The Wednesday Plays: To Lay A Ghost/The Man In My Head (1971)

Over the years, US TV has had numerous famous science-fiction and fantasy ‘anthology’ series: The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and The Night Gallery to name but a few. In the UK, we’ve been far less lucky. But we’ve had a few, the classiest and most sophisticated of which was Out of the Unknown, which I’ve already discussed a bit back in Weird Old Title Sequences (go and watch The Machine Stops – it’s great).

Initially, under the oversight of Irene Shubik, Out of the Unknown covered purely science-fiction concepts and adaptations. However, by the third and fourth series, a new production team was put in place, following Shubik’s departure from the programme. New producer Alan Bromly decided that in light of the Apollo missions, people weren’t impressed by space travel any more, so decided to go for more psychological horror stories instead – with mixed success.

Possibly the worst of his run was To Lay A Ghost. In this, Eric and Diana Carver move into a new home in the country, but a series of strange events soon cause Diana to suspect the house is haunted by the ghost of a man who seems to be interested in her particularly. She was sexually assaulted when she was a schoolgirl and ever since has had a complex about sex and intimacy. When they call in Dr Philmore, a paranormal expert, he suspects that Diana subconsciously wants to the dominated by this supernatural intruder.

To Lay A Ghost unfortunately still exists in the BBC archives – yes, from the same season, the BBC wiped Nigel Kneale’s one contribution to Out of the Unknown, Chopper, but decided to keep the “woman raped while a child can now only achieve sexual satisfaction by being raped” story. FFS. Watch it if you dare:

However, I wouldn’t leave you only with that ‘horror story’ to watch this week. Have more faith.

Instead, let me leave you with possibly the best remaining play of the fourth series (and possibly of all the fourth series), The Man In My Head, by John Wiles. Set in the near future, it features a group of soldiers who are carrying out a dangerous mission against a country they are not even sure they are at war with. Their briefing has been imprinted on their subconsciousnesses and can only be triggered by coded radio signals.

Acting automatically and without thinking, some of them begin to question the nature of their mission, especially after one of them accidentally triggers his own cover story, which was designed to fool interrogators if they were captured. But is their dissent all part of their programming as well?

The play features some dodgy CSO effects, but it’s well directed by Peter “I cancelled Doctor Who, I did” Cregeen who intriguingly makes use in the play of real news footage of the Vietnam war – something that got Doomwatch‘s Sex and Violence banned in 1972. Enjoy!