine cult pledged to worship Sogguth offers to be the manager of the pop group (called Young Hearts in the story) and he uses their music as the means by which to summon Sogguth. Elizabeth excels herself in this bizarre little tale which is assisted by some memorable music, particularly the moody instrumental used to summon the deity. It also proves that Flintlock, unlike every other boy band, can not only play their instruments but play them to a competent technical standard. Regrettably none of the music used in this narrative is yet available on CD.


In the novel Four In Three by Roger Price (1975), this story (with the same title as the televised version) is the third of three separate yet linked tales that constitute the third book published to accompany the series. The part of Mike in the televised version is here given to Stephen. These stories were written in 1975 and were published as ‘new’ tales not previously seen on television so the line up then was John, Stephen, Elizabeth and Tyso. It is the only occasion when any part of a novel was later used as a television script. The first story is The Invasion Of Earth. This tale was presumably awarded an intentionally clichéd title since the Earth never is invaded; indeed The Tomorrow People manage to invade the alien spacecraft and subvert the intentions of its inhabitants by turning them away from colonialism and conquest. In Time Waits we are treated to a rather tedious tale of two refugees from an alien world based upon a technocratic state which combines the Brave New World of Aldous Huxley with a totalitarian monarchy. The final book from this series is the novelisation of One Law (1976) which adheres fairly closely to the television script except that the police inspector is less ridiculous and, subsequently, more convincing.


Despite the success of this season – 3 intelligent and articulate stories, each imbued with a social or political commentary – the unexplained absence of Peter Vaughan Clarke seriously impairs its impact. Poor Dean Lawrence was so scarcely used that his departure from the series is barely noticeable. All the same, there is a welcome decrease in the risible excesses of humourless attempts at comedy that interfere with so many of the stories in previous seasons. This is an error many other writers make when they attempt to create scripts aimed at children. When I was a boy, I wanted more bloodshed, more violence, more grim caves, lonely isolated travellers and more horror – although I did insist that slaves had to be freed and oppressed people had to overthrow their governments. I remember clearly my irritation during certain Doctor Who stories when humorous moments were inserted into the narrative: they were incongruous and I believed (I think correctly) that they insulted my intelligence.


Season Six – 1978.


The Lost Gods – written by Roger Price; directed by Peter Webb. This utterly preposterous story was evidently concocted in order to introduce an oriental character into the narrative and create another tomorrow person. Misako Koba is introduced as Hsui Tai and, despite her precarious grasp of English pronunciation, there is nothing at fault with her acting. Being oriental, the girl obviously has to belong to some bizarre religious sect that is an incongruous amalgam of Buddhism and voodoo. Could she not simply have been a secretary who worked for Radio Rentals in Ealing? The story does possess one factor that renders it interesting: the choice of supporting actors, namely the inclusion of Burt Kwouk as a junior priest, Robert Lee as the head priest and the use of genuine Chinese actors and actresses for the rest of the temple inhabitants. Because Elizabeth Adare was on maternity leave during the first half of this season, Misako Koba was drafted in to provide a female tomorrow person for the series with the advantage that when Miss Adare returned to the programme, Miss Koba was retained and thus, for the first time in its history, The Tomorrow People finally had more than one woman in their ranks.


Hitlers’ Last Secret – written by Roger Price; directed by Leon Thau. Now we enter a narrative that veers dangerously close to surrealism – The Tomorrow People as written by the Monty Python team. First we are asked to believe that a fashion could develop among teenagers for dressing up in nazi drag. True, punks wore swastika armbands and hells angels occasionally sported world war two German helmets but this tale assumes teenagers could desire the acquisition of complete German officer uniforms and, furthermore, that cafes and nightclubs would happily allow youths onto their premises thus attired. This outrageous plot device is used so that the tomorrow people can more quickly discover a secret bunker in Germany inhabited by a group of Hitler Youth members who have imbibed a longevity serum invented by a nazi biologist. These youths are now in their fifties but they still possess the appearance and health of teenagers. Other nazi party members are being kept in suspended animation until the time is propitious to awaken them. Finally, we learn that The Führer himself did not shoot himself in the head in that underground room with Eva Braun but is actually one of the national socialist heroes being kept on ice. The problem is that he was woken up a few decades too soon – had his youthful acolytes waited until 1997, Tony Blair would have rejoiced and by the next election, Herr Hitler would no doubt have been invited to become home secretary (or chancellor perhaps). Anyway, it transpires Hitler is actually a shape shifting alien who is wanted by the galactic trig for crimes against all manner of races and species, including humanity. Michael Sheard renders a convincing portrayal of Adolf Hitler (despite the woefully inadequate script) while Michael Holloway is given the lead role in this story and he acquits himself reasonably well although occasionally it is evident that he has problems giving the ludicrous script the seriousness and gravity it clearly does not deserve.


The Thargon Menace – written by Roger Price; directed by Peter Yolland. Anyone who believed Roger Price incapable of concocting a script that was even more surreal than Hitlers’ Last Secret must surely have experienced a curious amalgam of respect for his ability to excel himself and despair at the prospect of another two whole episodes of Dada. Two humanoid alien petty criminals escape to Earth in a space hopper to evade the intergalactic police who are chasing them. They land on a small island in the Pacific Ocean that is ruled by General Papa Minn, a completely psychotic but highly dangerous military dictator. He is quite evidently a synthesis of Idi Amin (Uganda) and the deposed ruler of Haiti. It is his character alone that makes this story so enjoyable – but only when he appears on screen. The scenes in which he is absent are merely rather tedious. African actor Olu Jacobs plays the character with total straight faced sincerity which makes him all the more simultaneously menacing and hilarious. I have never seen this chap in any other television drama or film before or since – what a waste! The alien teenage tearaways have, instead of a normal self respecting computer (biotronic or otherwise), a kind of glorified glove puppet that looks like one of the muppets after it has been re-interpreted by a designer high on LSD 25. We could, just possibly, assume this to be a consequence of the unhinged personalities of the teenage aliens but once John jaunts onto the police pursuit ship we discover that even they, too, have their own punk rock Telly Tubby no doubt created by the same drug addled designer. Price evidently had become unclear as to what age group his series was directed.


What a profound difference between this season and its predecessor. Although Miss Koba somehow manages to acquit herself adequately during these absurd stories, both Young and Holloway appear (understandably) to struggle with scripts that appear to have been written by someone ready to be sectioned under the mental health act.


Season Seven – 1978.


Castle Of Fear – written by Roger Price; directed by Vic Hughes. Perhaps aware that the previous season was not an unqualified success, Price attempted a return to less bizarre forms of narrative and thus this tale, designed to introduce a fifth member of the Tomorrow People team, despite the inclusion of alien criminals and a hired space ship piloted by a dog person, is still positively conservative by comparison to the stories of the previous year. We are in Scotland again so more jokes about kilts are considered essential to the script. However, here the kilt cliché serves a purpose since the two aliens try to disguise themselves as humans and adopt typical attire so they won’t look suspicious. They encounter Hsui Tai in a rather fetching trouser suit and Bruce Forbes, owner of the local hotel, dressed in traditional highland garb – as a consequence they assume the reason the other guests react strangely to them is because they are men wearing female attire. In fact the real reason is that their manner of speech is highly eccentric – their translator units (small ear attachments like old fashioned hearing aids) are both slightly faulty and also unable to cope with the finer subtleties of the English language. For once, most of the humour in this story is genuinely amusing and is not allowed to interfere with or detract from the main narrative. Andrew Forbes (played by Nigel Rhodes) is the son of the hotel owner and it is his ability to create illusions in the form of visual images that first alerts the other tomorrow people of his existence. Forbes became very popular almost at once and this is entirely due to Rhodes being, even at that young age (around 12 or 13), a highly competent actor.


Achilles Heel – written by Roger Price; directed by Gabrielle Beaumont. The tomorrow people have their special powers denied to them by two alien visitors and, as a result of the disgraceful behaviour of these miscreants, our heroes have just ten minutes to prevent a catastrophe that will affect the entire galaxy. The trouble is, the script is so trivial and the acting so bland that quite frankly, we could not care less – go on, destroy the galaxy, at least we won’t have to endure any more of this drivel.


The Living Skins – written by Roger Price; directed by Stan Woodward. Price returns with a vengeance in this variant of the old fashioned alien invasion plot. Here, rotund spherical beings (that look strangely like oversized party balloons) enter the atmosphere and use their hypnotic powers to persuade clothing manufacturers to create plastic shell suits that are, in fact, the aliens themselves. People start to purchase these brightly coloured, glossy plastic outfits which gradually adhere to and ultimately consume their human hosts. The idea would be disturbing and full of menace except I cannot be expected to take seriously the concept of a person stupid enough to be hypnotised by a balloon. That said, there is some first rate acting here from all the regulars, especially Miss Adare, Holloway and Rhodes. In the scenes where these giant balloons attack ordinary people in the street, I am reminded of both the Doctor Who stories in which the Autons are featured – these are sentient plastic beings able to hypnotise people. Price, of course, is able to ignore the absurdity of the script and go for it, hell for leather...or, in this case, plastic.


Despite Achilles Heel, this is still one of the most successful seasons, primarily because there are two highly entertaining if lightweight stories and a new tomorrow person who is a sheer delight to watch. For example, so convincing is the Scottish accent adopted by Nigel Rhodes that I simply assumed he was a Scot but this is not actually the case. Holloway had calmed down by this stage and honed his role into a more convincing character. Miss Adare proved herself easily the best actress in the entire programme but then most people had already realised this back in season two. The slight tendency of Nicholas Young to over-act can be forgiven since he was often given dialogue that owed more to vaudeville than science fiction.


Season Eight – 1979.


War Of The Empires – written by Roger Price; directed by Vic Hughes. The previous three seasons had adopted short stories in only two parts as the preferred format and, as we have seen, this proved only partially successful. For what was to be the final season, Price reverted to the four part format and as this was the only, it is the shortest season of the series. It was clear that Price had begun to run out of ideas and this is an excellent argument in favour of using more than one writer, especially for a series that ran for so many years. Two alien races, one humanoid (the Thargons with whom we are familiar) and one plant-like (the Sorsons), are engaged in a brutal war with each other. They each attempt to secure Earth as a base for their operations and the Tomorrow People are required to persuade each faction to leave Earth alone and conduct their filthy business elsewhere. The first politician to befriend the aliens (in this case the Sorsons) is the American president who forms a pact in return for advanced military technology which he hopes to use against the Russians and Chinese. There are no actual Americans in this story so, with tedious predictability, we are regaled with a concatenation of accents that run the whole gamut of American states, rambling from Texas to Seattle, often within a single sentence. There is one noble exception to this: Nigel Rhodes, at barely 14 years old, is the only actor who gives us a convincing American accent. He positively glows with brilliance in this story and quite why he never went on to become a famous British actor is a total mystery. Philip Gilbert (in the role of Timus the galactic federation ambassador rather than the disembodied voice of TIM the computer) speaks the very last lines of dialogue heard in this version of the series and that seems somehow appropriate.


So where are they now? Most of the Tomorrow People vanished into obscurity. Stephen Salmon went to work for the post office. Peter Vaughan Clarke gave up acting and became a successful lighting technician for television productions. Mike Holloway continued as a fairly successful minor actor and musician throughout the 1980s and continues to be active in music today. Nigel Rhodes also curtailed what should have been a brilliant acting career and formed a heavy metal band instead – in which he still performs as a guitarist today.


Season Nine – 1992.


The Tomorrow People – written by Roger Price; directed by Ron Oliver. Right from the opening credits we realise this is not going to pay any homage whatsoever to the original series. The music is a generic techno theme of third rate quality which thankfully was only used for this story. However, this was the 1990s and for a while just about every television programme and advertisement used some variant of rave music. TIM has vanished. The Lab has been replaced by a partially submerged spaceship situated on a small island somewhere between Australia and Indonesia. In this five part story we meet Kristian Schmid, an unknown but highly competent Australian actor, as Adam, the first new tomorrow person to grace our screens since Andrew Forbes in 1978. This story introduces us to two other tomorrow people: Kristen Ariza as Lisa, a black American girl (and another fine actress who unfortunately only appears in this one story) and Adam Pearce as the young English boy Kevin who spends the weekend at the luxurious house of his school friend Megabyte. Kevin suffers from bizarre nightmares about Lisa and when he accidentally jaunts to the island one night and returns to his bed dripping with seawater, his American friend known as Megabyte (a name he prefers to Marmaduke, the name his father called him) is bewildered, shocked and just a little jealous of his friends’ strange abilities. Christian Tessier (who plays Megabyte) is in fact Canadian and this is obvious from his accent. His father works for a secret government scientific research establishment which proves useful as a plot device in future stories but in this first story General Damon (American actor Jeff Harding) is perceived as a nasty militaristic boss behind experiments conducted on tomorrow people until, towards the culmination of events, we discover that he is Megabytes’ father and was unaware of the brutality of the experiments conducted by his underlings. At the end of the story, the central characters are thus established and we are ready for the next episodes to hit the screens – but in the event, we had to wait nearly 2 years for them.


What is most patently obvious from this story (apart from the 1990s production values and technical facilities) is the sheer professionalism of the young actors. Tessier, in particular, is highly entertaining to watch and even Pearce, who is only occasionally clumsy in his verbal delivery, still manages to supply a generally convincing portrayal of a young boy who finds himself in possession of strange powers he neither understands nor especially wants, at least initially. My one regret here is that not a single feature of the previous series is retained apart from the special powers of the tomorrow people themselves. The absence of TIM is the most regrettable aspect of this, especially since Philip Gilbert was still active and available as an actor at this time.


Season Ten – 1994.


The Culex Experiment – written by Lee Pressman and Grant Cathro; directed by Alex Horrox and Vivienne Albertine. We are given an unfortunate reminder of the original series when Adam Pearce is bitten by a mosquito early in the first episode and he spends almost the entire story asleep in a coma – Stephen Salmon and Dean Lawrence no doubt sent him sympathetic e-mails along the lines of ‘don’t worry, mate, we know just how you feel’. Pearce, despite his perfectly competent acting, would be dismissed from the programme after this story. Kristen Ariza was replaced by another young black woman, Naomi Harris who, to be honest, is an even better actress. She plays a character called Ami. Many years later she appeared as a central character in the Alex Garland film 28 Days Later and her performance is simply superb. Schmid and Tessier are the only remnants from the original team along with Jeff Harding as Megabytes’ father. This story is memorable due to the presence of three superb British actresses: Jean Marsh (as Doctor Culex), Connie Booth (as Doctor Conner) and Denise Coffey (as Aunt Ruth). Dr Culex is a renegade biologist obsessed with mosquitoes who attempts to steal an organic matter duplicator created by physicist Dr Connor. The character of Megabyte adopts the role played by Ginge in the original series, i.e. the ordinary sap who, although heroic, is primarily retained to provide comic moments. This will change fairly dramatically in the final story. From this tale onwards, new theme music is used which avoids rave references but alas is third rate soap opera dross. Why did they not keep the far superior original music by Dudley Simpson (perhaps in a modern arrangement)? The old adage remains true: if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.


Monsoon Man – written by Lee Pressman and Grant Cathro; directed by Niall Leonard. This must have been a popular story at the time since it was novelised by Nigel Robinson. The premise is so preposterous – an American breakfast cereal magnate forces a British physicist to use his weather making machine to destroy the wheat crops owned by his rival food companies – that it can be dismissed as irrelevant. What holds our attention are two performances in particular: Christopher Benjamin as Doctor Middlemass, the unfortunate physicist and John Judd (most famous for his role as the sadistic prison warder in Scum) as newspaper editor Les Bishop. The character of Colonel Cobb, the breakfast cereal tycoon, is highly entertaining, too. He is played by William Hootkins, about whom I know nothing at all. The names were deliberately referential: Colonel Cobb implies Colonel Kentucky of the fried chicken franchise while Dr Middlemass is a subtle acknowledgement of Dr Quatermass, the most famous creation of British writer Nigel Kneale.


Season Eleven – 1995.


The Rameses Connection – written by Grant Cathro; directed by Roger Gartland. The mythology of ancient Egypt is almost as popular a subject for science fiction drama as the Neolithic stone circles of Britain. The pyramids and their associated gods constitute the central plot of a Doctor Who story from 1976 called The Pyramids Of Mars. A wraith like figure sends a telepathic message to the tomorrow people from 4,000 years ago – it transpires that the young Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun was one of the worlds’ first tomorrow people – to warn them of an impending attack by Rameses who we learn is an alien being who has erected 8 pillars around the world to channel the energy of a star onto the Earth. There is one such pillar in London which we know as Cleopatras’ Needle! However, the real shock for me in this story was the actor who played Sam Rees (an anagram of Rameses) – none other than Christopher Lee. How on Earth did they persuade him to participate in this? Well, if you need an actor to play an Egyptian deity or an alien lord then you require someone with gravitas and dignity so he was an inspired choice, especially because he plays the role with total sincerity. A major disadvantage of the original series is that actors and actresses occasionally played their parts in an attitude of gentle ridicule. By not taking the story seriously, it became difficult to believe in the characters and the programme suffered as a result. When you have an actor of the calibre of Christopher Lee, this is never going to be a problem and it is largely his contribution that is responsible for the success of this story. However, the inclusion of three pantomime characters (who seem to have stepped out of a 1920s childrens’ comic) spoils the cohesion of the narrative. Indeed, their appearance not only does nothing to advance the plot but actually detracts from the flow of events and becomes an irritating interruption to the events.


The Living Stones – written by Grant Cathro; directed by Roger Gartland. The final story of the series (and, to date, the final story of The Tomorrow People – in common with The Monsoon Man, this was novelised in 1995 by Nigel Robinson) is probably the best, despite the narrative being based upon another preposterous concept: a shower of alien plant pods lands on Earth and, when they split, release gaseous beings that infect and take control of their human hosts. The similarity to this plot device with the American film Invasion Of The Body Snatchers must surely not have escaped the writer. The story is bolstered by the inclusion of another couple of illustrious British actresses, Rosemary Leach and Patricia Hayes. In this tale Megabyte discovers that he is actually a tomorrow person himself – which stretches credibility beyond the bounds of belief since, in the very first story, his best friend Kevin (Adam Pearce) was a tomorrow person in the process of breaking out. Now, the likelihood that two friends both discover they are tomorrow people must be astronomical since there appear to be less than a dozen such gifted souls on the entire planet! All the same, Christian Tessier excels himself with some quite superb acting, particularly in the scene where his father, General Damon, who appears to be critically injured, is unconscious on a hospital bed and Megabyte refuses to leave him. Quite why both he and Kristian Schmid are made to adopt bizarre 1940s hairstyles throughout the series (apart from the ponytail monstrosity Schmid sports in the very first story) is never revealed. Perhaps this was just another of the insufferable eccentricities of Roger Price. In any case, it is unfortunate that the series was not allowed to continue as these five stories are each highly enjoyable and most entertaining.


