Saturday, February 23, 2013

Out of the Unknown - The Last Lonely Man

Out of the Unknown is one of those series that holds an almost mythical status. It has never been released in any form of home video and depending on who you talk to, it never will. There is a lot of interesting theories as to why there is a lack of release for Out of the Unknown. One big problem is something that faces a ton of BBC series from the 1970s which is a fair amount of the episodes are missing. The survival rate of this series is not 100% but there is enough episodes which could easily warrant a mutli-disc set kind of like the release to Adam Adamant Lives! Out of the 59 episodes made only 20 still exist.  The bigger problem to this is what a lot of people dub as “rights hell”.

Do you ever go to DVD or home entertainment forums and when there is something that cannot be released it is invariably people say it is because the series is in “rights hell”. The studio cannot get the rights or come to terms with other parties to release the material. One of the classic cases of this was the 1960s Batman series. Two groups had claim to the series but couldn’t come to terms. Who loses out? We do. This is exactly what is happening with Out of the Unknown. For series 1-3, Out of the Unknown took stories from well-established Science Fiction authors and adapted their work for the series. The problem is that it may become too difficult to get the deals sorted out with all of the different writers and may be a very expensive venture or possibly not being able to come to terms with authors or their estates making it that some of the already few existing episodes not get any release at all. Now, I’m not an expert on that; I am just relaying what I have heard from other people. Another problem on top of this is that say the BBC did do a payout to all of the authors; they came to some agreement and release the existing episodes on DVD. Historically, these niche series have not sold as well as the BBC has hoped. It appears Adam Adamant Lives! in particular is one that is often cited for being a low seller. Doomwatch was on the cards to be released but it was scrapped. So, even after attaining the rights and putting together a DVD set, if it under sells that could be a real problem and a major money loser.
Radio Times listing sourced from RandomTVStuff Blog
Now to use my example from above, the good news about Batman is that it still shows up in the TV schedules in different areas. It is not impossible to find. Unfortunately, Out of the Unknown is not quite like that. It aired on BBC2 back in the 1960s and early 1970s never to be seen again apart from one or two examples over the years. It reached mythical status. A lot of us had to turn to other means to view the series we want. I have been lucky as I received copies from a friend who got them from the master 2” tapes or directly from 16mm film prints. It doesn’t change the fact that this would be a great series to buy and support the BBC range.

The Last Lonely Man TX: 21/01/69
This week I take a look at an episode from Series 3. In fact this is the only episode that exists in full from the third series and it is the first series to be made in colour. The episode starts off by confusing me right away.  This is the first time I have even seen it and it begins with a super-fast sequence of a car driving. It’s a man and a woman driving down some country roads in a yellow sports car recklessly driving around. He is trying to impress her and she is loving it. She loves it so much she goes over to him and gives him a big kiss while they are driving so fast. Suddenly a truck pulls out in front of them and they slam right into it. It is very gruesome for 1960s BBC television! There is blood everywhere and they are mangled. None of it matters because it’s a PSA. At least it’s like a PSA which means Public Service Announcement but it’s not one that is bestowing responsible behavior, at least not in a way we would expect.

It is a PSA for Contact. We are not privy to what Contact is right from the start and to be honest by the time the episode ends I am still not 100% clear on what it is. What I do know is that a person gets someone else to be their Contact. Generally family members will have each other as Contacts. Some will have Mutual Contacts.  What happens is that some kind of procedure takes place and gets a person set up so when their person they have Contact with dies, that person’s memories and possibly personality is automatically  transferred into the other person’s brain. Sadly the two young people in the PSA had no Mutuals (the person they would download to after dying) so they are really just dead. Their memories and personality are not passed along to anyone. The moral of the PSA, make sure you have a Mutual Contact. It is a new form of insurance. I think I got it.
It’s a way to introduce us to the concept of Contact. The episode really gets going in a bar. James Hale (played by George Cole) hasn’t been in there for a while but comes in for a drink. He is obviously a very conscientious if not a little dull of a person. As he is at the bar having a drink and chatting to the bartender a man by the name of Patrick (played by Peter Halliday) comes in to the place and he is obviously very drunk. He starts talking to a couple at the table and it is very clear that the woman at the table knows him. The woman at the table whose name is Mary just told Patrick that he has been expunged. Basically means that she has dropped him as his Contact. The way that Contact is spoken about in this episode it’s kind of like a grander form of insurance. It is insinuated that people should not be walking around without having a Contact of any kind. Once Patrick realizes he doesn’t have Contact anymore he gets distraught, drinks more and starts up a conversation with James.

