Review: Survivors (episode 1)

December 3, 2008

Generally we try to avoid reviewing new material at The Outland Institute. We feel there are plenty of places to read about new films and books, and our efforts are best directed toward looking at 20 year-old annuals and exploring the importance of the moustache in 1970s television. After all, who else is going to review vampire-themed Sweet Valley High Books or take a new look at Storm Boy? This stuff doesn’t happen by itself, people.

But the new version of Survivors covers so many of the Institute’s obsessions – illnesses on screen, retro television, great theme tunescheap science fiction, Paterson Joseph – that it would be churlish not to talk about it. Beware, minor spoilers lie in wait.

For those who came in late, Survivors was a British television series that ran for three seasons from 1975. It’s premise? A man-made virus wipes out the majority of the world’s population, the few left behind trying to start anew in an unfamiliar world (so it’s a bit like Ugly Betty). It was created by Terry Nation, who also created the Daleks and Blake’s 7. Not a bad resume. Certainly better than working at Lidl.

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7 Popular Motifs of Cheap Science Fiction

August 26, 2008

Since last week’s article about the glory of cheap science fiction, the switchboard at The Outland Institute has been running hot. Poor Glynnis has been swamped with calls, all saying much the same thing – “I’m all ready to make some cheap science fiction – I’ve got a camera, some actors and a clever script that uses Martian terraforming as a metaphor for the war in Iraq – but I don’t know what special effects to use”. They usually go on to say that their film’s budget is three fifty cent stamps, and that Glynnis has a lovely telephone manner (it’s true, she does).

So as a follow-up to last week, let’s look at some of the common elements you can find in cheap science-fiction. You can even try these out at home! Read the rest of this entry »


“Extraordinary How Potent Cheap Science Fiction Is…”

August 18, 2008
Recently I was asked by the delightful Louise Angrilli to write something for Ethel The Ardvark, the official publication of the Melbourne Science Fiction Club. I promised to write an article about the importance of exploding collars in science fiction, but I got stuck when trying to find anything to actually say about the subject. So I wrote in praise of cheap science fiction instead.

For some reason, I’ve never trusted big budget science fiction.

Universes torn apart by CGI explosions, vast armies of robots battling across infinitive voids – it leaves me cold. But a fabric backdrop painted silver and lit by an ex-disco oil projector? I’m there. I was raised on a diet of ’70s BBC television, in which ancient Rome and the far future had a tendency to look much the same – like a large television studio, in fact. Shot on harshly lit videotape, everything was exposed – special effects were simple and often done live-to-tape, with only basic chromakey or model footage for those “wow” moments. All the film-makers could truly rely on was the acting and the writing – the very essence of storytelling. They couldn’t hide behind mere spectacle.

As a young audience member, I had no problem with that. I knew that every time an “army” of Daleks stormed somewhere, we’d only see three of them at a time. I was happy to take those as symbolic Daleks and not literal Daleks. (The Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story Day Of The Daleks features a large country house being “surrounded” by three Daleks. It always reminds me of the old Soviet joke – “Why do policemen travel in threes?” “One who can read, one who can write, and one to keep an eye on the two dangerous intellectuals”).

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