During all five stories of this final season, whenever military or government personnel are on screen, they are generally depicted as slightly stupid, rather violent and definitely not heroic. Even in the final story when the small military detachment seconded to General Damon are portrayed as useful tools on the side of sanity, we are treated to an utterly unconvincing but deliciously delightful squad of British soldiers of the traditional ilk who are led by a nearly psychotic brigadier who merely seeks to be commemorated in the history books as the first military leader to successfully defend the world from an alien invasion. This portrayal is epitomised in a memorable scene where a squad of tanks and armoured cars surrounds the small cottage in which lives the only occupant who has managed to remain unaffected by the aliens. Rosemary Leach as the archetypal harmless old lady steps hesitantly out of her front door, waving a white flag while the entire platoon aims the whole gamut of guns and cannons of every bore. It is a scene that could have been wrenched from a 1975 episode and transplanted 20 years into the future. Roger Price was evidently still very much in control.


Blakes’ Seven.


Most enthusiasts for television science fiction will associate the name of Terry Nation with The Daleks. In fact, the origin of these animated pepper pots who plagued the most famous time traveller in the world is less well known. They owe their design to the work of Raymond Cusick, the primary designer for Doctor Who at this period. However, Nation can take the credit for the best stories in which these metal monsters were featured. More pertinently, his involvement with Doctor Who is awarded far more importance than it merits, not because his contribution was in any manner paltry but because his work for other serials was far superior. He created and wrote many of the scripts for probably the best post-apocalyptic science fiction drama ever broadcast on television, namely Survivors. This serial which ran from 2nd January 1978 to 21st December 1981 was aimed more at an adult audience and is the basis of a separate monograph in which I study the history of ‘end of the world’ stories in television drama.


The target audience for Blakes’ Seven was generally older children although it would now be marginalised as ‘family entertainment’. Indeed, some of its ideas and conceits would appeal more to adults or at least intelligent teenagers with a basic comprehension of science and philosophy. This is interesting since most of the episodes can be watched on a superficial level purely as adventure stories. This is the hallmark of any successful television drama designed to target a family audience, that is to say it should ideally contain elements able to appeal to children, teenagers and adults. The more successful episodes of Doctor Who during the 1970s and virtually all the stories of the 2000s have achieved this. In fact, there are frequent links to Doctor Who since besides Terry Nation as creator and writer, many of the directors and actors involved in Blakes’ Seven had previously been associated with Doctor Who.


There were rarely actually seven members of the crew. The complete personnel consisted of Gareth Thomas as Roj Blake (seasons one and two), Paul Darrow as Kerr Avon, Michael Keating as Vila Restal, Sally Knyvette as Jenna (seasons one and two), David Jackson as Gan (seasons one and two), Jan Chappell as Cally (seasons one, two and three), Steven Pacey as Bev Tarrant (seasons three and four), Josette Simon as Dayna (seasons three and four) and Glynis Barber as Soolin (season four). The voice of Peter Tuddenham was used for Zen (seasons one and two), Slave (season four) and Orac (seasons two, three and four). Thus Paul Darrow and Michael Keating are the only cast members to appear in all four seasons. Indeed, Keating is the only actor to appear in every episode since Darrow was introduced only in episode two of the first season. Jacqueline Pearce received frequent and thoroughly deserved accolades for her superb performance as Servalan while Brian Croucher was memorable for his tortured portrayal of space captain Travis.


Terry Nation wrote all the stories for season one. In this manner he was able to establish the identity for the serial and the personalities of the central characters. Thus consolidated, the programme could then be tendered out to other interested writers who, in accordance with their various skills and interests, were able to advance and increase the wealth of ideas and concepts covered by the serial.


Season One – 1978


The Way Back – directed by Michael Briant. This presents the initial premise (Federation maintains order by keeping citizens drugged and brainwashing any dissidents) that generates the incidents over the next 4 years. Roj Blake is deliberately accused of a crime for which is innocent; his defence attorney discovers evidence to prove this innocence and is promptly murdered by Federation troops. While waiting in a cell for deportation to a prison colony on a distant planet, he meets petty thief Vila Restal and space pirate Jenna Stannis who will become the first members of the ‘seven’.


Space Fall – directed by Pennant Roberts. Notable for the appearance of Leslie Schofield, we encounter the Liberator for the first time, the alien spacecraft in which the fugitives escape. Peter Tuddenham makes his entrance as the voice of a ship computer called Zen. On the prison transport ship we meet murderer Gan and computer expert Kerr Avon who will soon prove to be the most popular character among audiences. The enduring popularity of Paul Darrow in his portrayal of Avon ensured that when Blake disappeared from the series at the end of season two, his departure was hardly missed.


Cygnus Alpha – directed by Vere Lorrimer. Here we are treated to Brian Blessed (who had also appeared in Z Cars, Doctor Who, Survivors and I Claudius) as a psychotic religious leader of a prison planet. As a concept, I have never been convinced by the notion of prison planets. Shipping out criminals to such planets would be prohibitively expensive – surely a government could simply arrange to have its undesirables executed?


Time Squad – directed by Pennant Roberts, who previously directed stories for Doctor Who. Despite this being one of the very weakest and unmemorable stories in the entire series, it is in this convoluted tale that we meet Cally, the telepath from Auron, who is the last survivor of a guerrilla force intent on attacking the Federation. She joins the crew and the gang is complete – for the time being.


The Web – directed by Michael Briant, who also directed stories for Doctor Who. Here we encounter an early investigation into the ethical problems that arise from genetic engineering as a race of partly mechanical beings, the Decimas, have developed their own consciousness and self awareness, complete with emotions. The Decimas were created by scientists descended from Auron, the home planet of Cally. The name of the genetically engineered beings is evidently intended to evoke the association of decimation, of humanity fractured and destroyed; however, it is the Auron scientists whose humanity has been relinquished rather than their failed living experiments.


Seek Locate Destroy – directed by Vere Lorrimer. This includes a typically delicious performance from Peter Miles (familiar from his roles in Doctor Who and Survivors) who seems unable to be less than excellent in whatever role he’s given.


Mission To Destiny – directed by Pennant Roberts. John Leeson, famous for being the voice of robot computer dog K9 in Doctor Who, makes an appearance in this story. He returns in a different in the very last story, Blake.


Duel – directed by Douglas Camfield who only directs this one story in Blakes’ Seven, a suitably militaristic conceit appropriate to his interest and enthusiasm for the army in which he originally served. Oddly, despite his right wing beliefs, he was a frequent director on Doctor Who, a programme recognised for its frequently left wing political bias.


Project Avalon – directed by Michael Briant. The magnificent seven elect to rescue Avalon, a resistance leader, who turns out to be an android programmed by Servalan to release a deadly plague once on board the Liberator. This is a totally daft yet highly enjoyable frolic typical of the early episodes in the series.


Breakdown – directed by Vere Lorrimer. The designer was Peter Brachaki, the man responsible for the design of the original Tardis console in Doctor Who. The episode is awarded additional gloss by the inclusion of class British actor Julian Glover who plays Kayn, a brilliant neurosurgeon whose services the seven require when the limiter (a device planted by Federation surgeons to prevent homicidal tendencies) in Gans’ brain malfunctions. In this episode Avon is seriously tempted to join the scientific team on the huge space station in which Kayn works. By this stage a clear divergence of ideals and beliefs has become apparent between Blake and Avon. Already Blake is no longer simply a dashing hero intent on redressing the injustices meted out by the Federation; he is gradually becoming obsessed with revenge while concocting ever more reckless schemes that place the entire crew in peril.


Bounty – directed by Pennant Roberts. Here we have another episode graced by the appearance of a quality thespian, in this case Irish actor T P McKenna; he plays President Sarkoff, illegally deposed by the Federation despite being officially elected by the population of a planet as their representative, primarily as a result of his hostility to the Federation. Sarkoff is also an antique collector who displays an impressive array of 20th century memorabilia. This is a device used with irritating regularity by science fiction writers whose imagination has temporarily deserted them. Why can’t someone from the 25th century display instead a fascination for 22nd century art or 23rd century literature?


Deliverance – directed by Michael Briant & David Maloney. A small craft crashes onto a planet about which the Liberator orbits so the crew investigate and discover one of the two incumbents seriously injured but still alive. He reveals he is the son of a famous computer scientist currently living in exile on an otherwise deserted planet. Our heroes discover the existence of an amazing computer for which the Federation offered its creator 100,000,000 galactic credits; intrigued, they decide to steal it – whatever it may be.


Orac – directed by Vere Lorrimer. This introduces Orac, the bizarre super computer able to monitor and translate any radio signals sent anywhere in the universe. The machine, voiced by Peter Tuddenham, became sufficiently popular for it to be regarded as a bona fide member of the Blakes’ Seven crew. His first task of note is to project onto the screen a prediction of the near future – to the horror of the assembled crew, they see the Liberator suddenly explode into fragments. This ends season one of the series.


Season Two – 1979


Redemption – directed by Vere Lorrimer. Written by Terry Nation, this commences season two. Alien spaceships pursue and intercept the Liberator. As our heroes are forcibly taken to some high-tech metal monstrosity where slavery is very much in vogue, we discover that the Liberator is actually the property of the people who occupy this space station and, not satisfied with regaining possession of their property, they elect to sentence to death Blake and his crew – who escape (naturally) and are pursued by another ship identical in appearance to the Liberator. Orac links with the computer on board the pursuit ship and scrambles the weaponry system; as a result that ship explodes in space and thus the prediction that concluded the previous season is seen to be fulfilled.


Shadow – directed by Jonathan Miller. Written by Chris Boucher. Here we encounter the Terra Nostra, the futuristic interstellar version of the Mafia and we find that drug dealing is also endemic among space travellers – so, no change there then. Most serials that run for more than a year tend to include a token story about drugs and the portrayal is always ambivalent. A really honest and intelligent writer would present a script in which drugs can be beneficial or, at least, the majority of their users enjoy them immensely, usually without any dangerous consequences.


Weapon – directed by George Spenton-Foster. Written by Chris Boucher. Brian Croucher makes his first appearance as Travis although the character had made brief appearance in earlier stories portrayed by a different actor. John Bennett plays Coser, a minor scientist, disillusioned by the Federation, who has invented a particularly nasty weapon which he takes with him as he flees Federation control. Servalan and Travis pursue him since, like the Mafia, once you work for the Federation, you do not leave that employment except in a coffin. The role of ‘disillusioned rogue scientist stranded or exiled on a distant planet’ constitutes a primary plot device for science fiction scripts and it is used in this series with a frequency that borders dangerously upon cliché.


Horizon – directed by Jonathan Miller. Written by Allan Prior, famous for his scripts for Z Cars and The Sweeney. Seeking a respite from their previous exploits (the crew are now physically and mentally exhausted), they find an obscure planet occupied by primitives, unaware that even here, the Federation have set up a puppet government run by a tame native in a deliberate parallel to the manner in which the British ran small principalities in India during the Raj. The analogy is further emphasised as all the natives of the planet are played by Asian actors including Darien Angadi who was also known for his brief role in I Claudius.


Pressure Point – directed by George Spenton-Foster. Written by Terry Nation. Blake discovers the existence of Control, the central mechanism from which the entire Federation computer network is run. In the belief that its destruction will render the Federation weak and chaotic, the rest of the crew agree to risk its destruction, despite it being guarded by a formidable array of defences. Ultimately they learn that the whole project is a sham for when they have finally gained entry inside the complex, they find merely an empty room. Servalan and Travis have monitored their activities from the moment they landed on the planet where Control was allegedly located. The building complex was housed there to encourage rebel groups to attack it and thus further hide the real location of the central computer network. As the crew flee, Travis hurls a grenade after them and the roof collapses, killing Gan who thus becomes the first of the original seven to die.


Trial – directed by Derek Martinus. Written by Chris Boucher. Peter Miles makes his second appearance in the programme. Travis is placed on trial by Servalan on invented charges, primarily because he is a threat to her plan to assume supreme power over the entire Federation. This is in spite of the fact that Travis is the most loyal of her officers and the most efficient military leader in the Federation. If Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair had a daughter, she would presumably have ended up being not unlike Servalan – except probably nowhere near as physically attractive.


Killer – directed by Vere Lorrimer. Written by Doctor Who stalwart Robert Holmes who concocts an intriguing notion about an alien race who decide they wish to avoid all contact with humanity (which is probably understandable) and so infect an ancient space freighter with a genetically engineered plague that only afflicts human beings once they have travelled in space – thus only space travellers are affected, not ordinary innocent people on Earth or its colonies. The plague is unwittingly transferred to the nearest local planet where the entire population are infected. Servalan tracks Blake and his crew to the planet and pursues them there. This presents our heroes with a quandary. If they simply leave the planet and allow Servalan to land there, she will certainly die – yet there will then be a high risk of future infection of innocent people since nobody will be left alive to warn further expeditions there of the existence of the plague. With extreme reluctance, Blakes’ crew place danger beacons around the planet to warn travellers that it is infected by a deadly plague and thus Servalan, too, has her life saved by their action.


Hostage – directed by Vere Lorrimer. Written by Allan Prior, this includes excellent performances by both Kevin Stoney (already familiar to viewers in Doctor Who and I Claudius) as Joban and John Abineri (famous for his role as Hubert Goss in Survivors) as Ushton. Here we are taken to a planet (whose appearance proves that much of the galaxy looks like one of the many quarries used in Doctor Who) where we meet Blakes’ uncle Ushton in a story written as an excuse for a load of actors to wrestle in mud and dust for 50 minutes – wonderful stuff.


Countdown – directed by Vere Lorrimer. Written by Terry Nation. A sub-plot is introduced here that concerns the only woman Avon ever loved – this theme will return in later stories. The woman was murdered by the Federation and her brother Grant (played by Tom Chadbon) is one of the people who leads a revolution of the indigenous people against the Federation colonists on the planet (which this time does not look like a quarry...well, not much anyway).


Voice From The Past – directed by George Spenton-Foster. Written by Roger Parkes, this is one of the few completely daft episodes whose plot is wafer thin and whose script must have caused the actors considerable chagrin. A famous guerrilla leader returns to contact Blake although the chap is heavily bandaged and so obviously not the man he pretends to be that we wonder just how stupid and gullible the crew really are. Brian Croucher (as Travis, the actual person behind the bandages) tries valiantly to wrest a smidgen of dignity from behind a preposterous script and, to his credit, he almost succeeds.


Gambit – directed by George Spenton-Foster. Written by Robert Holmes. John Leeson (as Toise) makes his second appearance in the programme. Denis Carey provides a typically professional portrayal of hunted cyber-surgeon Docholli while veteran actress Sylvia Coleridge (who appeared in the Doctor Who story The Seeds Of Doom and 2 episodes of The Tomorrow People) plays the croupier in a gambling casino with utter relish. Docholli is one of the few recognised people who knows the location of Star One, the actual computer centre of the Federation so the crew attempt to reach him before Servalan and Travis can silence him permanently.


The Keeper – directed by Derek Martinus. Written by Allan Prior. The crew have learned that the location of Star One is encrypted into an amulet worn by a primitive savage on an undeveloped planet – not the most convincing of plot devices but it does enable Bruce Purchase to enjoy the role of tribal leader with consummate relish.


Star One – directed by David Maloney. Written by Chris Boucher. This concludes season two with the destruction of the Liberator. Blake & Co eventually manage to find Star One. However, before they can cause any damage of their own, they discover that the Federation computer control systems have been gradually breaking down anyway. Aliens from somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy have infiltrated Star One and replaced almost all the technicians with androids in order to sabotage the power complex prior to an eventual invasion of our galaxy. We learn further that Travis, in an obsessive attempt to wreak revenge on Servalan and Blake together, has been working for the aliens for months and it was he who allowed the greasy reptilian beings entrance to Star One initially. Avon shoots Travis dead then the team have to frantically remove all the explosive devices they had originally planted since the defence of humanity must now take precedence over the war with the Federation. The episode closes with the commencement of the intergalactic war.


Season Three – 1980


Aftermath – directed by Vere Lorrimer. Written by Terry Nation. The Liberator, badly damaged in the space war, begins to collapse shortly after the crew evacuate from it; the departure of Jenna (Sally Knyvette) and Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas) is not witnessed because they’ve not only escaped from the Liberator but also escaped from the series entirely although Blake does return in two future episodes. Avon lands on a nearby planet on which live blind scientist Hal Mellanby and his daughter Dayna (Josette Simon) who has taught herself to become a weapons expert. This was a device used to introduce Dayna as a new (and the first black) member of the crew. To be honest, she breathes new life into the series because not only is her character far more interesting (and credible) but also Ms Simon is, frankly, a better actress. We encounter a group of savages indigenous to the planet and their tribal leader is played with wonderful passion by Alan Lake, a British actor renown for belonging to the Oliver Reed school of thespian behaviour, i.e. he’ll be guaranteed to contribute a superb performance but directors hire him at their own risk! For the sad nerds who wish to dribble over their anoraks with delight, there is a brief appearance as a stranded Federation space trooper by Richard Franklin whose most famous television role was playing Captain Mike Yates in Doctor Who. He and his fellow trooper barely have time to speak 2 lines of dialogue apiece before Alan Lakes’ tribe hack them to death on the beach.


Power Play – directed by David Maloney. Written by Terry Nation. This features a typically intriguing performance from John Hollis, recognisable from his roles in A For Andromeda, Doctor Who and The Tomorrow People among many others in which the script requires ‘odd bald man with strange accent’. The Liberator is now in the hands of Bev Tarrant and a crew of Federation troops. Tarrant is a boring young character played by equally boring young actor Steven Pacey. We discover he, too, is on the run from the Federation in the disguise of a troop Captain etc. He joins the crew and, despite the tedious character and equally tedious performance (which, to be fair, does improve later), a new dynamic is introduced since Avon and Tarrant vie with each other for leadership of the crew, a conflict never properly resolved. Meanwhile, Cally has been rescued by a hospital ship and Vila is stranded on Chenga, another primitive planet where injured troops are collected so their internal organs can be removed and donated to Federation fighters. He and Cally are both rescued and returned to the Liberator, naturally, because our heroes are so dashed clever and the series has to continue now the viewer ratings have increased.


