The Wednesday Play: Red Shift (1978)

Since I know a lot of you lovely readers are sci-fi lovers, today, I thought I’d give you the gift of one of the few sci-fi/fantasy plays that the BBC made in its standard drama strand, Play For Today. Based on Alan Garner’s novel of the same name, Red Shift is an odd little thing set in three time periods: Roman times, the Civil War and ‘modern times’. Linked by an artefact that appears in all three periods, a stone axe, the play looks at the plight of three different men, all faced with different challenges of the time, usually involving women. In the Roman period, some Roman deserters are in hiding, except the enemy may be within (or it might be the Celt woman they have prisoner, who might actually be a local goddess); in the Civil War, the goodies (including James Hazeldine) are holed up in a church, trying to escape from some Royalists; while in the present time, a somewhat pretentious student is vexed by his girlfriend and his parents.

To a certain extent, the story defies description, losing some aspects of the novel in translation to TV. The stories are linked more or less only by location, although the themes of adolescent angst, religion and control/lack of control of women are still there in the play. As a result, it’s more fascinating to watch mainly for the third story to see what ‘modern values’ were in 1978, with the pretentious student living with his parents in a caravan, and they being unwilling for him to have sex with his girlfriend. It’s also fun to see how little traffic there was in motorways in those days.

I won’t pretend it’s the greatest play ever and the specialised science-fiction strands at the BBC produced far superior work. But it’s a worth a watch out of historical curiosity and to see something that doesn’t give easy answers.