or rather, infamously, the BBC took a rather cavalier approach to the
preservation of its television output in the 1950s and 1960s. Due to the cost
of videotape, once pre-recorded programmes had been broadcast,the tape was
wiped and used again. For programmes to be kept for repeat use or to be sold to
other territories around the world, the episode would be transferred to film,
and it this process we have to thank that any television from this period has
survived at all.
Out of the Unknown was an attempt to
present serious, adult science fiction on television, adapting well-known and
important authors like John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, J.G. Ballard and
E.M. Forster. The single play was a tradition by this point, with popular
series such as Armchair Theatre (1956-74) demonstrating the legacy of
television's theatrical origins in live drama. Although largely neglected as a
format today in favour of long-running series, both the BBC and independent
television in the 1950s through to the 1970s ran hundreds of single dramas. Out
of the Unknown presented a different adaptation every week. Commissioned by
Sidney Newman, the man responsible for both Armchair Theatre and Doctor
Who (1963-89; 2005-), the series took the BBCs remit to educate and inform
very seriously. Producer Irene Shubik, quoted in the booklet accompanying this
science fiction is a way of saying something you can't say in straightforward
terms... I tried to get [stories] that had some sort of message."
any anthology, some of the episodes here work brilliantly, others less so, but
they are always interesting and prove the potential that science fiction has to
provide a commentary on the human condition; our fears, concerns and hopes.
From speculations on the potential of robotics to disastrous space missions and
mind-altering technology, Out of the Unknown provided ample food for
thought for its audience on a regular basis and is still fascinating.
series began in 1965 in black and white on the BBC, and ran for four series,
finally ending in colour in 1971. Twenty-eight episodes are completely missing
from the archive. This new box set contains the remaining twenty-four complete
episodes and five incomplete or reconstructed episodes, using a mix of clips,
still images and sound. Fans and amateur archivists have played a major role in
assisting the BFI to gather every remaining element so that this set represents
the entire sum of what has survived. Along with this Herculean effort a wealth
of extra features have been created including audio commentaries with
historians, experts and cast members, filmed interviews and a forty-minute
documentary. The accompanying booklet features in-depth essays and a complete
episode guide with cast and crew listings.
Out of the Unknown is a compelling
glimpse into the television production of the past, when commissioning editors
like Sidney Newman were prepared to take risks and assume a higher level of
intelligence in the audience than one feels is assumed by TV executives today.
of the Unknown is released on 24 November 2014 and can be pre-ordered by clicking here.