Out of the Unknown (1965) No Place like Earth

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Anthology TV shows used to be fairly common, my personal favorite being a show called Tales from the Darkside (mostly due to its amazing theme song). While there aren’t many today, one can definitely see that the 1960’s were the golden age for these sorts of programs. In America, there were shows like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, and in the UK shows like Journey to The Unknown and the lesser known Out of the Unknown were big business during the UK science fiction golden age. Out of the Unknown is relatively unheard of outside of hardcore science fiction fandom due to the poor archival status of the show. It’s one of those shows that fell victim to the BBC’s “junking” policy for old footage. Of the original four seasons and nearly fifty episodes of the show produced, only around twenty exist today. What remains is pretty solid TV and consists of short stories adapted from existing work with a few exceptions made for the show. I actually heard about this show doing a Wikipedia search for John Wyndham (of Day of the Triffids fame) and found out that he had a story made into an episode. Which story? Well this one right here!

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No Place like Earth is a new take on the old Thomas Wolfe coined phrase “you can’t go home again”. Set fifteen years in an indeterminate future, a man named Bert Foster (Terence Morgan) wanders the canals of Mars thinking of simpler times he had on Earth. It seems Earth collapsed in a nuclear holocaust leaving all the survivors to find refuge on nearby planets. Bert is essentially homeless and travels around doing the work of a handyman to make ends meet. While trying to be the best hermit he can be, Bert draws attention from a Martian woman named Annike that is eyeing him for her daughter Zeyla. Before the story veers into sappy love story territory, a rocket from Venus shows up. The crew tells of a “New Earth” on Venus, and Bert jumps at the chance to regain his former glory. Bert’s heart breaks when he realizes Venus is nothing more than a slave colony with wealthy overlords preying on gullible fools like him. Looks like Mars wasn’t so bad was it Bert?

Some might look at No Place like Earth and think how silly the setting is. Wyndham painted a picture of a Mars that exists in pure fantasy; a planet full of crazy mountains and canals full of fresh water. I had to watch this on a popular video sharing website (since the episodes are nearly impossible to find otherwise) and noticed a bunch of unimaginative people mocking the “old notions of what Mars was like”. Those folks are missing the point, and are most likely the same people that crapped on John Carter, despite it being a really good summer movie. The original story for No Place like Earth was written in the spring of 1951, and by that time we definitely knew that there were no canals of rushing water on Mars. We knew there were not livable cities all over the place. Outside of the occasional ancient alien theorist espousing new theories on how Mars has a face on it, we had about the same level of Martian knowledge then that had when we started sending robots up there. To really enjoy this episode one has suspend disbelief just enough to see what story is trying to be conveyed rather than harping on how unscientific the whole thing is. And that’s the end of my rant for the day.

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No Place like Earth is definitely a low budget affair, and is only really saved on an artistic standpoint by being filmed in black and white. The costuming looks decent, if not a bit on the camp side; although I can imagine that everything was painted in garish colors. In this way, I feel a lack of said color is a blessing in disguise. Effect shots are very few and far between, and aside from a slew of decent matte paintings and other background special effects, the whole affair is essentially done as a stage play rather than something filmed especially for Television. One thing that could have been done a bit better was the acting in certain places. Since I can assume that most of the actors involved were stage actors, they seem to be massively overacting when in front of the camera. The way they wistfully look around, their body posture and the way they move all scream THEATRE! I can let this pass in older TV shows and films, because the medium was in its infancy, but I’ve seen much older shows with way more subdued acting.

Aside from those few quibbles, I enjoyed No Place like Earth quite a bit. I think it’s my love for older science fiction short stories from the era, but stories like this have a weird sense of wonder and adventure that is mostly absent from a lot of modern science fiction. If you like these sorts of shows and want to see stories from some fairly prominent science fiction writers of the time, I’d say check this show out.

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TV Review – Day of the Triffids (1981) Episode 1

I was perusing Netflix’s streaming tab one day, and noticed a few new shows added to my “you might like this” tab.  One show in question was one that I had heard of, but had never seen called “The Day of the Triffids”.  Since then I have researched it a bit more, and discovered that a 2009 remake was made, and a few theatrical movies exist of the story, all of which was originally a book by John Wyndham.  I hope Netflix keeps this up, as I’d love to see some more stuff that I can review for this site.

The opening credits are creepy

As the episode opens, we see a man named Bill Mason, who is laying in a hospital bed with bandages covering the majority of his face.  We learn, through various flashbacks, that Triffids were some sort of plant, whose oil could be used as a new source of energy.  It appears that some sort of energy crisis is afoot, and the new Triffid oil is the best around.  The problem is that apparently Triffids seem to be either sentient, or at least move around to feed, as Bill knows the best of all.  He was the first to officially be “attacked” by a Triffid as a child, as one was able to sting him pretty badly.  He gained expertise in the subject, and later went to work on a Triffid farm of all places.  His injury, that as of yet was a mystery, seems to come from another Triffid sting, that left him temporarily blind.  As Bill lay in bed, the world bears witness to a beautiful meteor shower, one that will change mankind forever.

A Triffid on the attack

The story in itself is a breath of fresh air for a person like me, who has seen just about any science fiction plotline used umpteen times.  To be honest, I really can’t say that I’ve seen a show about walking killer plants.  The budget for The Day of the Triffids is obviously pretty small, but doesn’t seem to suffer from the budget shortcomings of shows like Doctor Who and Blakes 7, probably having to do with the short duration of the miniseries.  The special effects are pretty good, but sparse, and the only real heavy amount of them you see are the Triffids themselves, which look like a huge Amazonian carnivorous pitcher plant, mixed with some kind of houseplant.

I will definitely keep watching this show, and now plan to check out the other versions of this story, as I love post-apocalyptic stories, which I assume is where this goes, and weird stuff in general.

The intro

My rating: 4 out of 5