1 9 6 5 – 1 9 7 1 (UK)
49 x 50 minute episodes
This superb science fiction anthology series was originally produced by Irene Shubik and later by Alan Bromly, and featured the works of sci-fi greats such as John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov, J.G. Ballard, Ray Bradbury, Robert Sheckley and Frederick Pohl.
The cream of British television talent was applied to bring these tales to the small screen. Dramatists such as JB Priestley, Leon Griffiths and Jeremy Paul, directors such as Philip Saville and Rudolph Cartier, and powerful actors of the calibre of Yvonne Mitchell, George Cole, Rachel Roberts, David Hemmings and Warren Mitchell.
The first episode, ‘No Place Like Earth’ (October 1965), was an amalgamation of two stories by the acclaimed author John Wyndham, best known for The Day of the Triffids. Unfortunately, less than 60% of the nation was within range of a BBC2-equipped transmitter and, to make matters worse, the channel was being broadcast using the newly-introduced 625 line high definition standard, which few domestic TV sets could yet receive.
Despite its relatively low profile, though, the episode, about life on Mars after an Earthly apocalypse, drew some newspaper attention: The Times described it as “excruciatingly slow”. Fortunately, the following 11 stories improved, and a second season of 13 episodes followed, starting in October 1966 with an adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 short story The Machine Stops, about a future where mankind lives in a world controlled by benevolent machine intelligence.
The Machine Stops showed a very Edwardian view of the future age, with a mother (Yvonne Mitchell) and her son (Michael Gothard) struggling to maintain their natural bond of love in an over-civilised world in which human beings have become tyrannised by machines.
Out of the Unknown returned to the BBC’s schedule in colour for its third season in January 1969 which featured ‘The Last Lonely Man’ (21/1/1969), about a future where the dead can bequeath their memories to surviving friends and loved ones via a process called ‘Contact’.
The fourth and final 1971 season effectively marked the end of the BBC’s commitment to science fiction-based plays as mainstream adult drama, despite continuing public interest in the genre.
Episodes were always spectacular – sometimes disturbing, sometimes funny, yet always of the highest intelligence. The shows were of an excellent standard despite being restricted by a comparatively low production budget (Ridley Scott worked on the series as a designer).
Britain’s answer to The Twilight Zone.