Out of the Unknown – The Last Lonely Man

RIP George Cole, 1925 – 2015

Archive Television Musings

last

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…

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Out of the Unknown – The Uninvited

uninvited

Written by Michael J. Bird
Directed by David Chandler

George (John Nettleton) and Millicent (June Ellis) are spending the last night in their old home before moving to Botswana. All of the furniture has already been removed, so the flat is bare. But as they settle down for the night, strange things begin to happen.

For a split second George suddenly sees the flat fully furnished again, but in a style he doesn’t recognise. Later Millicent finds a dead body in a trunk (which vanishes a few minutes later).

They both get back into bed and try to sleep, but then all the strange furniture returns and it appears to be daytime outside. The flat now seems to be occupied by a man called Donald Ramsey (Brian Wilde) and his wife Jessica (Hilary Mason) was the woman that Millicent saw dead in the trunk.

Here, she’s still alive, but clearly in danger from Ramsey. Neither Ramsey or his wife can see or hear them, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t in danger …..

The Uninvited was the second script for OOTU by Michael J. Bird. Although only the audio exists (and there’s very little photographic material) it appears to be a lot better than his previous effort, To Lay A Ghost.  As with To Lay A Ghost, this is very much a ghost story – but it’s played at a much more intense level than his previous effort.

Due to the lack of photographs, the surviving audio has been synchronized to a copy of the camera script. This enables the viewer to read the stage directions which explain what happens during the visual sequences (and it’s pretty much the easiest way to make things comprehensible – if only the audio was on the DVD it wouldn’t be at all easy to follow).

But with the audio running alongside the script (even though some of the pages are hard to read) everything makes sense. This story was later remade for the series Hammer House Of Mystery and Suspense under the title of In Possession, but going by the audio of the original, it had a creepy intensity that wasn’t bettered by the remake.

Out of the Unknown – The Man in my Head

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Written by John Wiles
Directed by Peter Cregeen

A group of soldiers led by Brinson (Tom Chadbon) break into a Hydro Electric Plant.  They are members of a Strike Force, an elite group of soldiers who have had their orders subliminally implanted.  Until they receive the appropriate radio signal they don’t know where they are or what they have to do.

If they are captured, they can break a capsule which will automatically create a new reality that will prove to be unshakable under enemy interrogation.

At prearranged times their orders will be automatically relayed to them, but some of them begin to question the reason for the mission.  Or could it be that this dissent has also been programmed?  As these soldiers have had their memories wiped and then reprogrammed, can they tell which thoughts are their own and which have been created for them?

The Man in my Head, written by John Wiles, shares some similarities with another fourth series episode – Welcome Home.  In both stories we see how the human mind can be “reprogrammed” to believe that false memories are true.

Wiles’ script creates conflict between the soldiers, some of whom simply obey whilst others are more questioning.  And one of them, Fulman (Robert Oates), accidentally triggers his cover story, which drives him to the point of madness.

A large part of the story takes place in a single set, which looks very impressive (it has several levels, walkways and was designed to be shot at any angle through 360 degrees).  Although it’s fair to say that some of the CSO work (such as the soldiers climbing down the ladder) is much less convincing.  Tom Chadbon, a familiar television face, is good as Brinson, who like some of the others begins to doubt exactly why they are here and what it is they hope to achieve.  The answers are provided in the last few minutes and this wraps up the story quite well.

Although it teeters on the edge of melodrama occasionally, The Man in my Head is an efficient story – and sadly it’s the last surviving episode of OOTU (the remaining three were all wiped, although The Uninvited does exist as an audio recording).

Next Up – The Uninvited

Out of the Unknown – Welcome Home

welcome

Written by Moris Farhi
Directed by Eric Hills

Following a serious car accident, Dr Frank Bowers (Anthony Ainley) has spent a long time convalescing in hospital.  Eventually, he’s pronounced fit, so he discharges himself and travels down to join his wife in the country.  Bowers’ wife Penny (Jennifer Hilary) has bought a cottage at Castleforge and he’s looking forward to seeing it for the first time.  But when he arrives, he’s astonished to find that Penny apparently doesn’t recognise him.  And the man she’s living with is also called Dr Frank Bowers (Bernard Brown).

