The highlight of the BFI’s recent releases tying in with their SCI-FI: Days of Fear and Wonder season. To say that the debut of the BBC’s OUT OF THE UNKNOWN (or at least, the existing episodes of it) on DVD has been hugely anticipated is rather like saying people with ears recently expressed passing interest in the fact Kate Bush intended to sit in a theatre for a month.
Under the tutelage of Sydney Newman (the same man who had steered Verity Lambert towards the creation of Doctor Who), producer Irene Shubik, created Boris Karloff hosted anthology show, OUT OF THIS WORLD. The success of that led to OUT OF THE UNKNOWN, a similar show, adapting science-fiction stories for television. While Shubik moved on after two series, the show itself continued for four, running between 1965 and 1971. It moved from black and white to colour, from sci-fi to horror and amassed a total of forty-nine episodes, twenty of which still exist.
Those twenty episodes, alongside partial footage and recreations of a further four, have been released across seven DVDs. They are further bolstered with eleven audio commentaries (hosted by the ever-reliable and witty Toby Hadoke, stand-up comedian, actor and familiar voice from the BBC’s Doctor Who range where he served a similar, vital role, herding ageing memories towards nuggets of information and jolly anecdotes). There’s also a forty two minute documentary on the history of the show.
A lovely, comprehensive set then. But has the show lived up to people’s golden memories of it? For the most part, yes. This is television that hails from that brave, experimental period of the BBC that didn’t concern itself unduly with the practicalities of recreating alien worlds in Lime Grove. Nowadays, with a cold eye on budgets and the demand for realism, producers would run in fear from a show like this, back then they simply got on with it. Naturally the cracks show but if you’re watching vintage television wanting to take potshots at the effects then you have no soul and this release isn’t for you. For those that relish imagination and creative ambition, there is a great deal to enjoy here. From the watery landscapes of Mars to the homegrown horrors of mutant children living in contemporary housing blocks, the works of such luminaries as John Wyndham, J.G. Ballard, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury are brought to life. Like all anthology shows some work better than others (and like all great anthology shows, your opinion as to what the standout episodes are will vary wildly with mine, such is the subjective joy of fiction).
At a retail price of seventy pounds, the set may be too rich for some but it’s a fair price given the sheer amount of content and the clear restoration man hours that have gone into preparing it for our continued enjoyment. It’s Christmas, get someone who loves you to buy it for you as it’s inarguably the release of the year.