BBC4 recently aired a new version of “A for Andromeda”, originally shown as seven 45-minute episodes back in 1961. Not much of the original series survives, so as with their recent production of “The Quatermass Experiment” the BBC has updated and re-made the production.
Sadly, “A for Andromeda” wasn’t transmitted live. One of the most wonderful things about the new Quatermass was seeing how actors cope knowing that if they fluff a line they can’t simply re-do it. About the only time you see that nowadays is at the theatre, so it’s always nice to see people acting without a safety net.
Quatermass was rendered especially challenging by the fact that the pope died half-way through. A little ticker came up at the bottom of the screen saying “Major Breaking News on BBC1 now”. In my house we thought, fuck it, a giant plant-monster eating Tate Modern has to be more fun than people droning on about a dead white guy.
I like to imagine the whispers flowing through the set as those actors not on screen were filled in by their friends and colleagues. Did it put them off? How many of them were Catholic?
Back to Andromeda.
The new version was filleted to ninety minutes. Most of the story still made sense, though there was one moment where a couple of characters managed to somehow figure out that someone had been a) murdered and b) selling secrets to the US despite the lack of any evidence or information.
So what was good about it?
Mainly the fact that it was cheap, good, ideas-led science fiction. A riposte to the concept that SF can’t be entertaining without being filled with the latest CGI wizardry. A proof-of-concept that an audience is willing to engage with big concepts without enormous explosions to sweeten the pill.
BBC4 have proved that there’s an audience for tightly written genre pieces, and that it doesn’t have to be all about the effects.