Welcome Home by Moris Farhi has an interesting premise.  Anthony Ainley is very good as Bowers One, a man who appears to have found a cuckoo in his nest, whilst Bernard Brown is icily efficient as Bowers Two.

Bowers Two wants to use a new drug called DK-5 on Bowers One.  DK-5 makes the recepient very suggestable to false memories implanted by the user.  Bowers One surmises that it’s already been used on his wife and a number of other people, which has enabled Bowers Two to take his place.  But for what reason?  Bowers One considers a range of possibilities, including alien invasion.

Bowers Two produces evidence that Bowers One is actually called Peter Johnson, a psychopath who never recovered from the trauma of being scalded with hot water as a child by his father.  Bowers One does have these memories, but are they real or just implanted by Bowers Two with DK-5?

Moris Farhi drew inspiration from revelations about psychiatric experiments with mind-bending drugs that were carried out behind the Iron Curtain.  For example, he cited the reports of Vladimir Bukovsky which became public knowledge at this time.

The setup of Welcome Home is good, and Ainley is convincing as a man struggling to make anybody believe that he is who he says he is, but there’s no denying that the story doesn’t end well.  This is a pity, because up until the last five minutes or so, it’s been an intriguing mystery.  It’s just that the resolution of the mystery is far too implausible.

Next Up – The Man In My Head

Out of the Unknown – Deathday

deathday

Story by Angus Hall, Adapted by Brian Hayles
Directed by Raymond Menmuir

Adam Crosse (Robert Lang) finds his life turned upside down when he discovers his wife Lydia is having an affair.  Lydia (Lynn Farleigh) is unrepentant and tells Adam that she’s not prepared to give her lover up – as he satisfies her in a way that Adam never could.

But she sees no reason for a divorce and believes that everything can carry on pretty much as before.  Her infidelity is the last straw for the mild-mannered Adam though and he brutally murders her.  He then puts his experience as a journalist to good use in order to produce the perfect alibi by creating an imaginary person called Quilter to take the blame.

Everything seems to be fine at first, Adam plays the bereaved husband very well and the police seem to be satisfied.  But then Quilter turns up ……

The only episode from the fourth series to be adapted from an existing story, Deathday was written by Angus Hall and dramatised by Brian Hayles.  It starred Robert Lang, who was one of those actors whose face and voice were instantly recognisable (even if their name might have been more of a mystery).

Rarely the leading actor in a production, he built a career out of well-played character roles.  Deathday allowed him the chance to tackle a meaty role and he certainly didn’t disappoint.  At first, the story seems like a very conventional murder mystery story as we know that Adam has murdered his wife, so the question seems to be whether or not he’ll be found out.

But as this is OOTU, there has to be some sort of weird twist – and this happens when Quilter (John Ronane) appears.  He’s someone who was created by Adam to take the blame for his wife’s murder, so how can he be here?  Further disorientating sequences (bizarre shots of naked secretaries at a weird approximation of Adam’s office) help to accentuate the feeling that he’s losing his grip on reality.

Although she only has a small part, Lynn Farleigh is perfect as Adam’s coldly practical wife who can see nothing wrong with cuckolding him.  John Ronane was an actor I was primarily aware of from Strangers, where he played a very conventional character.  Ronane is certainly not conventional here – his performance isn’t subtle, but it fits the mood of the story as events begin to run away from Adam.  Susan Glanville (as Joanne) is also effective as a woman that the newly liberated Adam picks up.  But she’s simply another step in his eventual downfall.

Deathday is a strong story, which although far removed from the SF tales which dominated the first three series, has a memorable plot and a satisfying climax.

Next Up – Welcome Home

Out of the Unknown – This Body Is Mine

body

Written by John Tulley
Directed by Eric Hills

Allen Meredith (John Carson) invites his boss Jack Gregory (Jack Hedley) to his home in order to explain about his latest invention.  It’s a device that will allow minds to be swopped between bodies and Meredith and his wife Ann (Alethea Charlton) plan to put it to good use.

