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Rule science fiction Britannia

25/10/2006. Contributed by Jessica Martin

Buy Blake's 7 in the USA - or Buy Blake's 7 in the UK

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Fans of British science fiction are in for a treat this November as BBC Four pays homage to the enduring appeal of the genre with a season of films and programmes. Covering everything from the televisual appeal of Blake's 7 to the genius of John Wyndham, the channel boldly aims to explore all aspects of the subject to get to the heart of the genre's appeal.

At the centre of the season is Random Quest, a science fiction romance drama based on a short story by John Wyndham. Adapted for TV by Richard Fell (Quatermass, A For Andromeda), Random Quest tells the extraordinary story of Colin Trafford, played by Sam West (Cambridge Spies), a research physicist who, when knocked unconscious in an experiment which goes wrong, wakes to find himself in a parallel world.

In this other world Colin finds he has another life including a beautiful wife Ottilie, played by Kate Ashfield (This Little Life, Shaun of the Dead) who he proceeds to fall in love with. Pulled back into his own world he is told he has been in a coma since the accident but Colin believes the other world and Ottilie exist and he goes in search of her.

No other genre of television garners such interest and fuels such passion in its legions of fans than science fiction. So what are the origins and stories behind the starriest shows in the television universe? Who are the characters that brought the shows to the screen? Where did they come from and where did they go?

In The Cult of... Robert Llewellyn (Red Dwarf) goes in search of the origins and stories behind the starriest shows in the television universe. He meets actors, writers and set designers to talk about some of the best loved British science fiction series including Adam Adamant, Doomwatch, The Survivors, Blakes 7, The Tripods and Starcops.

Examining the lighter side of being in a British science fiction TV series, Nigel Planer (Young Ones) plays classically trained "actawr" Nicholas Craig in How To Be Sci-Fi, which looks at the perils and pitfalls that lie ahead of anyone brave enough to grapple with that most demanding of mistresses - "outer space acting". Nicholas supplements tips for the aspiring thespian with clips from classic British sci-fi series and offers invaluable advice and guidance on how to wear a roll neck, gain motivation for playing green slime and master that all important look of horror, to name but a few.

The season begins with a three-part series of films, The Martians and Us, which traces the history of the genre. Each of the three films looks at one of the central driving themes of British Science fiction. Apes and Aliens explores the fascination with evolution in all its forms. Trouble In Paradise examines the British tradition of Utopias and Dystopias whilst the third film The End Of The World As We Know It reflects on the British fascination with catastrophe and the end of the world.

Voiced by Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It) this series is the history of British science fiction - the stories Britain has told the world of alien invasions, strange mutations and Big Brother. Science fiction was born in Britain out of the ferment of the industrial revolution and British writers and film-makers have led the genre from its beginnings - from HG Wells through George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Arthur C Clarke and Ridley Scott to Iain M Banks.

But British science fiction has a distinct tone. It is gloomier, edgier and darker than its US counterpart. Where the Americans have Captain Kirk - leader of a confident, empire-building and morally-certain expedition - we have Dr Who - a shambolic eccentric buffeted about in a chaotic and hostile universe.

The Martians and Us looks at what makes British science fiction so distinctive, and at what it tells us about being British, while celebrating its long and varied history in literature, cinema, comics and television.

Apes to Aliens looks at the theory of Evolution. Where did we come from? Where are we going? And will we get eaten along the way? From HG Wells' The Time Machine to Kubrick and Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey via Dr Who and The Midwich Cuckoos, this film looks at how we've imagined our future and our past - and at just what the changing relationship has been between the Martians and Us. Contributors include Arthur C Clarke, Steve Jones, Brian Aldiss, Doris Lessing

Trouble In Paradise investigates the many utopian dreams and dystopian nightmares of British science fiction. Two of the most famous works of science fiction ever are British: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and 1984 by George Orwell - books so important they've entered the language. One is a vision of the future full of sex and shopping; the other is a story of oppression and violence. But why have the British been better than anyone at imagining these future heavens and hells? And what do they reveal about us and our deepest fears? Contributors include Margaret Atwood and Iain M. Banks.

The final installment, The End Of The World As We Know It, analyses what it would be like to be the last man left alive on earth. It's a scenario that has fascinated British science fiction writers for over a century. We've been swamped and flooded, killed off by plagues, poisonous clouds and walking plants. From The Day of the Triffids through to Survivors and The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy we look at why the British so love a good catastrophe. Contributors include Dories Lessing, Will Self, Kim Newman and John Sutherland

Also in the season is Timeshift: Parallel Worlds. The film looks at the belief which pervades so much of British science fiction - that there is another world sitting shoulder to shoulder with Earth but with a difference. Does each of us have a doppelganger out there in a far away world? The strand examines how the idea unfolded from its origins in religion and mythology, got transformed by the theory of quantum mechanics and multiplied trillions of times into multi-universes by modern science fiction writers.

Narrated by comic actor Richard Ayoade, this playful viewer's guide to entering another dimension features contributions from science fiction historian Brian Stableford, broadcaster Stuart Maconie, Dr Who writer Tom McRae, Journalist David Bradley, Ian Stewart, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick and novelist and critic Kim Newman.

In addition to the TV output the season will be accompanied by bbc.co.uk/MyScienceFictionLife; an online project that will mix editorialised content (a linear timeline of all the major creative endeavours in British Science Fiction), with the audience's own personal stories and unexpected connections. The project will run for a 6 month period beyond the season, becoming its own repository of science fiction.

Other programming in the season will include films and TV archive including A For Andromeda, Adam Adamant, Ian M Banks The Crow Road, Red Dwarf plus many, many more.

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