Out of the Unknown – The Last Lonely Man

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Story by John Brunner, Adapted by Jeremy Paul
Directed by Douglas Camfield

In the future, death no longer holds the same fear that it used to.  Now when people die, their personality and life experience are automatically transferred into the mind of a nominated host.  James Hale (George Cole) is a devoted family man with a wife and two children who’s already become the host of his late father’s personality (which he sometimes has to battle against) and he’s a staunch advocate of the process – known as Contact.

So when he meets Patrick Wilson (Peter Halliday) in a bar and learns that Patrick doesn’t have Contact with anyone he agrees to “take him on until he can can get fixed up with a friend”.  But soon it transpires that Patrick has had Contact with many people – all of whom terminated their link once they became aware of exactly what sort of person he was.  James attempts to do the same, but he’s too late – Patrick shoots himself and all of his thoughts are instantly transferred to James, who starts to act in a very uncharacteristic manner …..

The Last Lonely Man by John Brunner was originally published in 1964.  It was the second story by Brunner to be adapted for OOTU (following Some Lapse of Time from series one).  The Last Lonely Man is certainly the lesser of the two tales, as whilst it has an interesting premise the logical flaws are very apparent.

It is addressed in the story, but the notion of people inheriting multiple personalities is a bizarre one.  It must surely lead to schizophrenia or as in James’ case, we see his warm and friendly personality submerged by the less attractive characteristics of Patrick.  That’s the crux of the story, but his experience can hardly be an isolated case, can it?

There’s another odd scene where James and his wife Rowena (June Barry) go the cinema to see a film which was made in pre-Contact days.  Everybody (including James and Rowena) roar with laughter at the scenes of people dying – presumably because their thoughts wouldn’t be transferred to somebody else.  This just rings false – it’s difficult to accept that people’s personalities would change so much that they’d find death to be amusing.  There seems to be a satirical point that’s being made, but it doesn’t come over that well.

The Last Lonely Man was directed by Douglas Camfield, one of British television’s finest television directors between the mid 1960’s and the mid 1980’s.  But apart from a very striking opening sequence shot on film where we see a couple killed in a car accident (which we later learn was a government information film) there’s not a great deal of opportunity for Camfield to produce anything that noteworthy.

The rest of the story is studio-bound and fairly low-budget (the Contact machine looks uncomfortably like a hairdryer, for example) so it’s pretty much rescued by the cast.  George Cole (already a familiar face from films and television but still a decade away from his career-defining role in Minder) gives a fine performance as a decent, family man whose only mistake is to try and help someone.

Peter Halliday (cast a year earlier by Camfield in the Doctor Who story The Invasion) does play broader, but given that there had to be a clear divide between James and Patrick that’s reasonable enough.

Although the story doesn’t make much sense, it’s still worth a look for Cole’s performance.  However, given the range of stories that were made during the third series, it’s a bit of a shame that this is the only one to exist in its entirety.

Next Up – Beach Head

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