A few weeks ago (when I could still speak), I recorded a segment for the Overnightscape Central
podcast in which I discussed an old TV programme which had a very profound effect on me when I saw it as a child. Indeed, that episode of the science fiction anthology series Out of The Unknown
, The Yellow Pill
, is one my earliest and most vivid TV memories. It might, in part, be down to the fact that it was an early BBC colour production (which I saw in colour), but I'm sure it was the subject matter of the story which entranced me at the tender age of six. An adaptation of Rog Philips' short story of the same name, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction
in the late 1950s, the story concerns the nature of reality and our perception of it. Basically, it concerns a psychiatrist confronted a patient - a murderer according to the police - who clearly has a radically different perception of the situation, insisting that they are crew members on a spaceship in the future and that the psychiatrist - really the ship's captain - suffering from a space sickness which causes him to suffer complex and highly realistic delusions. If only the psychiatrist would check the drawer of his desk - actually a chart table - the patient insists, he will find his vial of yellow pills, which will bring him back to reality. Over the course of the next fifty minutes or so, the two men engage in a battle of wills, each trying to disprove the other's interpretation of reality.
Like many programmes of its era (the late 1960s and early 1970s), it no longer exists, having been wiped by the BBC. (Programmes were often wiped by TV companies in this period for a variety of reasons: partly because at that time they simply didn't have the space to archive everything, partly because of a desire to cut costs by re-using the then very expensive videotape the programmes were recorded on). Consequently, this programme now exists only as a memory in the heads of people, like me, who saw it at the time. (To be honest, aside from my father, who I watched the programme with, I've never met anybody else who recalls watching it, which leaves me with the frightening prospect that, since my father died a few years ago, I'm the only
person left who remembers this broadcast). These 'lost' pieces of my pop culture past have been weighing heavily on my mind of late. Unlike the Yellow Pill
, which I can recall vividly and in some detail, most of these memories exist only as tantalising snatches of dialogue, or individual scenes. I've spent many years trying to work out what programmes they belonged to in order to try and understand them in context.
Of course, before the internet, it was virtually impossible to research these things - there were few reference books which even admitted the existence of series like Out of The Unknown
, let alone provided any kind of episode details. However, thanks to the web, over the past few years I've been able to place many of these memories - a vividly recollected robot sequence, for instance, I now know to be from another Out of The Unknown
episode, an adaptation of an Asimov robot story. Nevertheless, some remain elusive - the climax of a colour production set in a US missile silo, for instance and, most perplexingly, a macabre scene from an early 1970s one-off drama involving a covert attempt to take the fingerprints of a corpse in a morgue. All I remember from this is that the body was too badly burned or mangled for visual identification and the protagonists, (one of whom was, I think, the daughter of the supposedly dead man), suspecting that the corpse wasn't who the authorities said it was. I seem to recall that the supposedly dead man had been seen after his alleged demise. I also know that I didn't see the end of this one, increasing the intrigue. In recent weeks I think I might have identified this one as an episode of the Dead of Night
supernatural anthology series shown by the BBC in 1972, entitled Death Cancels all Debts
. Frustratingly, this is yet another wiped episode, but what little I've found online in terms of synopses, episode content and broadcast details - doppelgangers, originally shown on a Sunday night on BBC2 - seem to point to it being what I vaguely recall watching all those years ago.
But why does any of this matter? Well, as I indicated before, these are all important early memories for me - they undoubtedly helped me shape my world view. Especially The Yellow Pill
, which, at an early age, taught me that seeing isn't
believing, and that the apparently mundane world around us was, perhaps, just a thin veil concealing something far more wondrous.
Labels: Musings From the Mind of Doc Sleaze, Nostalgic Naughtiness