Volcano – directed by Desmond McCarthy. Written by Allan Prior. Notable for the inclusion of Michael Gough who, to my knowledge, has never given a performance that is less than brilliant, even when shoved into a piece of old tat like The Avengers. Secreted on a volcanic planet, Gough plays the now familiar role of ‘stranded outlaw scientist’, called Hower. We previously met Coser (designer of the dreadful weapon that kills at a distance), Ensor (the designer of Orac) and Hal Mellanby; we shall meet others before the series ends, too. Well, although the concept becomes a cliché, it’s such a useful plot device that I can appreciate its appeal to the writers. Here Hower leads the small population of the planet who are ardent pacifists of the very worst kind; they are even unwilling to use violence to defend themselves when the Federation attacks the planet for harbouring Blakes’ fugitives. Only Hower himself realises the true threat posed by the Federation and he elects to explode the planets’ largest volcano with a nuclear device that ultimately destroys the entire planet. This destroys many of the Federation ships and also prevents them from possessing a further planet whose people they may dominate and control. This idea was also explored in a very similar manner in the interesting Patrick Troughton era Doctor Who story The Dominators (1968) in which the warlike alien invaders are repelled by the forced eruption of a huge volcano.


Dawn Of The Gods – directed by Desmond McCarthy. Written by James Follett, who clearly wrote this convoluted nonsense on his day off. The Liberator is drawn into a black hole populated by some ethereal deity and...oh forget it, this is the very worst episode in the series and frankly should never have been made: daft script, daft costumes, daft directing and daft acting, this has absolutely nothing to recommend it whatsoever.


The Harvest Of Kairos – directed by Gerald Blake. Written by Ben Steed who, like Follett above, appears not to have been among the first rank of television writers. To be fair, this episode does have one central concept that is interesting, namely a construction worker who was previously the captain of a space fleet but was demoted to obscurity when he came into conflict with Servalan. The supreme commander herself reveals she is attracted to this man who flaunts her authority and refuses to be intimidated by her; ultimately, however, he fails in his plan to secure The Liberator for her and pays the ultimate price. This episode is infamous due its inclusion of the very worst rubber monster ever created for any science fiction programme, including Doctor Who. Temporarily stranded on a planet by Servalan after she has gained possession of The Liberator, our crew find themselves menaced by this bouncing multicoloured cuddly refugee from Toys-R-Us and thus the scene constitutes one of the most amusing moments in the entire history of television science fiction.


City At The Edge Of The World – directed by Vere Lorrimer. Written by Chris Boucher. Besides the welcome inclusion of veteran radio actor Valentine Dyall (the original man in black), we are treated to a typically bombastic but highly entertaining appearance from Colin Baker, who would later become the sixth incumbent to portray the most famous Time Lord in the universe. The difference between this episode, written by a author of class and quality, compared to the previous two stories, is quite profound. Tarrant bullies Vila into teleporting down to the obscure planet Keezarn to utilise his safe breaking skills to obtain crystals from a fortified vault – it’s always crystals, isn’t it? Is New Age mysticism really ever likely to be that popular in the future? Anyway, Dyall plays Norl, one of the noble inhabitants of the planet and a kind of tribal leader. Baker surpasses himself as a slightly psychotic black leather suited character called Bayban, the most wanted criminal in the galaxy, a role he plays with utter relish. Vila meets Kerril, a female gunfighter with whom he enjoys a brief but ecstatic love affair (and about time too).


Children Of Auron – directed by Andrew Morgan. Written by Roger Parkes. Here is more class and quality with Ronald Leigh Hunt, an actor who seems to have appeared in just about every series and serial broadcast on television during the 1960s and 1970s. The action occurs on Auron, home planet of Cally who is briefly reunited with her sister. Servalan concocts a scheme to infect the entire population of the planet with a plague but not before she attempts to use their cloning process to cultivate the growth of children in her own image. Eventually she is forced to destroy the planet along with her own babies as a result of a separate scheme developed by Ginka, one of her ambitious young officers. Ginka is played by Eric Yeung (credited as Ric Young in the story), the Chinese actor who appeared in The Tomorrow People story The Doomsday Men in 1974. In this story we learn of the existence of Anna Grant, the only girlfriend Kerr Avon ever had, who was murdered by the Federation.


Rumours Of Death – directed by Fiona Cumming. Miss Cumming was one of the few female directors working for the BBC at this time. She directed some of the superior stories of Doctor Who. Avon seeks revenge against the unknown murderer of his girlfriend which involves a return to Earth to break into a conference held by Servalan and various government leaders. It transpires Ms Grant is actually Sula, a Federation undercover agent, who cultivated the relationship with Avon and faked her death in order to discover information about a political movement she erroneously believed Avon led at the time. This somewhat contrived scenario does give an opportunity for Paul Darrow to test his mettle as an actor and he rises to the challenge brilliantly – as usual.


Sarcophagus – directed by Fiona Cumming. Written by Tanith Lee. This features a bizarre alien intruder who ventures into the Liberator and infects the minds of the entire crew, especially Cally whose telepathic powers make her particularly vulnerable to psychic attack. It is the cold and bitter cynicism of Avon that ultimately defeats the alien and we realise that by now he has become dangerously neurotic as a result of his experiences fighting the Federation and travelling with the crew through constant peril and emotional trauma.


Ultraworld – directed by Vere Lorrimer. Written by Trevor Hoyle. This intriguing tale concerns an artificial planet constructed to house a gigantic computer designed to lure sentient beings to the interior and then absorb their brains into itself. The crew teleport onto the planet and quickly become victims of this alien intelligence and are saved only by Vila and Orac who between them develop a novel but effective means of attack: Vila teaches a plethora of jokes and riddles to Orac who then proceeds to analyse them – this cerebral activity is monitored by the huge computer brain who, unable to cope with humour, puns, surrealism and the absence of logic associated with them, collapses into chaos which causes the entire planet to implode.


Moloch – directed by Vere Lorrimer. Written by Ben Steed. This curious tale is a considerable improvement on his previous attempt. We are introduced to Deep Roy (famous for his portrayal of the pig brained dwarf in the Tom Baker era Doctor Who story The Talons Of Weng Chiang) as Moloch, a computer generated life form based upon its extrapolation of what human beings will evolve into some two million years hence.


Death Watch – directed by Gerald Blake. Written by Chris Boucher. The Liberator crew enter into orbit around a world on which a dispute between two warring factions is to be resolved in a curiously ancient manner: each side selects a champion to represent them in single combat on a neutral planet. One of the champions is Deeta Tarrant, older brother of Bev. Since the leading judge turns out to be Servalan, foul play is obviously afoot. Millions of spectators around the globe observe the gruesome contest as if it is a major sporting occasion. This episode marks the start of a noticeable improvement in the acting of Steven Pacey, particularly since he plays both brothers.


Terminal – directed by Mary Ridge. Written by Terry Nation. This ends season two with the Blakes’ Seven crew stranded on a deserted planet with no spaceship and no hope of rescue. Servalan has her scientists construct a fake message from Roj Blake, sent out on various wavelengths, aware that Orac will soon intercept it. Avon teleports down to Terminal, an artificial moon placed in orbit around Mars. In extreme haste, Avon flies the ship through a mass of fluid particles that gradually infect the ship and slowly cause it to malfunction. Avon has been led to believe Blake is being held captive on Terminal, injured and about to be subjected to torture by the Federation. Servalan waits until the entire crew are on Terminus before she boards the Liberator – but, too late, she realises the ship is fatally crippled and the last image we see is the destruction of the huge vessel with, presumably, the death of Servalan.


Season Four – 1981


Rescue – directed by Mary Ridge. Written by Chris Boucher. Season three opens with the introduction of a new spacecraft, the Scorpio. This is an economy, made in Hong Kong variant of the Liberator, complete with a wretched computer called Slave. If Zen had been manufactured exclusively for Harrods then Slave was built for sale in Woolworths. Stranded on Terminus, the crew discover Servalan has left a series of explosive charges behind which ultimately destroy the living quarters and kill Cally (who we never see since she left the series after the end of series three). The cheap and nasty spacecraft they discover belongs to a character called Dorian who has found a means by which to prolong his life, albeit at the cost of other people. His girlfriend is another weapons expert called Soolin who joins the crew, thus replacing Cally. The loss of a telepath and the introduction of a second weapons expert leaves the crew with a less varied and therefore less interesting mixture of characters to carry each story.


Power – directed by Mary Ridge. Written by Ben Steed. There are indigenous life forms on Terminus, the Hommiks are descendants of the original spaceship technicians who have devolved into a society of male dominated tribal primitives while the Seska are female telepaths who are waging a constant war with the savages. Despite their intellectual superiority, the Seska have been reduced to just 3 women and their survival is in jeopardy. This notion of descendants from a technological society descending into barbarism and primitive behaviour, splitting into factions at war with each other, was explored in a similar manner in the Tom Baker era Doctor Who story The Face In Evil.


Traitor – directed by David Proudfoot. Written by Robert Holmes. The Federation have discovered a gas called Pylene 50 that reduces its victims to subservient slaves and thus renders any area amenable to subjugation by its troops. The crew teleport down to the planet Helotrix where the gas was discovered and is being used on its population who are being used as test subjects. The role of Federation officer Colonel Quute is played by first rate British actor Christopher Neame in a perfect character study of arrogant disdain and callous indifference to suffering. Neame played a similar character in the Tom Baker era Doctor Who story Shada which, sadly, was never screened due to another strike by typically petulant BBC workers who ought to try working at real jobs such as in supermarkets, hospitals or factories before they start to moan about conditions and pay.


Star Drive – directed by David Proudfoot. Written by Jim Follett. This story is set on Caspar, base of the Space Rats, a kind of interplanetary variant of a hybrid between punks and hells angels. Unfortunately, this gang of ostensibly mean and nasty thugs are so obviously wretched, useless, weak and pathetic that the entire story falls apart at the seams. They even ride around (clumsily) on what look like childrens’ bouncy tricycles. The subplot of a search for a scientist who has discovered a photonic drive that enables ships to travel ultra-fast becomes irrelevant as we all fall about laughing at the absurdity of the daft story, the daft acting and the daft plot. Yes, Mr Follett does it again.


Animals – directed by Mary Ridge. Written by Allan Prior. Kevin Stoney makes his second appearance in the series as Ardus, a minor official of the Federation. Dayna visits Justin, one her tutors when she was a student. Justin has been experimenting with the creation of intelligence enhancement on primitive simian creatures. Servalan appears in this episode. Evidently the character was so popular, the team realised the audience would never tolerate her removal from the series so they devised a highly implausible means of escape from the destruction of the Liberator to account for her continued survival. Josette Simon is given a major role in this story and her consummate acting justifies this decision, particularly in a brutal scene where she is subjected to aversion therapy by Servalan to make her hate Justin. The scientific experiments upon the unfortunate simians could have formed the basis for a much more detailed ethical discourse between the characters but unfortunately this is only partially explored.


Head Hunter – directed by Mary Ridge. Written by Roger Parkes. Lynda Bellingham plays Vena, wife of Muller, a brilliant cyberneticist who has constructed an amazing android – except it turns into a psychotic killer and the rest of the story involves the attempts of the crew to stay alive. An intriguing factor here is the ability of the android to invade and infect the minds of computers, including Orac, which means the crew are required to be especially inventive in their efforts to thwart the android.


Assassin – directed by David Proudfoot & Vere Lorrimer. Written by Rod Beacham. Servalan hires a professional assassin to murder the entire crew of the Scorpio. This highly entertaining story is really a science fiction variant on the murder mystery since we are given to understand that the assassin is a black leather clad character called Cancer, so named because he favours the use of a deadly crab to kill his victims. He has picked up a young female dancer, Piri, who seems to be terrorised by the man. Tarrant quickly develops an attraction for her and vows to rescue her from the evil designs of Cancer. At the denouement we discover that it is Piri herself who is the assassin and the crew only manage to escape execution when Soolin and Tarrant join forces and manage to use the deadly crab against her. There is a small appearance by noted character actress Betty Marsden in this story which exceeded its budget since constant re-takes were required when Jacqueline Pearce and Ms Marsden continually broke down into tears of laughter in their scene together.


Games – directed by Vivienne Cozens. Written by Bill Lyons. This episode is notable for the inclusion of Z Cars stalwart Stratford Johns as Belkov, a computer expert. Johns can also be seen in the Peter Davison era Doctor Who story Four To Doomsday. He has designed his own favourite computer that he calls Gambit with which he plays games almost continuously. The crew, in order to escape from this planet, are required to play various games Belkov has designed, before they can return to the Scorpio. Far more could have been made of this concept, particularly since Gambit appears to be self aware and the machine possesses a personality of its own.


Sand – directed by Vivienne Cozens. Written by Tanith Lee. As an example of hard science fiction, this is quite evidently the best story of the entire series with superb performances from the regular cast, excellent lighting and a genuinely menacing atmosphere. The facile plots and plans of the protagonists (Servalan, her troops and Blakes’ seven) soon become irrelevant as the real star of the show, the shifting green sand that envelopes the entire planet, threatens to consume them all the way white corpuscles eject germs from the bloodstream. The crew investigate the planet Virn which is identified as responsible for a curious energy source. Servalan together with Chasgow her pilot, investigator Reeve and an assistant also seek to discover the nature of this energy source and (perhaps unconvincingly) arrive on the planet around about the same time the Scorpio crew land there. Tarrant and Dayna teleport onto the planet but Reeve injures Dayna in a battle and she is returned to the Scorpio. However, there is a small amount of the green sand on her clothing and this begins to affect the ship adversely. An electrical storm inhibits the function of the teleport system and Orac which leaves Tarrant stranded on the planet. The sand itself is revealed to be sentient and has encouraged people on the planet to breed in order to feed itself with cellular tissue on which it derives sustenance. Of the Federation personnel only Servalan remains, kept alive by the sand since it requires a male and female subject to survive in order to procreate and provide a supply of people for its nourishment. Tarrant and Servalan are rescued by Avon when he realises that the sand is allergic to water. Using the Scorpio computer and Orac, he manages to manufacture an immense series of rain storms over the area of Virn in which Tarrant is trapped. This temporarily inhibits the behaviour of the green sand and allows them to teleport Tarrant back to the Scorpio. Servalan also escapes in her own ship. Once the storm dissipates, the sand revives and continues, largely unharmed and therefore victorious.


Gold – directed by Brian Lighthill. Written by Colin Davis. Comic actor Roy Kinnear plays Keiller, the purser of the Space Princess, a pleasure cruiser being used secretly to transport gold. He is an old acquaintance of Avon who decides his crew could make better use of the gold than the Federation. The gold is mined on the planet Zerok (which is independent of the Federation) but before leaving there, it is transmuted into a near worthless black substance; it must be converted back into gold before it is of any value. Avon and the crew manage to steal the gold in its natural state and engage in a deal for it to be sold to a buyer on Beta 5. The buyer turns out to be Servalan but she hands over the cases full of monetary notes anyway (which Avon studiously checks first to assure himself that it is genuine Zerok currency). Only after the crew return to the Scorpio do they discover that Servalan had been negotiating a deal with Zerok which has since become ceded to the Federation. This also means Zerok is now administered by the Federation banking system and its currency has automatically been reformed. As a consequence, the thousands of bank notes the Scorpio crew possess are virtually worthless.


Orbit – directed by Brian Lighthill. Written by Robert Holmes. A familiar feature of any Holmes script is the inclusion of what may be termed ‘the comedy duo’. While there is no actual comic aspect here, the central characters of psychotic physicist Egrorian and his associate Pinder, both in exile on Malodaar, form a recognisable example of this feature. Despite the quality of Holmes’ script, the story itself is hardly memorable except for one incident toward the end. Avon and Vila are fleeing Malodaar in a space shuttle but it seems unable to exceed the escape velocity of the planets’ gravity unless a critical amount of mass is ejected from the craft. Avon learns from Orac that the minimum amount of mass necessary to be ejected in order for the shuttle to attain escape velocity is equivalent to the weight of Vila. He then quite obviously attempts to lure Vila into a position where the unfortunate chap can be ejected from the craft. In the event, an alternative weight source is located and that is ejected into space instead – but we now realise (as does Vila) that Avon was blatantly willing to murder Vila in order to save himself and Orac.


Warlord – directed by Viktors Ritelis. Written by Simon Masters. Avon seeks personal revenge against Servalan and has developed an antidote to Pylene 50 but has no means by which to manufacture it on a large scale. He summons the leaders of the 5 most powerful opponents of the Federation to a summit meeting. This all goes horribly wrong since it becomes evident that these factions are neither able nor willing to work together and the crew are nearly killed in their escape from the base where the antidote was about to be manufactured.


Blake – directed by Mary Ridge. Here we encounter Gareth Thomas as Roj Blake for only the second time since he left the series at the end of season two. In his search for other people to lead the resistance against the Federation, Avon discovers Blake is hiding out on Gauda Prime, a frontier planet on which Soolin lived during her childhood. Blake has apparently become a bounty hunter for the Federation. We, the viewers, learn that in fact Blake merely uses this guise to collect together all the meanest, toughest and most skilled opponents of the Federation. Before any of the Scorpio crew have time to learn the truth, Avon shoots Blake dead, believing him to have turned into a traitor. This was the scene that generated a palpable sense of shock and even outrage from the regular audience, as letters to the BBC bear witness. Then, minutes later, almost the entire regular cast meet violent, gruesome deaths (filmed in slow motion) as Servalan and her Federation troops invade the base. The final image is of Avon surrounded by Federation troops pointing their guns at him; his face cracks into a smile and the scene fades into black before the credits roll. This culminated in furious exchanges of correspondence between fans of the show for the next few years.


