Lost Gems: Wipe Out (1988)

It’s easy to think in this day and age that just about everything is on the Internet or DVD. Whether it’s some obscure piece of 1950s tatt or Latvian adaptations of On The Buses, Network has probably released it already or there’ll be a web site dedicated to it somewhere.

But sometimes, shows are so lost, I can barely give you anything to work with.

Take the 1988 ITV1 mini-series Wipe Out. Now, it’s not been totally forgotten. There are references here and there to it. But largely it’s been forgotten by the world.

Airing almost immediately after The One Game back in 1988, Wipe Out appeared to be a series in more or less the same vein. The show was heavily trailed with adverts in which security broke down at a prison, resulting in a riot, followed by a vicar of some sorts suggesting that it was the result of “pure evil”. Cue a show about possession, etc, right?

Wrong. Because although it was still the late 80s, this was actually a show about computer viruses. Written by Martin Stone and Richard Maher, the conceit of Wipe Out was that it was actually set in “the very near future”, a future so near to ours it was otherwise indistinguishable from it bar the fact that computers with artificial intelligence are running large chunks of the UK’s infrastructure.

Ian McElhinney (now in Game of Thrones) played Max Raines, a home office investigator who goes to the prison to investigate the riot and soon discovers that it was the computer running the security that had had problems, something that was supposed to be impossible thanks to its artificial intelligence. His investigations eventually lead him to John Fairling (Nigel Terry from Excalibur), the psychologist who helped develop the intelligence behind the computers. Terry, who’s something of an anarchist, wants to bring down the UK – and the US, which also uses the computers – and during his research with the dangerous inmates of the prison came up with the idea of driving the AIs mad using a virus called The Paradise Project (IIRC), named after Milton’s Paradise Lost. He intends to deploy the virus to the infrastructure computers, including those running air traffic control and the UK’s defences, with the help of a bunch of like-minded terrorists.

A parallel plot see McElhinney’s character manipulated by Home Office mandarin Clive Rawlinson (actor and antique dealer Tristram Jellinek) using secret records about his parents’ deaths during the Mau Mau uprising. Eventually, things dovetail together with Raines stopping the Paradise Project from being deployed, Terry being captured (or killed) and the Americans apparently happy – until Rawlinson reveals the extent of his manipulations and McElhinney angrily pressing the button that will activate The Paradise Project. The final shot: the planes and missiles of the UK and then a cut to credits.

The message of course being don’t trust computers, particularly smart ones, or we’re all in trouble.

That was, of course, the last seen of Wipe Out. It’s never been repeated and never been released on DVD. There was no sequel and everyone apart from me appears to have forgotten about it. It’s a Lost Gem.

Since I don’t have any clips or even photos to leave you of Wipe Out, have Colossus: The Forbin Project instead, which is a similarly themed film that’s rather good.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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