Ann drugs Gregory and then Meredith and Gregory swop bodies.  Once Meredith is in the body of Jack Gregory he plans to transfer a large sum of money from Gregory’s company (to recompense him for all the work he considers he’s been underpaid for).  But Meredith finds Gregory’s world is more complicated than he’d bargained for.

And Ann, who’s left at home with the personality of Jack Gregory in the body of her husband, finds that to be an intriguing combination ….

This Body Is Mine is a neat tale that boasts an impressive core cast.  It”s difficult to imagine three better players than John Carson, Jack Hedley and Alethea Charlton – and they certainly help to sell the story.  In the hands of lesser actors it possibly could have fallen a little flat, but not here.

Hedley manages to capture the indecision of someone trapped in a strange body and unsure quite how to proceed whilst Carson projects the bluff bravado of Jack Gregory perfectly.  He might be in someone else’s body, but he plans to enjoy himself, which includes availing himself of Ann Meredith.

I’ve always tended to picture Alethea Charlton with grimy characters (possibly due to her two Doctor Who appearances in An Unearthly Child and The Time Meddler) but here she’s much more upwardly mobile and Ann is the character who’s responsible for the outcome of the story.  She respects, rather than loves, her husband but she quickly comes to love Jack Gregory when he’s in the body of her husband.  And as might be expected, this isn’t going to end well for everyone.

Next up – Deathday

Out of the Unknown – To Lay A Ghost

lay

Written by Michael J. Bird
Directed by Ken Hannam

After Eric and Diana Carver move into their dream house in the country, Diana (Lesley-Anne Down) feels very happy, claiming a special connection to the place.  This pleases Eric (Iain Gregory) who is well aware of his young wife’s traumatic past.  Several years earlier, when Diana was still a schoolgirl, she was raped – and the effect of this experience is still felt very strongly by her (for example, she resists any sexual advances from Eric).

But their idyllic peace is shattered when they realise that they’re not alone.  The house is also inhabited by a ghost, which seems to have a special interest in Diana.  On several occasions Eric comes close to death at the hands of Diana (under the control of the ghost).  Paranormal specialist Dr Walter Phillimore (Peter Barkworth) is intrigued by the case, but warns Eric that both he and his wife are in danger if they remain in the house …..

The first surviving episode from the fourth and final series, To Lay A Ghost was written by Michael J. Bird, later to pen acclaimed series such as The Lotus Eaters, Who Pays The Ferryman? and The Aphrodite InheritanceTo Lay A Ghost has attracted a certain amount of notoriety over the years, and it’s not difficult to see why.

The story opens with scenes of the schoolgirl Diana being raped (although nothing graphic is seen, it’s obvious what’s happening).  Later in the story, Phillimore tells Eric that he’s been too considerate with his wife (implying that he should force himself on her).  Another implication is that the ghost (a 19th Century murderer and rapist called Thomas Hobbs) has been summoned due to Diana’s repressed desires.

This seems to be confirmed when Diana says to Eric that if he wants her to do something then he shouldn’t ask her – he should make her.  From this, Eric concludes that Diana enjoyed the rape and has subconsciously wanted it to happen again ever since.  Eric is unable to treat her roughly, so he leaves.  Diana is left alone, waiting on the bed for the ghost to appear.  Her last words are identical to those she spoke just before she was raped – which is a clear indication of what will happen to her after the credits have rolled (and explains the double-meaning of the title).

Apart from the controversial nature of the story, it’s a fairly static and underwhelming production.  The seventeen year old Lesley-Anne Down looks lovely (but is rather wooden) whilst Iain Gregory also gives a somewhat indifferent performance.  Things do pick up when Peter Barkworth appears, as he adds a touch of class to proceedings.

Whilst the ending is memorable (if somewhat questionable) the rest of the story is less engaging.  To Lay A Ghost isn’t totally without merit, but it’s certainly something that it’s difficult to imagine being broadcast on mainstream television today.

Next Up – This Body Is Mine