Patrick keeps pouring James drinks and somehow talks him into allowing Patrick to be one of his Contacts just for a couple of days until he can make other arrangements for a new person to be his Contact. They end up going to the airport that night since there is an all-night place that does it. It is there that we start seeing that Patrick is a bit of a jerk to everyone.
Apparently there is no limit to how drunk you can be to get a Contact procedure done. Plus, you can show up publicly drunk and they will still do the procedure to you. It’s kind of odd. The next day, Mary tracks James down to explain Patrick a little better to him. Apparently, Patrick keeps trying to get people to be his Mutual and when they agree he will not leave them alone. He is so worried something will happen to them that he won’t let them out of his sight at any cost. He becomes clingy and horrible. Patrick is in fact a very creepy man.

James doesn’t believe Mary as James is a good person and takes people on their word. He will regret this with Patrick. That night, Patrick stays with the Hales. They are having dinner together and Patrick almost leers at James’ wife Rowena throughout the whole meal. Did I mention that Douglas Camfield directed this? Right there you know it’s pretty good. It seems like when we start to get more scenes with Patrick, he is almost lit in a way to look as creepy as possible. Somehow Patrick ingratiates himself into the Hale family to the point that they trust him to watch their twins while they go and see a movie. This is even though they have known Patrick for just over a day. The scene where James and Rowena are at the theatre watching the film has a very Orwell Nineteen Eighty-Four vibe to it. The film is about the virtues of Contact. The film shows old footage of soldiers fighting in a battle before there ever was Contact. The audience watching the film is just laughing at those soldiers because they do not have any Mutuals to pass along. It’s unnerving. It reminds of me of Nineteen Eighty-Four with the 2-minutes of hate that Winston had to endure with other Outer Party members as they screamed hatred at footage of their enemy every day for two minutes.  
Back to our episode, James looks to the back of the theatre and sees Patrick there watching him. Why is Patrick there when he should be watching their twins? James chases Patrick down only to find out the Patrick just wanted to make sure that nothing happened to James on his way to the theatre. The twins are alright but James tells Patrick to get out of their life and I would assume that James will expunge Patrick the next day. He probably should have gone back to that clinic at the airport. That night in bed, Rowena and James come to the conclusion that Patrick might do something awful so in the middle of the night they go to the room Patrick rents. Just as they are about to enter his room Patrick commits suicide. Immediately, James picks up all of Patrick’s memories and bad habits.

James starts acting like Patrick. He starts to lie about things and he is rude to just about everyone. More and more Patrick is taking over James’ mind. James loses interest in the kids. James returns to the bar from the beginning of the episode and sees Mary there again. At first she talks to James not knowing how much Patrick has infiltrated James’ life. Then she realises that she is being played by Patrick from within James’s head. James/Patrick wants Mary to be a Mutual to them. She doesn’t want to do so  which nearly ends in a big fight. Then James collects himself and apologizes. He apologizes that Patrick sometimes takes over. The brilliant part of this is that it is still Patrick talking. Patrick is even duping us, the viewer!
Rowena is supposed to go to Manchester to visit her brother but comes home to find James unpacking her bags. He explains that he wants her to stay. Then he tells her he needs her to stay. She is his only Contact now as James has been expunged from other family members due to his new behavior which Patrick’s personality. He wants to make sure nothing happens to her. At any cost! That is when she realises all of the windows have bars on it. That is when he ultra-bolts the door. She sees he has stored up on canned food. He plans to watch her all the time and will not allow anyone to enter or leave the apartment to make sure nothing happens to her. He pulls out a gun as he says they may need to use it when people come by such as various government services. She is trapped there for the rest of her life and that may not be too long.