The major attraction of this programme for its viewers was its use of a core family with whom its audience could identify. It is precisely this property that accounts for the unfortunate popularity of kitchen sink serials or ‘soap operas’ as they are euphemistically known. Doctor Who initially utilised this device, primarily in order to give the viewers human people with whom they could relate since the central character of the Doctor was considered too strange and unappealing on his own. The ‘family’ in Blakes’ Seven was split into two groups: the fugitives from the oppressive regime of the federation (a cosmic realisation of an interstellar empire based on Tony Blair New Labour policies) who commandeer an alien spaceship and become galactic guerrillas and the primary representatives of the federation itself, personified by supreme president Servalan and space captain Travis. Each week we encounter a new planet or space station with a new story of trials and tribulations with which the intrepid crew must contend. Occasionally, no members of the federation pursuit force are featured in a particular story – this prevented the series from becoming one long (and ultimately tedious) space chase.


In his post-apocalypse series Survivors, the character Greg Preston (Ian McCulloch) is an engineer who survives the plague and is placed, unwillingly, in a leadership role but only after the original leader, Abby Grant (Caroline Seymour), disappears. In fact the actress was forced to leave the series as a result of continual disagreements and arguments with series producer Terence Dudley. This is a crying shame because in her we were treated to a strong, resilient female character in a major serial for the first time since the introduction of Cathy Gale (played by Honor Blackman) in The Avengers back in 1962. However, that aside, Preston is a morally ambivalent character who seeks personal redemption regardless of the desires of his travelling companions. He disappears during season two and only returns, briefly, for two episodes of season three where he becomes disfigured by smallpox and dies (in The Last Laugh). In Blakes Seven, Blake is a morally ambivalent figure whose personal lust for revenge and revolution causes the deaths of many innocent people; he disappears at the end of season two and only reappears for two episodes in which he becomes disfigured by injuries sustained in battle and dies violently. Even back in 1964 in the Doctor Who story Dalek Invasion Of The Earth, the character of Carl Tyler (played by Bernard Kay) is a cynical, lonely resistance fighter who finds friendship almost impossible to sustain. Terry Nation then is clearly interested in characters who cannot be regarded as heroes, who are morally ambivalent and who become mentally or physically disfigured by their experiences. This theme is explored with rigorous attention to detail in both Survivors and Blakes Seven with certain other regular characters and it is one of the many aspects of both serials that make them so compelling.


There were two intriguing features (which the makers of Star Trek, for example, were too cowardly or unimaginative to pursue) that set the programme apart from many other such series. First, there was no guarantee the members of the Blakes’ Seven would actually survive from one episode to the next. Some of the crew come to grief during the series or become lost, missing, presumed dead. Indeed, in the last episode, all but two of the crew are killed, brutally, by federation troops. Thus a genuine sense of impending threat and peril was generated, particularly after the first death of a crew member (Gan) occurs in season two. Second, with the possible exception of Servalan and Travis, who are almost ciphers of all that is foul, degrading, oppressive, selfish and corrupt in humanity (in other words a fairly accurate description of the politicians responsible for New Labour in 21st century Britain), none of the crew members who comprise Blakes’ Seven can be described merely as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Cartesian dualism was stringently avoided in all Terry Nation scripts and for this we must all be eternally grateful. There is never any concept of ‘either / or’ in the series. That is to say, the group are each motivated by concerns that include the selfish, the magnanimous, the avaricious, the altruistic and the bizarre. To be fair, even the characters of Servalan and Travis are not exactly totally ‘evil’. Travis in particular reveals a respect for and dedication to a military code that, while repugnant, is at least consistent. Certainly Servalan is profoundly selfish and her lust for ultimate power is virtually psychotic in its monomanic obsession and yet even she believes (or is able to delude herself) that the federation serves the best interests of the people it rules. She is therefore a futuristic, female version of Tony Blair.


Despite the superficial reading of the series as an adventure saga, there are certainly adult themes expressed throughout the episodes and there are occasions when we realise the galactic federation has used the Third Reich as its model for social order rather than any mere attempt to take capitalism (or socialism) to its most grotesque conclusions. Indeed, the federation leaders exhibit a degree of paranoid obsessions that make Stalin and Hitler appear almost sane by comparison. Once you are a totalitarian dictator, one of the prices you must pay is never being able to sleep peacefully in your bed each night.




Although Survivors (1975-1977) was created and broadcast before Blakes’ 7 (1978-1981), I have placed this series last because technically it diverges from my remit in that it was not primarily targeted at children or even teenagers. However, because its creator, Terry Nation, is associated with both Doctor Who and Blakes’ 7 (even though he also wrote for such daft ITV adventure series as The Saint and The Avengers) and because science fiction as a genre has come to be associated with children rather than adults, I include it here if only in order to justify my contention that science fiction has revealed the innate prejudice and snobbery of the literary and media milieu against both that genre and against children. It is an attitude of prejudice and snobbery that hurls a blatant insult at anyone under 20 years of age. To suggest that ‘science fiction is just kids stuff’ implies that it is a genre of inferior quality and limited intellectual properties. Conversely this attitude implies that children only deserve a genre of inferior quality and limited intellectual properties. Such a response may serve to bolster the self esteem of the adults who adopt it but in reality this tells us far more about the insecurity and arrogance of the adults who hold such an opinion than it does about either science fiction or children.


Our reliance on technology and the subsequent plight of humanity upon its collapse forms a major aspect of the classic science fiction novel The Day Of The Triffids by John Wyndham. In that story, a shower of meteorites causes the majority of human beings to become blind so they are thus unable to maintain the function of electricity generating stations, water reservoirs, sewers, gas stations, railways and so forth. Civilisation collapses within a matter of days. The main segment of the text concerns the struggle of the survivors to rebuild their lives in the absence of all the gadgets and implements they had previously taken for granted. From 1970 to 1972 there was a bold, brave new television series called Doomwatch, created by scientist Kit Pedlar and writer Gerry Davis, both of whom worked for Doctor Who. It was Pedlar who created the Cybermen, for example. Produced by Terence Dudley, Doomwatch concerns a team of government funded scientists whose task is to monitor any dangers or threats posed to humanity by scientific research and industrial technology. The series achieved notoriety for its uncanny ability to predict with disquieting success many technological advances and their unpleasant consequences that later actually occurred. In Survivors we see what happens when such scientific research is allowed to proceed in the absence of a team such as Doomwatch. The opening shots establish a Chinese scientist who accidentally drops a flask of liquid, the contents of which unleash an airborne plague that kills over three quarters of the population of the world in a matter of days. After that description we immediately remember the SARS epidemic that afflicted people China in 2003.


Terence Dudley was hired as the producer of Survivors and in retrospect this choice proved crucial to the subsequent development of the programme. In one sense, this was an advantage if you choose to believe that in such a global catastrophe, humanity would ultimately endeavour to restore some form of civilisation similar to that which existed prior to its collapse. This was the direction in which Dudley took the story. However, Terry Nation intended to pursue a different and, some would argue, more realistic projection in which humanity reverted to a kind of organised barbarism based upon survival of the fittest where even the most complex form of society was based purely on a variant of the ancient feudal system that existed before the advent of advanced technology. Certainly each concept contains much to commend it in terms of television drama but of course the pessimistic despair inherent in the scenario envisaged by Nation would not appeal to many British viewers. Then again, such a plot would promote awareness among the public to the dangers of scientific research in the service of the military, especially where conscience and social responsibility are relinquished in favour of greed, avarice, egotism and national pride. In the version by Dudley, we discover that humanity strives to restore sanity and technology so the audience can assure itself that there is no real cause for alarm since everything will turn out fine in the end. I remain profoundly unconvinced of that.


The 3 seasons of the programme (1975-1977) are carried by a central quartet of characters: wealthy housewife Abby Grant, civil engineer Greg Preston, secretary Jenny Richards and architect Charles Vaughan. Therefore we can follow the evolution in terms of political beliefs, emotional maturity and personal development during the collapse of civilisation to post-industrial disaster of 4 white middle class people. Along their journey we meet lots of other white middle class people who respond to the catastrophe rather differently. Occasionally we encounter working class people – and we know they are working class because they are usually criminals, alcoholics, drug addicts or any combination of these. In retrospect this aspect of the programme forms the one continual criticism made of it and it is a criticism with which I am obliged to agree entirely. In reality, I suspect there are only two groups of people who would be best suited to survive such a catastrophe: the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor. The aristocracy with their military fetish and access to formidable resources would manage to survive in relative comfort compared with the rest of us. All those survivalist training camps and wog bashing in the middle east would provide adequate training for most contingencies. If it all starts to become really too odious then they can always emigrate to that island daddy purchased last year. People born into extreme poverty, to quote Buenaventura Durutti, ‘have always lived in slums and holes in the wall’ so they are hardly likely to be too bothered by the collapse of a civilisation in which they were never allowed to be bona fide members anyway. We would simply continue to lead lives similar in quality to what we had to endure previously only with the added attraction of no interference from politicians or policemen.


There was one crucial problem with the vociferous conflict that arose between Nation and Dudley, a problem that adversely affected the series to such an extent that it never properly recovered. Actress Carolyn Seymour was cast as Abby Grant, a strong, powerful woman who, though previously little more than a middle class housewife, is compelled to discover within herself immense reserves of courage and determination as she scours the countryside in search of her son who she refuses to believe has died from the plague. She forms a relationship with Greg Preston (played with superb cynicism by Ian McCulloch) and Jenny Richards (played by Lucy Fleming who is the only one of this original trio to survive until the final episode). Charles Vaughan is played brilliantly by Denis Lill whose character is introduced to replace the departure of Ms Seymour. Now while all three actants possessed a respectable pedigree (McCulloch had appeared in an episode of the prisoner of war drama Colditz and Ms Fleming had appeared in an episode of The Avengers), Ms Seymour enjoyed major roles in two feature films: Unman, Wittering & Zigo (with David Hemmings) and The Ruling Class (with Peter O’Toole). Without any intention to insult the other two performers, it remains a fact that Ms Seymour is the most accomplished and convincing actor of the initial trio. New Zealander Denis Lill had already proved his ability in a plethora of television and radio dramas for the BBC so when he replaced Ms Seymour as the central character for the rest of the series, her loss to the programme was at least partially compensated.


To this a further important factor must be added. In British television in 1975 there was not a single instance in any drama in which the leading role of a character (who drove the story and made all the important decisions) was played by a woman. The only previous example of a strong female character in a television drama playing a role one would normally expect to be performed by a man was in The Avengers. Honor Blackman pioneered the role as far back as 1962 and even after she left the series, the concept proved so popular (especially among girls who at last had at least one exciting role model who was not tied to the kitchen) that the part was continued, first by Diana Rigg and finally by Linda Thorsen. However, actor Patrick McNee (as John Steed) was always regarded as The Man In Charge. In this respect Survivors took the final step forward (and it was a step forward that was long overdue) and provided the nation with a drama in which the leader was a woman. Her character was imbued with further strength since at no time does she assert herself as the leader – the other two characters both agree to elect her to the role, a decision given force when we consider that Greg Preston was quickly portrayed as the dashing man of action whose arrival into the story is by helicopter. The implication is that if even he believes Abby Grant should be the leader then perhaps there are other women in the world who are also fit to be leaders but have yet to be granted the opportunity.


I have spent two whole paragraphs on this matter because, at the end of the first season, Carolyn Seymour left the series. Ideally she wanted to remain in the series but she found herself unable to tolerate the disgusting patriarchal attitudes of the BBC executives in general and Terence Dudley in particular. Dudley was simply too timid a producer to go far enough in order to follow the bold concept invented by Terry Nation – either to continue with a series led by a female character or to imagine a world in which technological civilisation collapses, never to rise again. It is as if Dudley seeks to assert a belief that, no matter what horrific disasters afflict humanity, the BBC will always find a way to keep the electricity turned on and women will always remember their place is in the kitchen so none of us need be subjected to undue panic.


Series 1 – 1975


The Fourth Horseman. Written by Terry Nation. Directed by Pennant Roberts.


The social demographic for much of the series is set by the opening shots that establish a white, middle class family (Carolyn Seymour and Peter Bowles) blissfully unaware of the dreadful implications of the influenza epidemic that appears to sweep the nation. There is also a superb performance by Peter Copley as an elderly school master who engages Abby Grant in a key scene of dialogue in which he poses crucial questions. The search for a solution to these questions forms a major aspect of all the preceding episodes. Do you know how to make a candle? How do you obtain the wick and the wax? What happens when you have no more matches? Could you make an axe? From where do you obtain the metal and the wood? Do you know how to grow wheat? Can you plough a field? What happens if you fracture a limb? How much medical knowledge do you possess? Ultimately the school master chooses suicide in preference to a life of sheer misery and suffering. We are also introduced to Jenny Richards (played by Lucy Fleming) whose attempt to save the life of her sister fails and she witnesses first hand what dying of the plague actually entails. Her boyfriend is a junior doctor at the local hospital and we witness distressing scenes as dozens of people seek a remedy for their malaise yet as doctors and nurses also fall ill the hideous truth of the situation gradually becomes apparent. On the urgent advice of her boyfriend, Jenny escapes into the country and encounters itinerant tramp Tom Price (played by famous Welsh actor Talfryn Thomas) who will feature in many further episodes.


Genesis. Written by Terry Nation. Directed by Gerald Blake.


What is required to survive a global catastrophe? It could be the desire and ability to form kinship groups to assist and aid each other. This appears to be the method adopted by the central trio of characters. Then again, it could be the ability to be totally selfish and use every other person for your own advantage. This is the method adopted by Anne Tranter (played by Myra Francis who later played Lady Adrasta in the Doctor Who story Creature From The Pit) whose wealthy privileged origins provide the motivation behind her callous indifference to the suffering of Vic Thatcher (played by Terry Scully who older readers will recall from the Doctor Who story The Seeds Of Death) whose legs are crushed when a tractor falls on him. This is the story that introduces Greg Preston to the series and it features a harrowing scene where he attempts to set mans’ broken limbs in make-shift splints, despite having no medical knowledge. Welcome to the new world.


Gone Away. Written by Terry Nation. Directed by Terence Williams.


In the previous episode we were also introduced to Arthur Wormley (played by veteran classic actor George Baker who had recently appeared as Tiberius in I Claudius), who prior to the plague was a union leader and, like all socialists, is revealed to be an obsessively selfish, power hungry despot intent on acquiring his own little empire to rule. Baker may be recalled for his sensitive portrayal in the historical television film The Moonraker, set during the English civil war in which Patrick Troughton also appears. By now the trio of Abby Grant, Greg Preston and Jenny Richards has been established and they attempt to take stocks of provisions from one of the many abandoned supermarkets only to be thwarted (at least initially) by a gang of thugs run by Wormley who explain that they represent the new law and order of Britain and that they are in charge of the distribution of food and ammunition for guns.


Corn Dolly. Written by Jack Ronder. Directed by Pennant Roberts.


We are introduced to the character of Charles Vaughan (played by the excellent New Zealand actor Denis Lill) who will become a major character in the second and third series of the programme, primarily to compensate for the forced departure of Carolyn Seymour at the end of the first series. However, it is likely he would have returned later in the programme anyway since his character is strong, articulate and intelligent; in truth, he would indeed be both a survivor and a leader of a community. In this episode, his apparently callous disregard for the opinions of the women in his settlement is later revealed as the ability to address the problem of how most efficiently to repopulate the nation. His solution may appear brutal but it is actually essential, provided we agree it is important that humanity continues to endure – a belief that will be challenged in the Series 2 episode Mad Dog.


We learn that below a certain critical level, a community cannot survive if it seeks to avoid in-breeding. We also encounter a 13 year old boy called Mick who is played by Keith Jayne in his first major television role. To be honest, his performance here is occasionally rather clumsy but later roles in future programmes reveal that he quickly managed to develop into a highly competent young actor: he excelled himself as a cabin boy in The Onedin Line, the young son in a family of petty criminals in Rumpole Of The Bailey and, most famously, as the original Stig Of The Dump in 1981. Oddly, both Denis Lill and Keith Jayne appeared together again on television in the Peter Davison era Doctor Who story The Awakening.


Gone To The Angels. Written by Jack Ronder. Directed by Gerald Blake.


Abby, Greg and Jenny continue their search for Abbys’ son Peter and encounter two children outside a garage: John Millon (Stephen Dudley, the son of the producer) and Lizzie Willoughby (Tanya Ronder, the daughter of the writer). A trio of men, all devout Christians, have set themselves up in a remote cottage on top of a hill. For once the depiction of Christians revealed here leaves one to imagine that if Jesus Christ returned to Earth, he would be pleased, finally, at last, to meet three decent, kind and generous people who are actually worthy of his legacy. When Abby Grant meets them, they sympathise with her desperate search for her son Peter and they offer her what respite and refuge they can. However, they soon fall fatally ill and we discover that all those who suffered yet survived the plague become carriers and must not come into contact with any people who have managed to avoid the plague altogether; only those who have also suffered and survived are immune from contamination. Thus Abby infects and, in a sense, kills the 3 people who have shown her the most kindness and warmth since she first left her home at the onset of the plague. This episode also features Lincoln, a pathetic, cowardly character who is played with supreme distinction by Peter Miles who seems incapable of giving a performance that is less than superb, no matter what script he is handed.


Garlands’ War. Written by Terry Nation. Directed by Terence Williams.


A fugitive from a gun wielding gang enlists the help of Abby who discovers that the man is actually the Earl Of Waterhouse (Richard Heffer) and he seeks to regain control of his estate from the gang who have commandeered it. After years spent in the army, for him the global catastrophe means he is finally able to live the life for which he was trained. The gang turn out to be a group of local people led by Knox (played by Peter Jeffrey) who wish to use the country mansion as a base for the local survivors and appear to wish the Earl no actual harm. However, everything is not quite as it seems and it is no accident that Nation has named the leader of the group after a Protestant fundamentalist whose religious zeal resulted in the propagation of hatred, suspicion and persecution during the 16th century. Garland appears again in the final season one story A Beginning.


Starvation. Written by Jack Ronder. Directed by Pennant Roberts.


In this story we witness what happens when local tinned food stocks diminish and people have to resort to learning what is the edible vegetation in the area. Tom Price reveals himself to be a nasty character who attempts to seduce Wendy (played by Julie Neubert), a young woman who is searching for food at the request of Emma, an elderly woman she has found earlier. Abby meets and soon befriends these two survivors. Emma is played by Hana Maria Pravda, the wife of famous Czechoslovakian actor George Pravda who has appeared in many television dramas including 3 Doctor Who stories, The Enemy Of The World with Patrick Troughton, The Mutants with Jon Pertwee and The Deadly Assassin with Tom Baker. However, when Price tries to seduce Abby Grant, his ineptitude reveals him to be a pathetic character. Nevertheless, far from being relegated to a mere figure of fun, his true depths will be revealed in two later stories.


