Story by Isaac Asimov, Adapted by Jeremy Paul
Directed by John Gorrie
Although time-travel is impossible, the chronoscope is the next best thing – as it allows the user to focus in on events from the past. The problem is that there’s only one such device in existence and its use is strictly regulated by the authorities. Historian Arnold Potterley (George Benson) has been waiting two years to use it in order to study his special area of research (Ancient Carthage) but he’s finally been refused permission by Thaddeus Araman (David Langton).
Potterley rails against the walls of government bureaucracy built by men like Araman, so he decides to find somebody to build him a personal chronoscope. Jonas Foster (James Maxwell) does so, but the results are far from what Potterley and Maxwell expected ….
The Dead Past, originally published in 1956, quickly became a favourite amongst Asimov’s readership (and it was also well regarded by Asimov himself). This, plus the fact that it could be made with a small cast and a handful of sets, obviously ensured it was an ideal candidate for Out of the Unknown.
It’s very much a story of ideas and not action so it may not hold the attention of everybody. But the cast help to bring the story to life – particularly David Langton, Sylvia Coleridge and Willoughby Goddard.
Langton (best known for his role in Upstairs Downstairs) is very good as the bureaucrat who may not be quite as faceless as he seems. Coleridge plays Arnold Potterley’s wife and whilst Potterley wishes to use the chronoscope to delve into the mysteries of the ancient past, she wants to go back twenty years or so to see their dead child. Coleridge’s performance in those scenes is heartbreaking. Goddard (complete with cloak and eye-patch) provides some welcome comic relief.
The twist in the tale brings this thoughtful, reflective story to a satisfying conclusion.
Next Up – Time In Advance