When I finished watching this I actually became disturbed and depressed. James was a good, kind man who only wanted to make sure Patrick was taken care of until he could find other arrangements. Patrick has ruined a whole family. It can only be assumed it didn’t work out well for anyone. Contact is an interesting concept. It is one of those plot devices where it has been in service for some time before we join into the episode. Contact isn’t new but even the people who have created don’t think it has been fully developed. In the episode, there are clinics set up to deal with what happens when you get people who have Contact transfer and they take over the other person. It is not something you can just get rid of but more of weekly sessions to help people deal. James already has his father’s memories in him. The question I had is how does human life evolve after generations and generations of taking on other people’s memories and personalities? How many people can fit into one brain? It is even talked about how one side effect is that a lot of people are becoming bisexual because they are taking on memories and personalities of people from the opposite sex. Another side effect on society is that people are taking more and more chances. A lot of people are careless if they get killed because they have this “insurance policy” of basically living in someone else’s brain. I would love to see a story about Contact taking place 100 years after the events of this story and see how humanity had evolved with this process.
The Last Lonely Man is a story by John Brunner and was adapted by Jeremy Paul. Douglas Camfield was the director. What is interesting is that music was composed by Don Harper. He composed the very distinctive music for Doctor Who The Invasion. The music is basically the same as in The Invasion but I like it that way. The music is grim and accentuates the action with harsh moments of a musical clash.

George Cole and Peter Halliday are amazing in this for their own reasons. Peter Halliday plays Patrick very disturbed and creepy. He is a psycho. The scene before he kills himself he is sitting alone in his room with the gun right next to himself just weeping uncontrollably. It is so disturbing. The whole scene is awful which in this case I mean good. It would be easy to think George Cole would play it safe because James is a very straight laced character. After Patrick’s memory starts entering into James, the change is very obvious right away. As the rest of the episode goes on, we see James change into a horrible person. James starts to even talk like Patrick. What I mean by that is George Cole starts to speak in the same cadence that Peter Halliday speaks. It is sadly brilliant.
Now in colour, Series 3 uses the same title sequence created for the black & white series but in colour. At first I assume they achieved this the same way they made the Pertwee title sequence for Doctor Who. That was made in black & white and then “coloured” afterwards but after re-watching the sequence it looks like it had been done that way to a certain degree but other shots had been completely replaced.  It looks great and the sequence itself is very cool and one of the best ever for British television. It changes to something pretty bland for Series 4.  Out of the 13 episodes from the third series, this is the only full episode that exists. There is an extract from Liar! Thirty minutes exist from The Little Black Bag and an off-air audio recording exists for The Yellow Pill. Not a great survival rate. It is also too bad that the final episode of the third series doesn’t exist titled Get Off My Cloud. It has a couple of Daleks in it. I was thinking about it the other day, if it did exist like The Last Lonely Man on colour videotape, we would have a rare look at the original Dalek in their original colour scheme on 1960s colour videotape. I can dream! Don’t get me wrong, I am not lamenting just that one episode is gone; I am frustrated that many of them are gone. Maybe someday one will be found again. The last episode of Out of the Unknown found was Level Seven in 2006. I think we are due for another find!

It is hard for me to put into words the loss of Richard Briers. He certainly wasn’t a one-note actor. He always had a playful mischief in his eyes and seemed like just a wonderful feller. It will be weird watching The Good Life in the future knowing that this energetic full of life fun human being is gone. Very soon, I will write up something about him. Rest in Peace Richard Briers.

Next week: I will publish the second 50WHO article as I look at the Ninth Doctor and look at Rose. Not so much just the episode but also the excitement about my favourite series coming back on the air plus the ups and downs of that period of time. When the Doctor explains that Harriet Jones ushers in the golden age to Britain, I feel that Christopher Eccleston brought in the Golden Age for Doctor Who.
From another source, here's the VT Countdown clock!
Have a great week!

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Dave G said...

I just watched the most recent episode of Top Gear which had Richard Briers providing the GPS voice. I didn't even recognize the voice - it was a shock when at the end Jeremy Clarkson mentioned him. I went back and listened again and I could then hear something of him, but nothing like the Richard Briers of my memories. Just another sad reminder of age.

Greg said...

It's too bad. Yet still no release of Series 2 of The Other One

warewolfboy said...

i heard the BFi are releasing this show on dvd.