Spoil Of War. Written by Clive Exton (credited as M K Jeeves). Directed by Gerald Blake.


In this story we are introduced to the character of Paul Pitman, played by Chris Tranchell who later endeared himself to Doctor Who fans when he appeared as a police captain on Gallifrey in the Tom Baker era story The Invasion Of Time. There he had the dubious distinction of becoming the future husband of the primitive warrior woman Leela, perhaps the most famous female Doctor Who companion of the classic series. Paul is portrayed as a kind of hippie with considerable farming knowledge and thus proves a useful addition to the community led by Abby Grant. Their previous attempts at ploughing fields and sowing crops were abysmal, despite the hard work and effort they all contributed. In this story we return to the quarry where Anne Tranter abandoned Vic Thatcher after he was crippled. Greg, Paul, Tom Price and Barney, a simpleton with a mental age of 10 who is still skilful at catching animals for food, rescue Thatcher and bring him back to the manor house they have adopted as their home. Barney is played by John Hallet who also appeared in the Tom Baker era Doctor Who story Shada, written by Douglas Adams.


Toward the end of the story we are introduced to Arthur Russell (played by Michael Gover) and his secretary Charmian (played by Eileen Helsby). Arthur is a particularly interesting character because he is clearly wealthy (he owns an island) and from the managerial class prior to the plague. He is selfish, somewhat arrogant and definitely patronising toward the rest of the community. However, despite all this, he elects to remain with the community and, perhaps equally surprising, they agree to allow him to stay. Over the next few stories his personality changes as he evolves away from his pre-plague existence as a managing director accustomed to giving orders and making executive decisions and allows himself to become integrated into the new life of the community where sharing duties and taking responsibility for oneself and each other are essential prerequisites to survival. The relationship between he and his secretary also alters as they eventually become equals. That this gradual evolution of character development is so convincing is a credit to the various different authors who wrote scripts for the following stories and provides a salutary lesson for other serials to learn.


Law & Order. Written by Clive Exton. Directed by Pennant Roberts.


Easily the most renown story of the first series, this episode addresses the difficult problem of discipline and how a small community confronts criminal activity among its members. After a party held to allow the community to relax after its weeks of harsh toil, Tom Price becomes drunk and, after a second attempt to seduce Wendy fails, follows her to her room and kills her in a fit of fury. When her body is found by the two children the next morning, Price allows the community to suspect Barney of the crime in order to avoid their retribution. Being mentally subnormal, Barney is unable to defend himself properly when the community gather in the main room to hold an inquest. The discussion develops into a passionate and angry exchange of retorts as each member of the assembly attempts to confront the severity of the problem before them. First, they are unable to prove beyond all doubt that Barney is actually guilty. Second, they are painfully aware that there are now no courts, police or external agencies to whom they can delegate the problem; they have to address it themselves. Third, even if they do assume Barney is guilty of murder, can a man of his limited intellect be held responsible for the act? Fourth, if he is guilty then he becomes a liability to the rest of the community and a decision must be taken what to do with him. The two alternatives offered are banishment or execution. If he is to be banished then he may well join a different community where he could kill again. Is it right or fair simply to pass the problem on to other people? On the other hand, if he is to be executed, who is to do it? Also, what happens to the community if, later, they discover Barney was innocent after all?


There are three particularly harrowing scenes, each of which are deliberately similar. The first is when the community are asked to decide whether Barney is guilty or innocent; the second is when the community are asked to decide whether Barney should be banished or executed. In the first scene, although the majority verdict given is guilty, the size of the majority is small and it is revealing that Price votes ‘not guilty’, unable to pursue further his desire to hide his own guilt. In the second scene, the votes between banishment and execution are equal with Abby still to vote. Therefore she is placed in the invidious position of arbiter between the life or death of a mentally subnormal man. Her vote for execution, given with extreme reluctance, seems almost out of character; however, her decision is evidently made on the basis of the protection of other communities in addition to her own. The third of these emotionally charged scenes is the one in which the people must decide who is to perform the execution. Straws are inserted into the pages of a closed book and drawn in turn by each of the characters (but not those who voted for banishment rather than execution). Greg draws the short straw and he wastes no time, evidently sickened by what he has to do. We hear the single gunshot then see Price, in tears, uncover from under the floorboard the hidden blood stained shirt he wore during the murder. With no words, he presents this to Greg and Abby as an admission of his guilt. Greg is about to club him to death with his gun but is prevented from doing so by Abby. This is not motivated by mercy but by the fact that with Wendy and Barney dead, they desperately need every able bodied person available to them if they are to continue to work in the fields and the house to maintain the community as a viable concern.


The Future Hour. Written by Terry Nation. Directed by Terence Williams.


Bernard Huxley (played by Glyn Owen) leads a tough group of scavengers who collect truck loads of alcohol, cigarettes, petrol, tools and clothes from towns and sells these items in return for gold which he is convinced will become a useful currency in the future. His wife Laura (played by Caroline Burt) goes on the run from him because she is heavily pregnant and he has told her that she can only stay with him provided she abandons the baby. The community provide shelter for her and this is where Abby Grant reveals her true strength. Greg insists that to offer Laura a refuge will endanger the community since the scavengers are well armed and organised; Abby refuses to submit to the barbarity inherent in casting Laura back to Huxley and, with extreme reluctance, Greg accedes to her demand. In the eventual violent confrontation with the scavengers, Tom Price is fatally wounded but he shoots Huxley dead before he himself dies and thus partially redeems himself for his previous crimes.


Revenge. Written by Jack Ronder. Directed by Gerald Blake.


A huge petrol tanker arrives at the manor house, driven by a man called Donny with Anne Tranter as a passenger. Greg is unpleasantly shocked at this discovery and, together with Jenny and Abby, they do their best to keep her separated from Vic Thatcher. This proves impossible and there is a blistering scene at the dinner table where Thatcher calmly explains just how, after he became crippled, Tranter left him to die as she escaped from the quarry with Greg when she told him Thatcher was dead. Greg believed her and thus Thatcher was left to fend for himself for the next few months, utterly alone and in constant pain. Toward the end of the story, Thatcher levers himself out of his wheelchair and heaves himself slowly up the staircase toward Tranter. She stands at the top of the steps armed with a scythe. When he reaches her, he simply asks her to put him out of his misery but she is unable to summon the courage to do even that. Thatcher then manages to grab hold of her and finally begin to throttle her to death. This would have been entirely justified since she deserves nothing less. However, Thatcher decides to inflict upon her a far worse form of revenge when he realises that she is jealous of his value to the community. She admits that whereas he is loved and wanted by everyone in the settlement, nobody values or wants her. When she leaves the manor house, Donny elects to stay behind rather than accompany her so she walks off, alone and miserable at last.


Something Of Value. Written by Terry Nation. Directed by Terence Williams.


Two major events are depicted in this story, each of which epitomise the primary problems that would afflict any isolated community. First, a severe thunderstorm floods the basement of the manor house and ruins most of their stored provisions. Second, an attempt is made by three thieves to steal their supply of petrol (housed in the tanker found by Donny in the previous episode). The community elected to sell most of this petrol to a neighbouring settlement in order to replace all the food they lost in the flood. In the final battle, Greg manages to shoot dead the trio of thieves; sickened by the futility of the deaths, he remarks that now a small petrol tanker is worth more than the lives of three human beings.


A Beginning. Written by Terry Nation. Directed by Pennant Roberts.


In a subdued, introverted end to the first series, we see the community engaged in constant bickering over minor problems, each of which is taken to Abby for a solution and evidently she tires of the continual demands on a person placed in a position of command. She decides to continue her search for her son Peter and resumes her friendship with James Garland, the Earl of Waterhouse. A travelling group of survivors calls at the manor house to ask for their assistance in caring for a young sick woman. Greg initially refuses on the justifiable grounds that to do so would endanger their own community. He is then overruled with considerable invective by Abby on the equally justifiable grounds that their future world must be based on compassion and unity. In the event her decision is vindicated since the sick woman, Ruth Anderson (played initially by Annie Irving) does not have any contagious illness and, more importantly, she is a qualified medical student.


Series 2 – 1976


Birth Of A Hope. Written by Jack Ronder. Directed by Eric Hills.


In a dramatic opening to the new series, the manor house is accidentally set ablaze by a candle and burns down, killing the regular community members Charmian, Emma and Vic. Only Paul, Arthur, Jenny, John and Lizzie survive. Greg is away visiting a community called Whitecross run by Charles Vaughan who we saw previously in the episode called Corn Dolly. He is trying to locate Ruth who is ministering to sick people elsewhere. We are introduced to shepherd Hubert Goss (John Abineri), Pet Simpson (Lorna Lewis) and carpenter Jack Wood (Gordon Salkilld) who will become regular members of the new settlement that Greg and his community are obliged to join after the destruction of the manor house. Vaughan is highly enthusiastic about this since he realises that additional manpower, resources and skills will assist the survival of the community at Whitecross.


Greater Love. Written by Don Shaw. Directed by Pennant Roberts.


Paul and Ruth have become romantically attached – however this union is not destined to provide much of a subplot due to events that occur later in the story. Jenny is due to give birth to her baby but there are complications and Ruth requires specific drugs and medical equipment. Paul volunteers to go to the nearest town so he can collect these items from one of the hospitals there. On his return, he warns the others that he feels very ill and he is placed in strict quarantine. Despite all attempts at treatment, he finally dies and it is left to Ruth to incinerate his body. His unselfish sacrifice inspires Jenny and Greg to call their baby boy Paul in his honour.


We saw in Blakes 7 how the occasional death of certain characters imbued the series with an increase of tension since the continued survival of regulars was never guaranteed. However, whereas that was primarily for dramatic purposes, the drastic modifications of regular personnel in Survivors forms an intrinsic aspect of realism since in the collapse of civilisation, the death toll would inevitably be formidable. The removal at a stroke of 3 central characters in the previous episode was criticised by some contemporary viewers but obviously in a major fire the casualty rate would in all probability be far higher. The death of Paul was also unpopular among many audience members but it serves two useful functions. First, it reminds us just how dangerous it would be to enter major towns after the collapse of technology since there would we find typhoid, cholera and rats. Second, the manner of his death (pure self sacrifice in order to save Jenny and her baby) adds a most welcome degree of warmth and humanity to a series in which the pervasive human properties so far witnessed have generally been cowardice, greed, callousness and brutality.


Lights Of London (Parts 1 & 2). Written by Jack Ronder. Directed by Terence Williams & Pennant Roberts.


In this two part story, Ruth is lured to London by two strangers who claim to have news of Abby Grant who has apparently found her son Peter. Greg and Charles decide to follow the trio once they become suspicious of the manner in which Ruth has been summoned. As the only known survivor in possession of medical knowledge, she is too valuable to risk losing. One of the strangers, an Indian called Amul, is played by Nadim Sawalha who appeared on both the BBC and ITV whenever an Asian role was required. He thus served the same purpose for Asians as was served by Eric Yeung for Orientals. David Troughton (son of Patrick Troughton and father of Jamie Troughton the cricketer) also has a small part as Stan, a rather dim witted farmhand. On their arrival in London, Charles is bitten by a rat as a herd of the rodents attack Greg and he. This disturbing sequence is superbly filmed. We discover that rats no longer fear humans so this makes them a formidable foe.


The community of survivors in London are led by Manny played by Jewish actor Sidney Tafler. He had already played another Jew called Manny in The Sweeney for ITV so, as usual, you can rely on the BBC for both typecasting and the persistence of racial stereotypes. After weeks of candles, dirt, poverty and rural frugality, we are plunged into a world where people have a rudimentary form of electricity (via petrol generators), hot water, clean clothes and cooked food. They also have a plague of rats combined with a malaise known as ‘London sickness’ that is probably a mutation of either typhoid or cholera. Their desperate desire for a second medical practitioner (they already possess a health officer with limited medical knowledge) is justified by Manny who explains their ambitious plan to move the entire settlement of nearly 500 people from London to the Isle Of Wight. Ruth, after being virtually kidnapped, realises that her services are necessary and when she is befriended by Nessie, an elderly Scottish nurse superbly portrayed by Lennox Milne, she no longer resents the manner in which she was tricked into coming to London.


However, Greg and Charles learn that Manny has no genuine intention to move anywhere for he enjoys a position of power and privilege in London, a situation that would probably be challenged should the proposed exodus be implemented. Thus they virtually force Ruth to leave London, even after the elderly health officer dies from sheer exhaustion. Nessie encourages Ruth to depart since in her opinion anything that threatens the schemes of Manny must be healthy for the community. In the ensuing escape from London through abandoned tube train tunnels, a gun battle develops in which Manny is shot dead.


Face Of The Tiger. Written by Don Shaw. Directed by Terence Williams.


This and the following story are both concerned with the paranoia, fear and mistrust that can often inflict any small isolated community. In this tale, an outsider named Alistair McFadden (given a superlative portrayal by John Line) enters the settlement. After his period in quarantine (an essential imposition to which all visitors are subjected), he quickly becomes liked and respected by the community since he is evidently highly intelligent and articulate yet able to display considerable humility toward others around him. He also has considerable knowledge of herbal medicines, a skill that will evidently remove some of the hefty work load currently endured by Ruth. Hubert the shepherd becomes resentful when he is offered a part share in the room occupied by Arthur. Hubert states that as he has lived with and worked for the community for many months, he should be awarded first choice of any new accommodation that becomes available. Arthur states that he could not share his room with Hubert because the shepherd hardly ever washed and smelled horrible. The issue erupts into a vitriolic debate among the settlers when Hubert discovers, quite by chance, that the newcomer had previously been convicted for the murder of a child. Ultimately McFadden is asked to leave the community and this he does, apparently without rancour although with severe regret. He leaves behind one of his books on herbalism with helpful notes on the various uses to which the most easily identifiable plants may be put. We the audience are left to ponder whether or not the community made the correct decision.


The Witch. Written by Jack Ronder. Directed by Terence Williams.


By contrast, this tale shows what happens when a small isolated community begins to be suspicious of one of its own members. A chance series of minor misfortunes leads to some of the settlers becoming irritable and bad tempered. Arguments follow and it is not long before a scapegoat is identified since it is easier to blame an individual than to confront the limitations and frailties inherent your own community. Mina (played by Delia Paton) is a slightly eccentric woman with a baby child; she is the resident herbalist and it is to her that McFadden gave his book on botanical cures and remedies. Where previously her quirks of behaviour were regarded with fond affection, now they are interpreted as signs of instability and menace; indeed some of the older, simpler minded members of the settlement actually accuse her of being a witch. The drama builds to a terrifying pitch of virtual insanity before Charles finally lays down the law and brings everyone to their senses.


A Friend In Need. Written by Ian McCulloch. Directed by Eric Hills.


It is highly unusual for one of the leading actors of a series or serial to be allowed to write one of the episodes; such was the strength of this script that McCulloch was given the opportunity to write two more stories (A Little Learning and The Last Laugh, both in Series 3) each of which are among the best stories in the programme. However, there is one odd anomaly in the script. We discover that the wrongful execution of Barney is common knowledge among the settlers whereas in Law & Order, Greg and Abby agreed most strenuously that the matter must be kept secret for the benefit of the social cohesion of the community. That said, conversations that address killing are entirely appropriate here since the story concerns a rogue maniac who prowls the woodland that surrounds two settlements and takes shots from a high powered rifle at young women in the communities. Two people in different settlements have already been shot dead as a result of the killers’ activities and Greg decides that it is time to take action in order to protect all the communities. To this end he and Charles agree to hold a meeting with representatives from all the local groups in order to work together not only to deal with this threat but to investigate the possibilities of working together on an organised, regular basis for their mutual benefit in the future. Although the story is ostensibly an action based hunt for the killer with Jenny bravely agreeing to use herself as bait to lure the maniac into the open, in reality it is used to discuss the morality of killing to protect the innocent and also to introduce the idea of a federation of communities, a concept that will be explored further in future stories. When the killer (who never speaks) is finally caught and shot dead, the maniac is discovered to be a physically deformed woman. Strangely, the significance of this (if indeed any exists) is not discussed.


By Bread Alone. Written by Martin Worth. Directed by Pennant Roberts.


Because the majority of episodes in series two are set at Whitecross with most of the occupants working there, in order to prevent the programmes becoming a succession of discussions about wheat crops and basket weaving, external characters were frequently introduced to provide interesting ideas for plots. A previously unseen character called Lewis Fearns (played by Roy Herrick) is seen working ineffectually on a drainage system with another new face, Alan (Stephen Tate). We discover that he was ordained as a parson and he decides to wear once again his dog collar and offer spiritual comfort to the community. This well intended gesture goes horribly awry as the work of the settlement is severely disrupted. Many of the occupants rejected religion entirely after the plague and this provided them with new reserves of strength, confidence and a lust for life all of which were previously inhibited by the absurd prevalence of Christianity that existed in many backward areas prior to the catastrophe. There are some superb arguments about the validity of religion in the new society and clearly the character was introduced by Martin Worth in order for him to air these debates in a public forum. Some of the older and weaker minded members of the community begin to attend services Fearns holds each Sunday and as they spend more time with him so the quality of their work suffers. This will soon constitute a danger to the settlement which both Greg and Charles realise.


The Chosen. Written by Roger Parkes. Directed by Eric Hills.


As a contrast this excellent story concerns the discovery by Charles and Pet of a curious settlement run in accordance with fascist principles. Pet is instantly horrified but Charles grudgingly admits there are advantages to such a means of organisation. The community is run by Max Kershaw and the performance is a chilling, highly disturbing portrait given by Philip Madoc, one of the best actors this island has ever produced. His second in command is Joy Dunn (played by Clare Kelly) who seeks to wrest leadership of the community from Kershaw and she uses Charles as a tool to achieve this ambition in a masterful example of manipulation. This political intrigue is the exterior story; the interior story is the study of how effective such a community would actually be and a scrutiny of the viability of selective procreation, communal child rearing via extended families and a strict regime of physical exercise conducted collectively to build character and a sense of loyalty to the community. Scottish actor James Cosmo has a small but important role as Carter, a security guard. He also appeared on television as a visiting detective from Glasgow in The Sweeney and a bitter school teacher in Rab C Nesbitt but he is best known for his two film roles, one in Braveheart, the historical portrait of William Wallace and the other as Glaucus in the excellent Wolfgang Petersen epic Troy. Mr Madoc appeared in 4 Doctor Who stories: the Patrick Troughton era tales The Krotons and The War Games and the Tom Baker era stories The Brain Of Morbius and The Power Of Kroll. To my mind his finest performance to date is as the SS Captain in Manhunt, the second world war French resistance drama screened on ITV in 1970.


