Science fiction and fantasy on TV have shaped my life and what claims to be my mind.
Ask me to describe my most vivid memories of childhood television and I’ll respond: anything by Gerry Anderson, but especially Captain Scarlet. Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but especially its precursor, Do Not Adjust Your Set. Doctor Who, but especially in black and white. The Avengers, but especially episodes like The Cybernauts and The House That Jack Built. The Outer Limits, but especially Demon with a Glass Hand. The Prisoner, but especially the fact that it never made any sense.
I loved The Prisoner because it didn’t make sense. Life didn’t make sense. Why should everything be easy to understand and why should every story have a resolution? That was The Prisoner’s liberating gift to a generation – a generation that enjoyed a Golden Age of TV invention and imagination, at a time when the small screen was still striving to become an art form in its own right.
There was ruthless satire, surrealism, the birth of pop culture, rock and roll, future gazing and flights of fancy. Television programmes were being made when there were still precious few rules and no ratings war. It was a time when some people dared to create entertainment as new as the technology itself, a time of innovation and exploration. And during this period there were great fantasy shows, my appointments to view, no matter what.
Of course there was an awful lot of tripe on our screens when I was growing up, but memory tells me there were some programme makers who sensed that television had to reflect the fact that the certainties of the past had been swept away.
Suddenly we no longer trusted our institutions and our leaders. What had once been solid and comforting was now ephemeral and disturbing. We lived in a world where things might well be not what they seemed. Secret services performed dirty tricks. Conspiracies could be very real. Physics was re-defining our place in space and time. The ballistic arc of intercontinental missiles connected the superpowers.
Some of us cherished our hopes and dreams as vigorously as we cared for facts. We also wished to confront our nightmares. And when we discovered TV shows that explored the new terrain we formed an unbreakable bond with them.
Not all of them were great television shows. But they dared to be different.
American novelist Kurt Vonnegut once pointed out that earthly TV transmissions, hurtling through the icy void, might well represent humankind’s first contact with an advanced alien race. It is a disturbing thought that Jedward or my 1986 interview for Granada Reports with Stanley the Counting Horse might occupy the time of extra-terrestrial philosophers. (It is an even more disturbing thought that they may not be able to tell if Stanley or me represents this planet’s dominant species…)
This age of ours, and the children born into it, need fantastic fictions that reflect a time when the future becomes the present with ever increasing speed, and we need great TV dramatists and film makers to make them happen. Especially as we stand on the brink of all television being distributed via the Internet, reaching young hearts and minds almost everywhere and at any time of their choosing on all manner of devices.
Be seeing you.