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British Science Fiction Film And Television edited by Tobias Hochscherf and James Leggott

01/05/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

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pub: McFarland. 227 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP29.95 (UK), $35.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-4621-6. and

British Science Fiction in the media of film and television is a big subject and yet I was surprised by how much of junior material like ‘Space Patrol’, ‘Timeslip’, ‘Sky’ and even ‘The Tomorrow People’ or even more adult fare like ‘The Champions’ is left out or not even referenced in this book. Granted we rarely went to the glamorous and more highly budgeted American shows, but I would err on caution to say this book is comprehensive. If anything, we British tend to have series and films that are more grounded in reality before a twist is put in the tale, which reflects on how our early Science Fiction was written as well. Seeing the downside of the future tends to show British stoicism but the fact we survived it also presents a determination to survive.

It must be an age thing but I suspect the writers involved with this book did not have first hand knowledge of the time period although they do make some interesting observations. The reason why the term ‘Science Fiction’ took so long to catch on over here was, for the most part, we didn’t have a pulp fiction market and the likes of HG Wells, Jules Verne, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell were placed in general fiction than in their own category and have remained so. With the American market, it was more a matter of finding something that would sell and sell cheaply at that. Like with the western novels, Science Fiction was just something that was tried and cultivated its own market and survived. It’s only when such books and magazines came over here that the connection between the two was made. This no doubt had the influence on our media SF as being grounded in current day reality than too far into the future even when the likes of John Wyndham and Nigel Kneale came along.

David Simmons examination of Hammer Films flirtation with SF came about because it adapted a lot of shows at that time and if anything was exploiting any market it could lay its hands on. There are similar parallels to the 70s after ‘Star Wars’ and even today with once there’s shown to be a market, other studios will jump on the bandwagon.

The observations of the Gerry Anderson shows are marred by factual errors that certainly will have any of the series’ fans question the otherwise good articles here. I mean, Shane Rimmer did the voice of Scott not Virgil Tracy and I hope writer Jonathan Bignell is colour blind in some way after declaring Thunderbird 3 was red as opposed to the orange the rest of us see.

Peter Hutchings, with his analysis of ‘UFO’, appears not to realise that the purple hair worn by the women on Moonbase was anti-static wigs and no doubt to stop loose hair clogging up the systems and keyboards. I do agree to some extent about the limitations of only one missile to one Space Interceptor but considering the payload required even a near miss would damage the UFOs. If anything, they were there more as a deterrent than stop all attacks. With the episode ‘Confetti Check A-OK’, it wasn’t just about Straker’s marriage break-up but showing the SHADO organisation being built up as well as showing which officers were there at the beginning. Rather interestingly, although Hutchings points out one of the episodes being banished to late night because of its adult content, when he notes the other three that were as well and doesn’t mention that detail applied to them as well. Again, it’s more a point of you had to be there to know that, although it is widely known. The last time ‘UFO’ was shown on TV, even these episodes were shown before the watershed, suggesting that their tone was considered more conventional or the TV stations involved didn’t see them as adult.

The analysis of the 1989 ‘Doctor Who Movie’ by Peter Wright points out the problems when making a TV film compromising between two countries. The real problem, though, is the Americans don’t really get drama in the mass media whereas we Brits brought up with it do. This isn’t helped by them relying too much on statistics to gauge what their average viewer wants and forgetting the average SF viewer doesn’t belong to that norm.

The split of British TV shows had the Anderson series given two chapters and ‘Doctor Who’, and if you include ‘Torchwood’, three. Only a couple films, ‘A Clockwork Orange’, ’28 Days Later’ and ‘The Final Programme’ get any detailed examination. Granted, the likes of ‘Quatermass’ and ‘2001’ have been fully analysed elsewhere but even the brief look at Hammer Films’ output ignores some other films out there from the same time period. I almost got the feeling these writers chose material they could do reasonably easy.

This isn’t to say this book isn’t interesting but essentially it is still university analysis, often of comparing other people’s knowledge, most of the footnotes at the back of the book are purely where they are referenced from, than anything first hand themselves. Granted as the years go on, the number of my age group is going to go down and any knowledge is going to be purely on paper without any of the emotional content of the time. This book could have gone a lot further than it did and should have included series and films that were essential failures or why they didn’t garner their target audience to survive. I’m sure ‘Blake’s 7’ and ‘Survivors’ fans will wonder why their series didn’t even get more than a few references. If your favourite shows are here, then those of you left will have something of interest to read.

GF Willmetts

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