What TV’s on at the BFI in October/November 2014?

It’s time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in October and November 2014. And gosh, what a bounty there is, thanks to not one but two sci-fi seasons. On top of a discussion of forthcoming BBC2 documentary series Tomorrow’s Worlds and a celebration of ‘queer sci-fi TV’, there are showings of both of Nigel Kneale’s versions of 1984 (with a Kim Newman discussion about Kneale’s work), a repeat of The Cloning of Joanna May, showings of a Doomwatch episodes, movie and the Channel 5 remake, and various science-fiction TV plays, including Fable, an Out of the Unknown, and a Play for Tomorrow.

Should be good!

Thu 23 Oct 18:00 NFT3
BBC 1954. Dir Rudolph Cartier. With Peter Cushing, Yvonne Mitchell, André Morell. 120min
Finally being released on DVD by the BFI, this important drama – along with Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass serial the year before – marked the birth of modern-day, adult sci-fi on TV. This production was hugely controversial due to its horrific themes, made more potent by fantastic performances under the direction of one the BBC’s most gifted directors. Kneale’s version of Orwell’s chilling novel only survives because of the furore surrounding its initial transmission, which led to the telerecording of the second performance a few days later; a valuable record of an astonishing televisual tour de force.

Sun 26 Oct 15:00 NFT3
Theatre 625: The World of George Orwell: 1984
BBC 1965. Dir Christopher Morahan. With David Buck, Jane Merrow. 110min
Absent from the British TV archives for over 40 years, this BBC version of 1984 from the 60s was found at the US Library of Congress in 2012. Theatre 625 began a few weeks after the launch of BBC Two, and was a flagship anthology series designed to feature adaptations with depth and resonance. In its second year it ran a trilogy of dramas under the title The World of George Orwell, the third of which was this new version of 1984. Nigel Kneale made amendments to his script to reflect developments in the years since the original, and director Morahan incorporated contemporary motifs into the production as the real 1984 loomed ever closer. Note: this copy – sadly – is incomplete with a ten-minute section missing from the middle.
+ Kim Newman Discusses The Legacy of Nigel Kneale
Nigel Kneale was the godfather of UK sci-fi TV. A clever, humanitarian, visionary writer whose ideas mixed ancient horrors with contemporary science to create a uniquely British phenomenon. After this screening, horror writer and film reviewer Kim Newman will give us his insights into what made Kneale so special.

Thu 30 Oct 18:10 NFT3
Play for Tomorrow: Bright Eyes + Panel Discussion and Q&A
BBC 1982. Dir Peter Duffell. With Robin Ellis, Sarah Berger, Kate Harper. 60min
Sci-fi on British TV, lacking the big budgets required for special effects, was forced to concentrate instead on psychology, sociology and speculative fictions about how society might develop in the future. In the process, it produced some fascinating and prescient plays – none more so than in The Play for Tomorrow series, which aimed to show different versions of how society might develop. In Bright Eyes, by Peter Prince, Britain is now a part of a European federal super-state and is at war with the Middle East! It’s a version of the future that hits home more forcibly now than it did in 1982, and which shows how the best science fiction can be as much about our contemporary society as it is about the future.
Followed by a Q&A and a panel discussion looking at a range of key TV plays and sci-fi strands that reimagined future societies, utopias and dystopias.
Please check bfi.org.uk for final panel confirmations

Tue 28 Oct 20:40 NFT2
Play for Today: The Remainder Man
BBC 1982. Dir Richard Wilson. With Sheila Hancock, Antony Brown, Nick Reding, Valerie Whittington. 60min
Philip Martin’s The Remainder Man sees Jack, an ex-copper, incarcerate his entire family in the nuclear bunker he’s built for when disaster strikes. Family tensions are seen to more effectively destroy this family than any nuclear bomb ever could. A brilliant metaphor for the destructive nature of fear itself, the play ends with an effective twist in the tale.
+ Saturday Night Theatre: Salve Regina
ITV 1969. Dir David Saire. With Miriam Karlin, Glenda Jackson, Al Mancini, Graham Crowden. 25min
Salve Regina is adult TV sci-fi at its most cutting-edge. Written by Edward Bowman, it won first prize in The Observer plays competition for 1969. A young Glenda Jackson stars in this surreal, Kafkaesque and brutal play about the disintegration of society’s rules once you’re the only surviving remnants of humanity after an apocalyptic war.

Sun 2 Nov 15:00 NFT3
Out of this World: Little Lost Robot
ABC 1962. Dir Guy Verney. With Maxine Audley, Clifford Evans, Murray Hayne, Gerard Flood. 52min
To celebrate the BFI DVD release of these two famous 1960s series, we present an episode from each – both adapted from stories by Isaac Asimov – which shows how the earlier series influenced the later. Introduced by Boris Karloff, Little Lost Robot is adapted by Leo Lehman and was script edited by Irene Shubik, who went on to produce Out of the Unknown. It’s set in 2019 when mankind has created a race of highly intelligent robots to serve their every need. When one of these robots has the ‘prime directive’ (not to harm a human) removed there are dire consequences.
+ Out of the Unknown: The Dead Past + Panel Discussion and Q&A
BBC 1965. Dir John Gorrie. With George Benson, James Maxwell, Willoughby Goddard, David Langton. 60min