Parasites. Written by Roger Marshall. Directed by Terence Williams.


We previously encountered David Troughton in Lights Of London so here we meet his father, Patrick Troughton as John Millen, the owner of a small barge full of rubber boots and wood alcohol. Mina meets him on her rounds while she collects various herbs and plants and a mutual rapport quickly develops between them. Unfortunately, we see no more of Troughton after this early scene since he is murdered by two thugs who then steal his barge and invade the sanctity of Whitecross, taking the two children, John and Lizzie, hostage. Fearns, in his clerical collar, attempts to reason with them and is shot dead. Because Greg and Mina had already become suspicious of these two chaps, precautions were taken and they were prepared (armed with guns and ammunition they stole from the barge during the previous night, thus robbing the thugs of all but their immediate weaponry). However, the careful plan Greg had devised to rescue the children was never executed since both men had been drinking the wood alcohol which, unknown to them, is both extremely poisonous and highly flammable. As the thugs stagger around the barge, blinded by the alcohol, the men light a match in order to see better – the children leap off the vessel shortly before the struck match sparks the alcohol fumes and the barge erupts in a gigantic explosion.


New Arrivals. Written by Roger Parkes. Directed by Pennant Roberts.


Ruth brings to Whitecross a small group of teenage survivors from a local community ravaged by influenza. They are kept in the old mill since the quarantine area is too small to house them all. Among them is Mark Carter (played by Ian Hastings), an arrogant but highly educated student of agriculture who quickly reveals to Charles what his settlement is doing wrong in terms of stock breeding, crop planting and other farming matters. His advice is correct and useful but even the patience of Charles is tested by the brash, abrupt and conceited personality of Carter who has drawn up a five year plan that he insists must be implemented if their settlement is to survive. Then both Jack and Arthur fall ill. Arthur eventually dies but Jack manages to survive the mystery illness which may or may not be influenza caught from the new arrivals. When the five year plan is not accepted after a tense vote by the community, Carter leaves in disgust and is further shocked to find that none of the other youngsters will accompany him. This is the episode in which the largest amount of highly informative information on farming and agriculture appears. We also encounter young actor Peter Duncan (playing minor character Dave). Younger audiences may already have seen him in The Tomorrow People although they would no doubt have missed his appearance in one episode of the truly dreadful Space 1999. They later see him as a regular presenter of the magazine programme Blue Peter.


Over The Hills. Written by Martin Worth. Directed by Eric Hills.


This is a particularly introverted episode with taut, pernicious squabbles that imbue the story with a desperate sense of claustrophobia as the primary characters become combatants in a contest of wills over the role of women in the community. June Page plays Sally, a teenage girl whose pregnancy is a source of joy to Charles who repeats his assertion that repopulation of the nation is essential if humanity is to survive. Sally holds an opinion at considerable variance to the ideal promulgated by Charles – she seeks the advice of Ruth on how best to have an abortion. The father of the unborn baby, Alan, informs her that while he will contribute time, effort and energy into helping her raise the child, he will not marry her because marriage is an old fashioned institution inappropriate to the new world. The womens’ liberation movement had been active during the early 1970s so the issues raised in this episode were still topical. Both Sally and Pet remind Charles that the time when women were merely baby factories has long since gone. In any case, the matter becomes purely academic when Sally, playing a dangerous game in the windmill, falls to the ground and loses the baby after all.


New World. Written by Martin Worth. Directed by Terence Williams.


While toiling in the fields, the various members of the community all look up and see a hot air balloon floating across the local woodland high above them. This simple incident provides a series of implications: first that there are survivors in other parts of the world who may possess or require resources; second that contact should be made as soon as possible, provided the balloon is not merely part of a scouting party for a raid by a hostile force; third that an aerial view of Britain would yield data highly useful to not only to the community at Whitecross but also to Charles and Greg in their plan to form a national federation of such communities. The balloon is followed and eventually found but the pilot is dead, his neck broken by his fall through a tree. However, he had his daughter Agnes Carlsson with him who they finally meet when Jack finds her stumbling, exhausted, through the woods nearby. In this story Agnes is played by Sally Osborne. After this, her role will be taken by Anna Pitt. They have flown from Norway where they have the rudiments of a hydro-electric power station yet no means to sustain themselves by farming due to the climate. Greg realises the obvious: they need electric power and have a surfeit of food while the Norwegians have electric power but not enough food. He elects to refloat the balloon and travel to Norway with Jack and Agnes so he can use his engineer skills to help them restart the generators. Agnes will become an essential new character in series three while Greg will only appear in two episodes, his role in the programme largely substituted by Charles. The pastoral slow movement of the Survivors saga is over – now the pace increases as the focus is what is happening in the rest of the country rather than in one small settlement.


Series 3 – 1977


Manhunt. Written by Terence Dudley. Directed by Peter Jefferies.


This is the only episode written by producer Terence Dudley and is one of many that involve the ultimately tedious ‘hunt for Greg’. That Charles and Jenny keep missing him by a matter of hours becomes almost farcical but it does provide a grim sense of irony when Greg makes his final appearance in the series during The Last Laugh. This story is interesting because we are provided with an ostensible bunch of villains running a settlement based on militaristic principles that appear dangerously close to that seen in The Chosen. However, as the events progress, we realise that the establishment run by Colonel Gifford and his German biochemist is benign and that the apparently severe security measures implemented are designed through necessity since they are in the process of manufacturing medical drugs essential for all survivors everywhere. Gifford is portrayed superbly by Michael Hawkins who is an actor rarely awarded the plaudits he actually deserves. He appears in the Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who story Frontier In Space, in the war serial Secret Army and in I Claudius among many other television appearances. Hubert suffers agonising toothache in the story which reminds us just why anyone with medical knowledge would be so valuable after such a global catastrophe. We learn that Greg, Jack and Agnes have returned to Britain although it is only Jack we actually see, who has developed a fever after an encounter in the freezing woods with a pack of wild dogs. Packs of ravenous wild dogs feature as a continuous accompaniment to many of the stories in series three and indeed this would constitute a plausible threat after any collapse of civilisation. Pet and Jack become surrogate parents to John and Lizzie for much of series three; this allows Charles and Jenny the freedom to travel away from Challenor, their new settlement, to search for Greg and contact other settlements in an attempt to organise a federation of communities.


A Little Learning. Written by Ian McCulloch. Directed by George Spenton Foster.


Terence Dudley allowed Ian McCulloch extensive freedom during the two stories in which he appears in series three. He was informed he could choose the director and even the main actors for each episode, perhaps partly to retain his interest in the programme as an actor since he had stated earlier he was not satisfied with many of the scripts for series two and in any case he wanted to concentrate less on acting and more on writing in his career, a decision entirely justified by the strength and vitality of the three scripts he provided for Survivors.


We are fortunate that McCulloch was the writer of this story because it also features one of the very best examples of both child acting and a Glasgow accent I have ever seen on screen. The lad responsible for this is Scottish teenager Joseph McKenna who plays Eagle, the leader of a group of children Greg Preston discovers living in an abandoned school. McCulloch provides dialogue of wit, sensitivity and strength for the central character of Eagle and McKenna, fortunately, is able to do justice to the script with an extremely impressive performance, particularly since he must hardly have been more than 15 at the time. How it was that he never later became a famous actor remains a mystery. In each of the 3 episodes McCulloch wrote for the programme, he proved himself to be a skilful author with sufficient discipline to allow the other characters roles as important as that he awards to himself. Indeed, far from portraying himself as some kind of hero, his character is continually bullied and intimidated by the teenagers soon after he meets them. However, this is no amusing romp with light relief provided by the inclusion of child actors. On the contrary, it is one of the most grim, emotionally distressing episodes in the entire series.


Jenny rides off on her horse to search for Greg and encounters a small community that includes an eccentric lady called Mrs Butterworth. This is another role tailor made for delightful actress Sylvia Coleridge who we have previously encountered in both The Tomorrow People and the Tom Baker era Doctor Who story The Seeds Of Doom. Jenny gallops off to continue her search while Greg and Agnes arrive at the Butterworth residence soon afterwards. Two other minor but important characters appear in this tale – Millar and McIntosh (played respectively by Sean Caffrey and Prentis Hancock – another regular on Doctor Who and Space 1999), two young men who have set themselves up as traders. They have unwittingly been supplying poisoned bread made from rye to a group of teenage children living in an abandoned school; the bread has been affected by a fungus that causes a horrific disease with symptoms similar to gangrene. One girl, Libby, has lost consciousness and no longer has any feeling in her toes or fingers, which have begun to turn black. Other children have begun to suffer from the same affliction.


The leader of this group of children, only ever known by his surname Eagle, finds himself in an impossible dilemma. All the children have escaped from two local communities where they refused to accept the rules, doctrines and petty restrictions imposed upon them by the adults. As a result, Eagle has promised that their little community will remain secret and isolated from all other settlements. The problem here is that he has no idea how to solve the problem of the mystery illness that afflicts his friends, nor can he explain why only some of them are affected and not others. When Greg encounters them, they are immediately suspicious of his motives and within seconds they’ve stripped him of his coat and boots; they then hunt him through the surrounding woodland. However, their intention is not to cause him any significant harm and he realises they simply wish to be left alone. At the same time, he is curious about the malaise which he discovers when he notices one of the children trembling and twitching in an odd manner – this is always the prelude to the onset of the disease. He is allowed to accompany the children to the school where he meets Libbie and realises that there is no hope of her survival.


Eagle is deeply attached to Libby and sits with her each night, holding what is left of her hand. Greg persuades the lad to take a night off while he himself keeps vigil at her bedside. Once Eagle is asleep, Greg gently takes her pillow and suffocates her with it since otherwise he knows her death will be a prolonged deterioration in extreme agony. This moment is one of the most distressing and upsetting in the entire history of the programme. When he tells Eagle she has died peacefully during the night, Eagle reveals that Libbie was in fact his sister. McKennas’ acting here is a superlative example of emotional control, never exaggerating the horror and despair beyond what is required to reveal how a teenage boy would respond in such a situation as his world collapses. It is obvious here that he could so easily allow Greg to take control and divest himself of his dreadful responsibility but his loyalty to his friends and fierce sense duty simply will not allow this easy option.


Ultimately a compromise is reached when Mrs Butterworth offers her assistance (she has experience as a nurse) and medicines are secured to arrest the development of the disease in those children who may still be able to survive. The reason some of them were not afflicted is because they didn’t eat the rye bread. An abandoned military shelter not far away is believed to keep stocks of medical supplies but previous attempts to enter the place have resulted in violent death because the whole area is mined. Eagle leads his gang there and, despite all the mines being exploded, there are no casualties and they manage to collect the necessary supplies. How they escape injury is never explained and this remains the one anomaly in the story. Jenny meets Millar and McIntosh and learns that Greg is somewhere in the area so she continues her futile search. The traders are later captured by Greg and brought to the abandoned school to answer for their actions. Eagle lays down the law in no uncertain terms: the pair are to work for the school, growing crops in the adjacent field and collecting provisions when needed, for a period agreed by everyone present.


McKenna also appeared in the dreadful serial Coronation Street (what a waste of talent) playing a boy called Peter Barlow, the son of Ken and Valerie. In fact, he was one of no less than six different actors to play the role which must surely have stretched to snapping point the credibility even of the dopey wallies who watch such garbage.


Law Of The Jungle. Written by Martin Worth. Directed by Peter Jefferies.


Jenny meets up with Charles, Hubert and Agnes in time to visit a local farm (run by Tom Walters) already known to Greg and Agnes. Finding it deserted, they soon encounter two young men wielding crossbows and are forcibly taken to an encampment where Edith Walter (the mother of Tom and the two young men, Steve and Owen) and the other people from her community are being kept prisoner by the leader of the camp, a butcher turned hunter called Brod who rules the encampment under a reign of terror and fear. Brod is a character surely designed specifically to be played by Brian Blessed who excels himself in the role with consummate aplomb. However, this hunter, this man of action, is not all he seems to be. The frequent displays of brutal violence he inflicts on those around him are in fact aspects of behaviour used to compensate for his inability to have sex with women. Much to the surprise of everyone, it is Hubert who saves the group and the imprisoned farming community when he kills Brod by shooting him in the back with a crossbow.


At this point I refer you to an important point made early in series one. It is revealed that it would be extremely unlikely Abby Grant would find her son Peter alive because to date nobody who has survived has ever met a family member or indeed anyone who even knew them before the plague. The survivors were all strangers to each other. The first time this entirely feasible proposition is challenged is when Arthur Russell and his secretary Charmian arrive at the manor house toward the end of series one in Spoil Of War. Then there is Agnes Carlsson and her father in New World followed by Eagle and his sister Libby in A Little Learning. Now we are expected to believe that a mother and all three of her sons miraculously manage to survive the plague together as a unit.


Mad Dog. Written by Don Shaw. Directed by Tristan De Vere Cole.


This episode follows nicely from its predecessor since we had encountered a large pack of wild dogs that ravaged the encampment. Here we find Charles, riding alone in search of Tom Walter. He is suddenly attacked by another crew of canines who clearly have lost their fear of and respect for human beings. Charles is rescued by a stranger who fires an automatic rifle, killing most of the dogs in a matter of seconds. This character, Richard Fenton, is important to the later episodes because he has retained a diary of everyone he has met since the plague that includes details of their location, stores, supplies and weaponry. Charles uses this extremely useful document to help him locate and negotiate with future communities in his attempt to form a network of communities who maintain communication links with each other. Fenton is played by class actor Morris Perry, previously renown for his urbane portrayal of a senior police chief in Special Branch, an otherwise tedious little police series that bored the British public to tears during the early 1970s. Fenton, a doctor of philosophy, displays an absolute disinterest in the survival of humanity; on the contrary, he accepts its demise and finds the attempts of people to cling desperately to any vestige of civilisation both pathetic and amusing. Such an attitude is anathema to Charles, of course, who is utterly unable to comprehend how Fenton can adopt such an attitude. I believe Terry Nation would have found the character of Fenton most entertaining. His ruthless cynicism certainly represents the kind of society Nation would have depicted had he continued to write for the programme.


If the first half of the episode is largely a discussion in the morality of survival between Charles and Fenton then the second half is a taut, frenetic manhunt. Fenton contracts rabies and his meticulously portrayed metamorphosis from articulate, educated intellectual into a mindless brute frothing at the mouth is highly disturbing. Two friends of his (including Sanders, played by Bernard Kay, another regular in many Doctor Who stories) from the local community shoot him dead then turn on Charles who they believe also carries the deadly disease. He is then hunted across the moors and dales in the Peak District of Derbyshire where the stunningly beautiful landscape provided by the huge viaduct over the valleys and hills of Monsal Dale offers a stark contrast to the brutal pursuit enacted below it. In a magical moment at the culmination of the episode, Charles tumbles down a steep embankment and from out of smoke and mist he discovers a fully functional steam train.


Bridgehead. Written by Martin Worth. Directed by George Spenton Foster.


What happens when your herd of cattle suffers from brucellosis which means all the calves are born dead? There is no disinfectant on hand so Jenny, Agnes and Edith start to become extremely anxious and depressed. When Charles returns, bruised and battered but otherwise unhurt, they decide to track down a man called Bill Sheridan (played by John Ronane who also appeared in The Sweeney) who they have heard is an expert in homeopathic medicine. This is the first instance in the series of a script device that has since become dated. Although we now know that homeopathic ‘medicine’ is completely spurious with no scientific basis whatsoever, in the 1970s opinion was still divided on the subject and even a small minority of clinicians believed the practise may have included beneficent properties. Subsequent research has since totally discredited homeopathy and it has correctly been relegated to the rubbish bin of history along with ghosts, alien abductions, religion, Marxism and punk rock. The location for this rather weak story is the Severn Valley Railway and in particular Highley station. However, towards the end of the tale there is a meeting at the train station that Charles has arranged in order to encourage people to bring along their various commodities with a view to the commencement of trade, initially between individuals and then between the various settlements themselves. This prepares the scene for a later story by Martin Worth, Long Live The King, in which the concept of successful trading in a post-plague nation is investigated thoroughly, the implications for which we can observe in rudimentary form here.


Reunion. Written by Don Shaw. Directed by Terence Dudley.


This is one of the most emotionally charged episodes in the entire series and it is the last time we see either of the two regular children in the programme. Lizzie is now played by Angie Stevens because Jack Ronder was another casualty of the conflicts that were incessantly associated with Terence Dudley and his writers. Dudley found it necessary to make a few modifications to Ronders’ script for Lights Of London and so he threw his toys out of the pram and withdrew his daughter Tanya from the series. This churlish attitude was grossly unfair on Tanya of course. Worse still, Ms Stevens attended the same school as Ms Ronder. Surely there should be sufficient drama acted in the series without recourse to additional performances off the screen? However, Stephen Dudley was given a decent script in this story and he makes a brave attempt to do it justice. That this story was directed by his father (the only time Dudley directed an episode) probably accounts for this. However, we encounter the credibility problem yet again.


On their quest to locate Greg and also to contact various communities, Charles, Jenny and Hubert find Walter, an injured shepherd who is known to Hubert. The only medical assistance available to them is a vetinary surgeon, Janet Millon (Jean Gilpin) who lives with her friend Philip Hurst (John Lee) in her surgery. They elect to stay the night and while sitting by a log fire, Janet shows Jenny her photograph album while they discuss all the people they used to know and mourn the fact that the old world is no doubt irretrievably lost forever. Jenny then sees a photograph of a young boy who looks identical to Stephen. In what may just be a scene that contains the best performances in the entire series (or which at least match that of Joseph McKenna in A little Learning), the two women realise that a mother can be reunited with her son since Janet is obviously the mother of Stephen. The rest of the story concerns the mental turmoil that ensues when Stephen remains sullen and silent when finally confronted with his mother whom he has not seen for nearly 3 years. Now, how likely is it that a mother and son would both survive when it has already been established quite emphatically that 9 out of every 10 people died during the plague? That said, the story does allow Lucy Fleming and Jean Gilpin to reveal subtle, dramatic acting at its very best and so for that reason alone, I can forgive this one impertinence.


The Peacemaker. Written by Roger Parkes. Directed by George Spenton Foster.


This is one of the more eccentric stories in the series and concerns the unlikely conceit that a bunch of religious live in a windmill and live their lives in accordance with strict pacifist principles. People with such an attitude would simply not survive in a post-industrial society, of course. The episode is really just an excuse to add Frank Garner to the next few episodes since his character was previously a personnel manager with a degree in psychology and his skills prove valuable in later stories. Frank Garner is played by classical actor Edward Underdown who is worth watching no matter in what preposterous nonsense he may appear. He tells Charles that he is being kept alive by a pacemaker on his heart but the battery is near the end of its life and he has no idea where to find another one nor does he know anyone qualified to conduct the surgery required to replace it. As a result, he maintains that it is essential the odd community in the windmill learns to run their settlement in his absence so he agrees to travel with Charles, Hubert and Jenny so what skills he does possess may be utilised in what limited time remains to him.


Sparks. Written by Roger Parkes. Directed by Tristan De Vere Cole.


Charles and Jenny discover a 700 year old church used as a base for a small community. They also discover Alec Campbell (William Dysart), a qualified electricity generating engineer. Unfortunately he is an emotional wreck who has never forgiven himself for not being at home when his wife died during the plague. Frank proves valuable here as he finds the most probable means by which to rescue the distraught man from his mental turmoil. An interesting character here is Jim, known as Queenie, played by John Bennett who has appeared in the Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who story Invasion Of The Dinosaurs, the Tom Baker era Doctor Who story The Talons Of Weng Chiang and an episode of Blakes’ Seven. Queenie is a bee keeper (from which his nick name is derived) so the community kept liberally supplied with honey, another rare commodity in post apocalyptic Britain. It is Jenny who ultimately persuades Alec to accompany them on their trek to Scotland. A bond of purely platonic friendship develops between them that endures until the end of the series.


The Enemy. Written by Roger Parkes. Directed by Peter Jefferies.


Charles, Jenny, Hubert, Frank and Alec take a brief rest on their journey at a place called The Toll Bar where they meet the community leader Len Woollen (Bryan Pringle, familiar to ITV viewers for his role as Cheese & Egg in the comedy series The Dustbin Men), who in his previous existence was a coal miner. While they recuperate, the battery in the pacemaker that keeps Frank alive begins to fail and in the absence of any medical assistance, he eventually dies. However, there are two related plot strands here that concern first the question of the ethical nature of restoring electric power to the nation (assuming it to be possible) and second the matter of how best to keep Alec focussed on the task should it be agreed. Alec himself has begun to harbour doubts and has become reluctant to continue with the task. Charles believes Greg to be no longer so dedicated to Jenny as once he was previously. In fact, he secretly suspects that he has formed a romantic attachment to Agnes. Therefore, Jenny might be persuaded to adopt Alec as a surrogate husband. Thus both Jenny and Alec will possess substitutes for their lost partners. However, Jenny has other ideas and when she realises what Charles attempts to do, she confronts him in the bar before the assembled community and screams ‘You Welsh bastard!’ in his face. It is at this point Charles realises – with a painful shock – that he has committed a serious error in judgement. It is also at this moment that we appreciate how devoted Jenny is to Greg. Ironically it is this that persuades Alec to honour his original commitment to the restoration of electric power should it be possible and from this moment the relationship between he and Jenny becomes that of brother and sister.


There is a bitter, middle aged man called Sam Mead (Robert Gillespie) in the community who was previously a drug addict. He has secured a wife and baby for himself and is now intent on making the new life a success. He equates the achievement of this success with the absence of the rules, mores and belief systems that served the old world. Furthermore, he associates electric power and technology with the world in which he was a worthless parasite; now he has become a useful member of a society, he seeks to maintain that role and therefore he is utterly opposed to the restoration of any aspect of the old world, particularly electric power. This belief develops into an obsession that will provide a dramatic subplot in future episodes. It also enables the writers to ask difficult questions. If electric can be restored, does that mean it should? Would it not be better to build a new world in the absence of all the errors and mistakes that caused the collapse of the previous world? Then again, is that even possible? Was that collapse of civilisation a direct result of the abuse of technology by weak minded people or is the technology itself that is to blame? These questions are never answered in a convincing manner in any of the episodes and perhaps this is to the advantage of the programme – if audiences are encouraged to think then television serves a useful function.


The Last Laugh. Written by Ian McCulloch. Directed by Peter Jefferies.


This is beyond doubt the most grim and bleak episode in the entire series and the script is absolutely superb. If Survivors was ever resurrected for television, the involvement of Ian McCulloch as script writer and script editor would be an essential prerequisite if a programme of quality was to be assured. Greg misses a previously arranged rendezvous with Agnes and meets instead an Australian called Mason (George Mallaby) who is supported by two other young men. Mason first convinces Greg he is decent and honest; before long, Greg has told him about the notes he possesses that Agnes’ father made during his survey of the country by balloon.  All 3 men then lure Greg into a trap in which he is stabbed in the back and his possessions stolen from him, including the notes made by Carlsson. However, Mason discovers they are in Norwegian so he and his men ride to the new settlement at Sloton Spencer where Charles, Agnes, Jack, Pet, Hubert, Jenny, Ruth and the children now live. He then forces Agnes to translate the notes into English by threatening to murder each of the children in turn unless she agrees to his demand.


Meanwhile, Greg has been found by two young men from Cawston Farm who have tended to his injury but remain oddly reclusive and diffident when he asks them questions about the settlement. The manner in which his knife wound has been dressed reveals a degree of medical knowledge beyond the abilities of either young man so Greg realises a person with medical knowledge must also live on or near the farm. Eventually he discovers that there are in fact only 3 people living on the entire farm and that one of these, Doctor Adams (superbly depicted by Clifton Jones) keeps himself locked up in a shed. When Greg forces his way into the shed he realises why – the man has smallpox, a profoundly contagious disease for which there is no longer any cure. Within a couple of days, Greg realises that he, too, has become infected. In one of the most effective dialogue scenes of the whole series, Adams and Greg discuss the relationship between humanity and death as each comes to terms with how best to confront their mortality in the brief time span that remains to them. He also learns who Mason and his men are and how they have been living off the local settlements by robbery and violence. Greg now realises what he must do if the community at Sloton Spencer is to be saved. He rides to the settlement and demands to speak to Mason. In another distressing scene, he sits astride his horse and insults Jack, Pet, Agnes and the children in front of Mason; he tells them he has seen the best way to survive and that he intends to join Mason and other like him. Stephen holds out what looks like a bar of chocolate for Greg who simply shouts abuse at the bewildered boy. When Jack starts to walk towards him, Greg actually shoots the astonished man in the arm. While Mason is not entirely convinced, he is sufficiently curious to allow Greg to ride away with him to meet the leader of his group of thugs known as The Captain. Just before Greg leaves, he shouts what he calls ‘a Norwegian farewell’ at Agnes. This is evidently so that Mason will not be able to understand the real message which is ‘I have smallpox’ in Norwegian. In that moment Agnes realises why Greg has behaved so abominably – and when she translates the phrase for the others, they, too, appreciate that they will never see Greg alive again.


As a brilliant coda, we see Greg shake hands with Mason and smile as he does so. In a camera close up we notice he has a nosebleed – one of the early symptoms of smallpox. It is thus his intention to infect their entire gang with the disease before he dies. In writing himself out of the final two episodes, McCulloch could have opted for a heroic death. In one sense, of course, he is the hero – his sacrifice saves his community from Mason and his gang. However, death through smallpox is in itself hardly heroic. Besides, he already had the disease before he took his course of action. Had he contracted the disease as a result of saving the settlement, then that would adhere to the long tradition of noble self sacrifice dramas on television and in the cinema. Instead, since he is doomed to die anyway, he elects to take as many of the enemy as possible to the grave with him.


In the character of Doctor Adams we also encounter only the second person in the entire series who isn’t of white Caucasian origin. The previous occasion was the Indian actor Nadim Sawalha in Lights Of London. West Indian actor Clifton Jones was not an especially familiar face to many British audiences although did play the part of David Kano, one of the regular roles in the second series of Space 1999. That he plays not only a doctor but also an intellectual who reveals himself to be a student of classic literature provides a healthy and most welcome change from the manner in which most West Indian actors were usually depicted on screen. In The Sweeney, for example, black people were generally pimps or drug dealers!


Long Live The King. Written by Martin Worth. Directed by Tristan De Vere Cole.


Here we meet the Captain (Roy Marsden), the only survivor of the trap laid by Greg at Cawston Farm in the previous episode. Charles, Jenny and Hubert are riding to Scotland and they encounter a series of messages on their journey that purport to be from Greg. Each message insists that they go to a place called Felbridge Camp located between Scarborough and Grimsby where their services are urgently required. On arrival at the camp they find what is basically a military establishment and one of the people running it is Agnes. There she is all decked out in military drag. How has this drastic transformation occurred between the events of the previous story and what transpires here? This is one of the few serious disadvantages of using a variety of different writers for a serial. That said, it soon becomes a minor anomaly because the actual story concerns a subject that would have to be addressed sooner or later, particularly if many small settlements and larger communities commenced trading with each other on a regular basis. We saw in the episode called Bridgehead (also by Martin Worth) that small communities were encouraged to commence trade relations. However, there is a limit to transactions conducted purely on the basis of a barter system. For example, you travel to a community with so many jars of honey and bottles of herbal remedies but when you arrive, you realise that what you actually want (corn or wheat, for example) isn’t available yet or else there is an insufficient quantity to pay for the wares you have for barter. The community leader can write you out a note that promises to pay you for the received jars of honey and medicine once stocks become available. Well then, what exactly is the difference between such a scrap of paper and a bank note? On British bank notes there appears to phrase ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of...’ whatever amount is printed on the note itself. This means that on production of the note, the holder will be given the stated amount of coins (traditionally in gold or silver) or the equivalent amount in sundry goods.


There is one crucial difference between the two scraps of paper. The signed letter given to the trader is not obliged to represent an actual store of corn or wheat. However, a bank note must be supported by an equivalent amount of gold bullion stored in a reserve. This is in theory why a pecuniary deficiency cannot be resolved merely by printing more money. In practise it can, of course, because the relationship between printed bank notes and gold bullion is purely artificial and possesses no intrinsic meaning. This false relationship was invented by governments to prevent poor people printing their own money since that would liberate them from wage slavery and divest employers and the aristocracy of most of their power and positions of privilege.


Soon after their arrival, Charles and Jenny discover the existence of GP notes – these are printed slips of paper with a ‘promise to pay the bearer on demand’ message under which is the signature of Greg Preston. The post industrial society has no use for such a worthless metal as gold; the new currency is now petrol. Agnes claims they have a store of nearly 2 million gallons of petrol and it is this that is used as the reserve on which the strength of the new currency is based. In fact, this gigantic store of fuel is imaginary – but Agnes insists this fact is irrelevant for so long as everyone believes this huge store of petrol to be real then the notes are as valid as if the store actually existed. She explains that the name of Greg Preston was used simply because he is the only person of whom every community has heard and, more importantly, trusts. Ultimately they discover that Greg died of smallpox while they were travelling to Felbridge so, despite the profound distress this causes Jenny, Charles expresses disgust that this new currency is based on a fuel reserve that isn’t real and signed by a person who no longer exists. In other words, the new government is to start with two stupendous lies before a single policy has even been formulated.


Power. Written by Martin Worth. Directed by George Spenton Foster.


Charles and Jenny finally arrive in Scotland where they meet a local laird called McAlister, played by Scottish actor Iain Cuthbertson who was already familiar to television audiences from his appearance in the Tom Baker era Doctor Who story The Ribos Operation and for the lead role in Sutherlands’ Law, a legal drama set in Scotland. He had also played a local aristocrat (albeit a title he awarded to himself) in Children Of The Stones. Sam Mead accompanies Alec around the local power stations as they check each one is still in working order prior to switching them on. Mead then sabotages one of them since he has only agreed to travel with Alec in order to prevent the restoration of electric power to the new world.


Meanwhile, McAlister has raised an objection to the manner in which the new government is to be implemented. He resents what he suspects will result in Scotland being ruled by England. Jenny is exasperated by what she perceives as a hopelessly old fashioned and frankly irrelevant adherence to national pride. McAlister expresses his intention not to repeat the mistakes and errors of the old world. The implication here is that he suggests Charles and Jenny reveal double standards – when people from an independent small nation demand autonomy from the colonial designs of another larger nation, they are accused of being unreasonable, unrealistic and selfish, especially when that small nation possesses resources the colonial nation desires for itself, preferably without having to pay for it. When that larger colonial nation is itself threatened by an external power, it appeals to its troops for defence in the name of national pride, religious freedom or whatever other trite slogans seem necessary to mobilise the population in order to persuade them to fight and die horribly in yet another war. Alec witnesses this debate and this causes him to question the validity of turning on the power again. ‘Look at you all. It’s not even turned yet and you’re already arguing about who owns the right to it.’


Mead fails in his attempt to stop progress and falls to his death, a hopeless anachronism. Once people have learnt how to make bombs, then that knowledge cannot be unmade. Once people have learnt to live in a world with electric power then they are never going to be satisfied with a world in which it is absent. In a gently emotional scene, Alec asks Jenny to consider what would happen if he left the power stations to rust and crumble; the rural idyll he presents is attractive but ultimately unfeasible. He finally agrees to restore electric power but only because she asks him to do so. As the closing credits of the final episode roll, we see the housekeeper of the mansion turn off the electric bulbs and then light a series of candles. The implication here is that maybe there are certain aspects of the new world that are preferable to what existed before the plague was unleashed.


In common with The Tomorrow People and Doctor Who, an attempt was made in 2008 to resurrect the serial but the resultant concoction was such an utter embarrassment to everyone involved that the project was abandoned after just one brief season. Rarely has the BBC achieved such a spectacular failure as the obnoxious drivel whose convoluted nonsense purported to be a variant of the original series. The sensible course of action would have been to set the series 30 years after the end of the original programme. There are three major advantages in this. First, it generates new and exciting stories based upon the various possibilities available to communities who have each adopted different means by which to cope with the new world in an existence largely bereft of technology. Second, it allows the appearance of some of the surviving actors who originally appeared in the series back in the 1970s. Third, it avoids any comparison with the original series and thus may be appreciated on its own merits.


So instead the BBC opted to remake the original programme using the stories and plots of the first series. Anyone with even an iota of intelligence would realise immediately that this was destined to be a profound failure. First it invited a comparison with the original programme. Since the series was called Survivors, it is obvious that older people who remember the original transmission would watch it out of curiosity; this untenable situation could have been avoided had the new programme been given a different title, for instance. Then the BBC elected to ignore two primary strengths of the original series. First, there was hardly any background music throughout the entire 3 years of the programme; this bestowed upon it a sense of realism that increased the dramatic tension and emphasised the bleak loneliness of a world drastically depopulated. Second, long scenes devoid of quick cuts and edits promoted this sense of realism and engaged the viewer as a participant in the discussions, arguments and activities in which the characters were involved. Thus the BBC presented the new series as a slick, glossy production number with wall to wall synthetic pop music that deafened anyone who turned up the volume in order to hear the dialogue spoken by the actors. Jump cuts and fast edits constantly reminded viewers they were watching a high production television routine rather than a drama concerned with an intensely serious subject.


Are my remarks merely the odious grumbles of a disgruntled old bastard who wants it to be 1975 again? Hardly. You see, I was too young to remember the series when it was first broadcast. I watched the entire series for the first time in 2007. Thus my impression of the programme was not adversely coloured by nostalgia. I generally much prefer the new, contemporary version of Doctor Who to the original series so I can never be accused of retrogression. No, the remake of Survivors is a dismal abomination that wastes acting talent, technical and financial resources that could have been utilised for the production of a new drama. Now add a further ingredient into the mix: my two colleagues from UNIT, Luc Tran (21) and UJ (24) both agree with every criticism I have just made with regard to the remake of the programme. Thus we recommend you borrow or purchase the original series and appreciate television drama at its very best, despite the slight problems inherent in all programmes made during that period (i.e. the preponderance of white middle class people featured and the virtual absence of performers from other ethnic backgrounds). The reason for this is not purely snobbery or racism in the BBC. First, traditionally most working class people could simply not afford to attend drama school and do the RADA routine. The thespian business was generally the reserve of the wealthy darlings whose parents could afford to finance the illustrious careers of their children. Second, there were very few actors and actresses in Britain who were not white and middle class at this time. This is why we tend to observe the same Asian, black and oriental performers in various different programmes on all 3 channels (there were only 3 then) and, furthermore, it was why an oriental person would play anyone from south east Asia from Japan to Thailand!




Many readers will by now wonder why I have elected not to delegate a separate section devoted to Doctor Who. This is quite simply because the fan base and influence of this programme is now (justifiably) huge. Discussion forums, articles and essays have been written here, there and everywhere about this series for nearly four decades. Is there any commentary I can add that would offer a new, profound revelation about the programme? Frankly I doubt it. Besides, I have sought in this essay to redress the balance and concentrate on some of the other important British science fiction programmes for children that may be less familiar to audiences around the globe. However, a brief discussion is required in order for readers to appreciate just why Doctor Who is regarded as the best, the most important and the most significant science fiction serial ever to be broadcast on television. Longevity alone cannot account for this reputation. After all, both The Archers (Radio 4) and Coronation Street (ITV) have been broadcast continuously for far longer than Doctor Who yet everyone with any intelligence is painfully aware that both these programmes are examples of arrant nonsense that appeal to all that is base, crass and puerile in their audience. That actors of such high calibre have so often appeared in both these wretched productions merely serves to reveal how willing the industry is to waste the talents and skills of its best thespians. I can most effectively achieve my intention if I select a few stories from the programme and subject each to a cursory analysis.