In The Dead Past an historian becomes convinced that the state is suppressing a time machine and persuades a young scientist to build one. Their success results in unforeseen consequences that raise moral questions about how far the state should be allowed to protect mankind from its own baser instincts.
Followed by a panel discussion and Q&A featuring author Mark Ward, director John Gorrie and SFX sound engineer Brian Hodgson. Please check bfi.org.uk for final confirmations

Wed 5 Nov 20:20 NFT2
Doomwatch: Winter Angel
Channel 5 1999. Dir Roy Battersby. With Trevor Eve, Philip Stone, Amanda Ooms. 105min
There are shades of Edge of Darkness in this lively remake of the famous 70s series, with Philip Stone playing original Doomwatch head honcho Dr Quist. Trevor Eve plays the terrifyingly brilliant Neil Tannahil, who stumbles upon a deadly secret at an abandoned nuclear power station.
+ The Cult of Doomwatch
BBC 2006. Dir Angus Macyntire. 30min

This BBC4 documentary explores the Doomwatch phenomenon through key clips and interviews with cast, creators and critics, who decipher its enduring popularity and cult appeal.

Tue 11 Nov 20:00 NFT2
The Cloning of Joanna May (Parts 1 and 2)
ITV 1992. Dir Philip Saville. With Patricia Hodge, Brian Cox, Peter Capaldi. 2 x 78min episodes
Boasting a fantastic cast, this future fable – adapted by Ted Whitehead from the novel by Fay Wheldon – demonstrates how subtle TV sci-fi can be. The Cloning of Joanna May is an urbane and witty comedy of manners that uses the central theme of cloning to explore gender politics and personal obsession. Moving from pathos to high camp, Cox and Hodge are magnificent as the lovers doomed to be forever intertwined.
We hope to welcome Director Philip Saville to introduce, work permitting

Wed 12 Nov 18:15 NFT1
Preview: Tomorrow’s Worlds + Panel Discussion and Q&A
BBC 2014. Dir Ben Southwell. Produced by John Das, Ben Southwell. 70min
In a landmark new BBC Two series, historian and author Dominic Sandbrook explores the history of science fiction. Focusing on four major themes – space, invasion, robots and time – Sandbrook shows how the genre has been a revealing window onto our dreams and our nightmares. The series features interviews with leading figures from cinema, TV and literature, including: Rutger Hauer; Zoe Saldana; Richard Dreyfuss; Nichelle Nichols; John Carpenter; Edward James Olmos; David Tennant; Steven Moffat; Neil Gaiman; Ursula K. Le Guin and William Gibson. This preview screening includes a specially prepared presentation showcasing the opening episode ‘Space’, and highlights from the rest of the series.
We’re delighted to welcome to the BFI stage producers John Das and Ben Southwell, and presenter Dominic Sandbrook

Sat 15 Nov 15:20 NFT2
Doomwatch: Tomorrow the Rat
BBC 1970. Dir Terence Dudley. With John Paul, Robert Powell, Simon Oates. 50min
Doomwatch was a prescient series of eco-thrillers devised by Gerry Davis and Dr Kit Pedler. Each week the Doomwatch team – consisting of concerned scientists and field agents – would investigate something murky in the fringe world of modern science. This infamous episode concerns mutant rats with a taste for human flesh…
+ Doomwatch
UK 1972. Dir Peter Sasdy. With John Paul, Simon Oates, Ian Bannen, Judy Geeson. 91min
The feature film spin-off from the popular TV series added horror film shock tactics to the show’s theme to create an atmospheric and absorbing eco-chiller.
We hope to welcome director Peter Sasdy to introduce this special screening, work permitting

Wed 19 Nov 18:10 NFT2
The Wednesday Play: Fable
BBC 1965. Dir Christopher Morahan. With Thomas Baptiste, Carmen Munroe, Eileen Atkins. 75min
This searing race-reversal satire from writer John Hopkins sees England as an Apartheid state governed by a ruthless black dictator. Len and Joan are a white couple who are forcibly relocated and then ground down by the relentless machinery of the state. In Fable Hopkins criticised not only white liberal complacency, but media itself: several scenes witness the distortion of news in a black-run newsroom. Fable also provided strong roles for black actors (notably Thomas Baptiste, Barbara Assoon and Carmen Munroe) at a time when such opportunities were scarce.

Tue 25 Nov 18:30 NFT3
Gays of Fear and Wonder: Queer Sci-Fi TV

Is the future queer? Do aliens have gender? Sci-fi offers tantalising opportunities to radically re-draw the parameters of gender and sexuality. But it has been TV, not cinema, that has used the freedom of the genre most effectively. With presentations, clips and a panel of experts, including Stacey Abbott, Lorna Jowett, we celebrate TV’s groundbreaking LGBT characters, queer icons and slash fiction. Join us to boldly go into the gender-bending, polymorphously perverse universe of sci-fi TV.
Chaired by BFI Flare programmer Emma Smart

Champions’ priority booking: September 29 11.30am
Members’ priority booking opens: September 30 11.30am
Public booking opens: October 7 11.30am

Prices (excluding gift aid)
£8.95 (members)
£6.65 (member concs)
£10.45 (non-members)
£8.15 (non-members concs)
Under 16s £6.00

Prices (including gift aid and voluntary contribution)
£10 (members)
£7.50 (member concs)
£11.50 (non-members)
£9 (non-members concs)

All shows are £6 on Tuesdays. Conc prices are available to senior citizens, students, unwaged and disability visitors. Proof of eligibility may be required.
As always, visit the BFI web site for more details.


  • 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.