The Silurians. 1970. This story was written by Malcolm Hulke who bears the dubious distinction of being one of the only writers employed by the BBC who was also a communist. Viewers under the age of 12 watched a highly engaging seven part tale that depicted the struggle of a race of indigenous reptiles who, following a global disaster, placed themselves in hibernation for thousands of years. Their intention was to be revived after the climatic catastrophe had concluded. However, due to a malfunction in their machinery, they awoke many hundreds of years later than intended and found their world had become infested with many millions of hair covered creatures of simian descent known to you and I as human beings. The United Nations Intelligence Taskforce are alerted because the caves inhabited by the reptiles are now right under a huge scientific research centre whose work is being disrupted by frequent power failures caused (unknown to the human technicians) by the machinery used to revive the reptiles. The Doctor (played with admirable restraint by Jon Pertwee) makes contact with the reptiles and attempts to avert a global war between them and the current human inhabitants of the planet.


Now, even on this superficial level, we have a highly interesting proposition. Who are the righteous inhabitants of Earth, the reptiles (erroneously called Silurians) or the human beings? Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) heads a military group (UNIT) employed by the government to protect people from unusual incursions into national sovereignty from foreign powers to all out alien invasion. Regardless of his own sympathies with the reptiles, it is his job – more than that, it is his duty – to guard the safety of the human population. It would have been easy and predictable to portray the brigadier as a pompous, right wing, callous military despot – certainly if this story had been used for The Tomorrow People, Roger Price would most certainly have done just that. He’d have been unable to resist such a temptation. Hulke, however, exhibits far greater discipline and his attention to detail includes a noble attempt to portray his characters as genuine people with an emotional range consistent with reality. Indeed, the most invigorating quality of this story is the total absence of obviously ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ characters.


The manager (Peter Miles) of the Nuton Power Complex, the scientific research establishment involved, is concerned for the future security of the scientific progress that is threatened by the proposed closure of the centre until the reptilian threat is addressed. He is also anxious about the threat to his own career which, while ostensibly a selfish quality, is nevertheless a thoroughly understandable worry. Major Baker (Norman Jones) is in charge of the security of the complex and while he shoots the first reptile he discovers in the caves below the centre, as far as he is concerned, it is merely a dangerous animal that threatens the lives of the scientists who he is paid to protect. Like the brigadier, he simply tries to do his job efficiently and it is simply unfortunate that his conscientious attitude results in the escalation of hostility between the reptilian and simian factions. Miles has appeared in other Doctor Who stories including an obsessed but well meaning scientist in Invasion Of The Dinosaurs and, most famously, as a fascist police chief in the classic Tom Baker story Genesis Of The Daleks. Jones first appeared in the series as a Buddhist monk in The Abominable Snowman with Patrick Troughton and returned during the Tom Baker era as a priest in The Masque Of Mandragora.


The head scientist in the establishment (Fulton McKay) was the first to discover the existence of the reptiles and he has engaged in a secret arrangement with them in exchange for advanced scientific assistance they are able to provide for him. Besides his personal advancement, which he admits to his wife, he also regards the increased knowledge he hopes to gain from his alliance with the reptiles as essential for the improvement of scientific knowledge that can be utilised for the benefit of the nation. As the situation at the establishment becomes ever more serious, the manager calls upon Whitehall to rescue him from what he perceives as the interference of the Doctor and UNIT. Geoffrey Palmer plays a government minister who is sent from London to the power complex to investigate the problem. As a personal friend of the Nuton Complex manager, his loyalty is divided between his duty toward the safety of the nation (the power complex uses nuclear power) on a political level and his obligation toward his friend on a personal level. So in the brigadier, the security major, the scientific research manager, the head scientist and the government minister we have 5 authority figures who are treated as three dimensional human beings rather than mere ciphers of the establishment. This factor alone raises the story above virtually every other science fiction programme for children ever broadcast on television. However, appreciation of realistic character portrayal ventures into more adult territory and it is here that the true value of the story is revealed.


In 1970 president Richard Nixon of America entered into a limited dialogue with various government leaders of Russia in an effort to address the threat posed by what was known as the Cold War that existed between the communist states of Russia, China, Vietnam and North Korea on the one hand and the free west on the other. This was the official description of events; the secret agenda followed by Nixon we only learned later during the Watergate scandal of 1974. In any case, current affairs programmes in all the media featured this continual, incessant cycle of contretemps between capitalism and communism, between the west and the east, between 2 major superpowers each of which possessed a formidable array of weapons that, if used, could annihilate all life on Earth in a matter of minutes. Producer Barry Letts made no secret of his own liberal left wing political views although these were generated by an interest in and respect for Buddhism and the emergence of Greenpeace and ecology. With the more overtly socialist political beliefs of writer Malcolm Hulke, it was inevitable that sooner or later a story would arise that became a metaphor for this fragile attempt at detente between the opposing superpowers. UNIT became the analogue of the Whitehouse and Whitehall while the reptiles represented the Kremlin and Tian An Men Square. The analogy should not be taken too far, naturally. In this scenario, the Doctor can be regarded as the independent voice of reason (the scientists and philosophers who refused to participate in the Cold War, irrespective of their national origins or political affiliations) which presumably includes the programme makers themselves.


There is a further subtext here that is revealed within the diegesis. Since 1968, conservative politician Enoch Powell had bravely alerted the nation to the possible problems liable to be caused by continued, unrestricted immigration into Britain of foreigners from the West Indies, Africa and Asia. He articulated fears and concerns expressed by the majority of the working class in Britain at the time. However, because the government of the time required foreign immigrants in order to gain access to a cheap source of labour that could be exploited by poor conditions and low wages, conditions they knew the indigenous British workers would quite rightly never accept, Powell was subjected to a vindictive hate campaign designed to render him ostracised and divest him of any political power. This cynical programme was adopted by politicians and media managers who were, in reality, far more racially prejudiced than Powell ever was, except they would never admit it. Thus the nation lost one of the very few politicians ordinary people have ever respected. Consider the basic problem posed in The Silurians: while the reptiles have been in hibernation for all those thousands of years, human beings have evolved and spread themselves all over the planet. Therefore the characters on screen who visually appear alien and foreign, the reptiles, are the analogue for the indigenous people of Britain while the immigrants are represented by humanity. This is especially ironic since some of the human beings were familiar faces to television audiences in the form of the UNIT members. To whom does the Earth belong then?


That one science fiction story targeted toward a younger audience could combine an exciting romp through subterranean caves with tense, suspense filled drama and yet also be used to provide two different metaphors for two current political concerns in Britain at the time is apparently nothing short of miraculous. However, this device was used again in 4 other stories from the Jon Pertwee era. In The Mutants, a group of space colonists from Earth render a planet uninhabitable for its indigenous population. In The Colony In Space, a mining corporation pollutes a planet as it extracts minerals for use by Earth and it uses brutal techniques to frighten away any protest from the Earth colonists who had previously occupied the planet. In The Green Death, a chemical extraction plant, Global Chemicals, is funded by the government to provide a new source of food for the planet. The process causes immense pollution which begins to affect the local people of a Welsh mining village. This is the story most people remember due to the appearance of its unlikely stars – giant maggots! A group of ‘alternative scientists’ have also set up shop not far from the Global Chemicals premises and they live not unlike a hippie commune. Their work is designed to investigate new food sources derived from natural, organic sources. It is no secret with whom the production team identifies, of course, since the portrayal of Global Chemicals is cold, clinical and callous in its efficiency while the alternative scientists live in a rambling house complete with bean bags and tie dyed clothes. The manipulation of ordinary people suffering from unemployment (typified by mining towns that were closing down throughout the 1970s) by cynical big business is a further strand of social commentary in this most overtly political of all Doctor Stories up until this time. The plight of the miners was explored most notoriously in The Monster Of Peladon, set on an alien planet that is governed by a monarchy whose weak and ineffectual king is virtually bullied by the superstitious fears of his high priest. The wealth of the planet is derived from the minerals extracted by the miners whose existence is generally miserable and desperate while the court of the king and the aristocracy enjoy lives that are luxurious and privileged. The analogy is not difficult to interpret.


There is an intriguing aspect which I will also consider because it should be of interest to programme makers and watchers. The Tomorrow People and Doctor Who share one factor in common with Survivors: they were both resurrected after being dormant for over two decades. The former was largely a failure in terms of public interest and audience support while the latter currently enjoys a rate of success without parallel in the history of childrens’ television – why? Well, if we compare the scripts of ‘classic’ Tomorrow People and ‘classic’ Doctor Who to the scripts of their contemporary variants, there is a vast improvement in the latter for both programmes, especially in terms of the dialogue. The sets and special effects for the modern versions of both programmes are evidently superior in every respect. The quality of actors and the standard of acting is, in general, significantly exceptional, especially in The Tomorrow People. Actually, Doctor Who was granted an impressive array of acting talent during its classic era with splendid performances by artists whose distinguished work embellished the 3 decades of television spanned the series. They comprise a formidable brigade with which The Tomorrow People could never compete. But impressive actors have appeared in such rubbish as Eastenders and Casualty so that alone cannot be used as ammunition. So how is it that the modern version of Doctor Who is beyond any doubt a gigantic improvement on the classic era while The Tomorrow People series of the 1990s was such an abject failure?


Well, if the modern version of The Tomorrow People had been called by a different title I suggest it would have been a greater success. Its target audience would have enjoyed it, of course, but all the parents who remember the original series would no longer have been able to make comparisons. You see, the 1990s version was virtually a totally new and different programme; very little of its original inception survived. The Lab was gone. TIM was gone. No references to the previous characters or even to the galactic trig were ever made. As a new version of The Tomorrow People, it simply did not work; as a new science fiction programme about young people with extraordinary abilities, the series was a total success and that is the tragedy. The makers of Doctor Who, on the other hand, had all been avid fans of the original series. They deliberately retained important aspects of the classic era programmes and combined these with frequent references to characters and situations that older viewers would recognise and remember. For younger viewers, while such references would initially mean little at all, they would serve to give the series a gravitas denied to other such programmes. There is a history to Doctor Who – the contemporary version is the same but different. It uses 21st century camera and editing techniques but is still recognisably Doctor Who – with one significant difference over and above any mentioned previously: the adult element.


In the classic era of both Doctor Who and The Tomorrow People, characters relate to each other on a relatively superficial level. That is to say, there is absent any real emotional interaction between people except for what may be called the standard set of responses: comic book emotions stripped of all complexity and subtlety. Two attempts were made to challenge this but since both were in the era produced by John Nathan Turner, they were destined to fail, despite the calibre of actors involved. At the end of Earthshock (1982), a young alien boy called Adric (played by Matthew Waterhouse) sacrifices himself by crashing a spaceship full of cybermen into the Earth in prehistoric times in order to prevent the future subjugation of the planet and its population by the second most popular monsters in the history of the programme. The Doctor (Peter Davison) and his remaining companions – Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) and Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) – do the obligatory shock and crying scene but it is only when the end credits roll, in silence, bereft of music, that the real impact is made. It is the only time in the programme history that the end credits have been rolled in silence. Sutton was a generally abysmal actress back then (although she was not assisted by the inept scripts and dire synthesiser music which usually accompanied JNT produced programmes) while Fielding, a far more accomplished actress, still had to battle with dialogue that was clumsy and incongruous. Davison himself is a reasonably competent actor but proved himself utterly incompatible with the role of the famous time lord.


The second attempt to inject a more interesting emotional scene into the programme occurred during The Curse Of Fenric (1989) by which time it was the turn of poor Sylvester McCoy to wrestle with truly dire synthesiser noise courtesy of Keef McCulloch and a script so dreadful that it makes Roger Price look like Tolstoy. In an effort to distract an army guard so the Doctor can enter this hut to do something incredibly clever, companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) engages the trooper in dialogue that was, I presume, supposed to reveal hidden emotional depth to her character but the dialogue is so absurd that had the lines been spoken instead by Philip Madoc and Judi Dench, the scene would still be wretched. McCoy actually gave a superb portrayal of the Doctor but his marvellous performances were usually submerged beneath all the glittery garbage that strangled every episode of the show with which JNT was involved. There were similar minor attempts at emotional density in other episodes (Kinda, from 1982, comes to mind, for example), all of which were dismal failures (and usually through no fault of the actors).


The Tomorrow People was far more successful because its writers never bothered to embarrass themselves or their audience with such pretentious conceit. They realised such subtle drama was beyond the realm of the programme and they avoided any attempt to address this. As a consequence, whatever other faults the series possessed, the actors and viewers involved were spared the embarrassment of incongruous attempts at high melodrama that made late period Doctor Who so abysmal. By the 1990s, occasional forays into this territory were made but here the writers knew what they were doing and the actors were of sufficient calibre to handle such scenes convincingly. For example, in The Monsoon Man, Adam forms a tenuous relationship with trainee journalist Lucy (Laurence Bouvard). When she is kidnapped, his confusion and sense of loss at her disappearance is a testament to both the strength of the script and the competence of Kristian Schmid. When Doctor Who returned to British television screens in 2005, older audiences were understandably concerned at the inclusion of pop singer Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, the new companion. Our suspicions were never vindicated since not only did Miss Piper prove herself to be a superb actress but she was given high quality scripts (usually by Russell Davies, Robert Shearman and Steven Moffatt) that were able to do adequate justice to her ability. By the end of the second story a complex relationship has already developed between the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose. When the title role was taken over by David Tennant (arguably the best portrayal of the time lord ever played by any actor), any slight lingering doubts harboured by even the most trenchant critic would have been banished to oblivion by the consistently high calibre of performances continually given by Miss Piper who proved herself to be possibly the best companion character ever to appear in Doctor Who in its chequered history.


Casual viewers in 2005 may initially have greeted with enthusiasm the character of Mickey Smith (played by Noel Clarke, the epitome of ‘cool’) as the first black male actor to be awarded a regular role in the series. By the end of Episode 3, those same viewers would, like me, be chewing the carpet in frustration: here is the only notable black character in the series and he is written as a fool and a coward whose job is merely to provide moments of comic relief in between the heroic exploits of Rose and the Doctor. An attempt was made later in the series to ameliorate this deficit with stories in which he develops a more convincing personality, replete with a diminution of cowardice, increase in valour and a more representative share of dramatic dialogue. The third female companion is Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyeman, a young trainee doctor who becomes the first black woman to join the Tardis crew. Besides being a superb actress, she is granted a role equally as heroic as that awarded to Billie Piper as Rose Tyler although the heroism here is more subtle and less obvious. Indeed when she departs from the Tardis, instead of disappearing from the series, she joins UNIT and not only returns for later episodes but also makes brief appearances in Torchwood, a separate but related series.


However, the role of the ‘heroic and strong male, black companion’ is entirely satisfied in one of the related series to Doctor Who, namely The Sarah Jane Adventures. This series is targeted quite specifically for children although it is deliberately designed to dovetail into the story arcs and characters of both contemporary Doctor Who and, to a lesser extent, Torchwood. If The Sarah Jane Adventures is ‘Doctor Who for children’ then at the other end of the spectrum Torchwood is ‘Doctor Who for adults’ while Doctor Who itself occupies a central family viewing position. The extremely talented young black actor Daniel Anthony plays Clyde Langer, one of the teenagers who is befriended by Sarah Jane Smith (an original Doctor Who companion from the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker era) who reprises her role although she now lives at 13 Bannerman Street and is aided and abetted by her genetically created son Luke and an alien computer known as Mr Smith. The infamous robot computer shaped like a dog and called K9 (another extremely popular character from the classic series of Doctor Who) also makes occasional guest appearances.


In a two part story from the second season called The Mark Of The Berserker, we encounter a theme more conducive to an adult drama and yet, thanks to both the script (with its token science fiction element) and the quality acting, it is accessible to all but the very youngest children. In the first season we discover that the brash confidence and slick humour of 14 year old Langer hides an emotional wound caused by the departure of his father 4 years earlier. Now 15, Langer receives a shock as his father suddenly, unexpectedly arrives on the doorstep to make amends for his previous desertion. The mother remains profoundly unconvinced and in fact wants nothing to do with the man. The rest of the story is basically a desperately sad and almost relentlessly poignant portrayal of a fathers’ unsuccessful attempt to compensate (but much too late) for what he did in the past. However, the emotional centre of the story is the often incredible performance by Daniel Anthony himself – throughout the series he proves himself to be one of the best young actors this country has produced but in this story he excels himself in particular.


Severe problems do remain, however. While we must rejoice in the absence of the rampant (but never deliberate) sexism and racism that occasionally spoiled the classic series, 21st century Doctor Who suffers from three major faults. First – consider the music. In every episode we are constantly belayed about the head by wall to wall orchestra noise. This insults our intelligence since it is designed to indicate to us what should be our emotional response whereas surely, if the scripts and acting are of sufficient calibre, such aural prompts will be superfluous. Well, this is what is so perplexing: the scripts and acting most definitely are of sufficient calibre that such aural prompts certainly are superfluous. This barrage of sonic wallpaper that infects each episode is therefore extremely irritating. Such a constant stream of aural litter severely inhibits any moments where suspense might occur and it also interferes with any subtleties the script and plot may possess. Second – in almost every episode people (including – in fact especially – the Doctor himself) hug and kiss each other with a frequency that borders on the obsessive. Such demonstrative behaviour is not only superficial, it is redolent of all that is cheap and nasty about American serials; besides, such behaviour is utterly incongruous from the time lord himself who is, after all, an alien from another planet in another time. Third – there are quite clear and deliberate references to homosexuality in certain stories. This is highly undesirable in a series designed to include young children. The DVD box sets I possess all bear the legend ‘12’ in a red circle. In Britain this indicates the contents are unsuitable for children below the age of 12. I contest this utterly. If an episode includes a scene that features a gay or lesbian couple or an obvious reference to homosexuality then the programme should immediately be awarded a ‘16’ certificate and should be broadcast after 9 o’clock at night.


These serious but not insolvable caveats aside, Doctor Who in the 21st century represents the model that all other television science fiction serials (and not just those primarily designed for children) should adopt. Even the special effects, easily the least important aspect of any television programme (provided the scripts and acting are of exemplary quality), are granted particular care and attention. Perversely, because the standards of writing and acting are so much higher in the contemporary version of the series, substandard special effects would be acceptable whereas in the 20th century version of the series, when the special effects were generally abysmal, they could not always hide behind decent scripts or performances! Doctor Who has proved sufficiently popular to justify two related series: Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. So I’m grateful that television science fiction can boast a level of high fidelity in these three series. There are no other science fiction serials on television that can match this mighty trio in terms of scripts, stories, acting ability or consistency in terms of quality.


Andy Martin © 2010.




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