I have to admit to not having been completely gripped by the first series of this, and the first few episodes I’ve watched of this second series haven’t done much to win me over. However…
This starts with an impressive aerial shot of a smoky city and zooms in to a factory called Conro Chemicals. But wait…as we get closer it becomes more obvious that it’s a model. Nevertheless it’s a very good model shot and almost convinced me.
What follows is a pleasingly surreal sequence of a man exploring a deserted factory. It’s quite spooky with great lighting and lots of shadows, clicking and whirring machinery and much cross fading. There’s a ‘whistling kettle’ noise of building air pressure, then alarm klaxons and the man starts to run for his life. His silent scream amidst all the sparks and smoke fade into a shot of him waking up in bed screaming for real. Ah, classic dream sequence. I do love a dream sequence and here in the sixties they are quite abundant lately! There was a particularly surreal one in The Baron only last weekend in fact.
It’s June 15. This is Guy Birkett. His wife Mary comforts him, but is slightly freaked out after he’s told her about his dream: incredibly, she had the same dream. Still, Guy is not overly concerned as it wasn’t real. No signs of any explosions in real life: “The walls are still intact” he says, banging one of them with his hand, “Built to last”. As he does this the walls wobble alarmingly. A reminder that we’re on a BBC budget here? Stay with me…
There’s a loud jingly jangly sound from outside, and they go to look. As they leave the room we see a hidden camera reveal itself from behind a panel. Intriguing. The noise outside is from a loudspeaker van playing advertising jingles. They go inside and have breakfast and the same jingle plays on the radio. Mary sings along but Guy really hates adverts and has a bit of a tantrum. That’s nothing though, they pick up the post; there’s a newspaper and this free gadget thing in an envelope, and when Mary presses the button it plays yet more annoying jingles. Guy starts jumping up and down on it until it stops and then throws it in the bin. To be honest, I can’t say I blame him. I really hate adverts too.
It turns out that Guy works at the chemical plant from his dream…or rather he works in the office part, and tries to avoid the actual factory. The place gives him the creeps. Later he’s at work and having a conversation with his colleague / secretary. They discuss something called the Spellman process. The factory is staffed buy machines which have been “programmed with the brain patterns of human beings” who have died. And here is Mr Spellman himself arriving at the office. He’s very interested in products and advertising. I’m detecting a theme…
There’s this chap called Swanson who insists on meeting with Guy, and calls him at the office. He ‘knows something’ but is frustrated that Guy doesn’t remember him. Birkett says he can fit him in for a meeting tomorrow. They’ve had this conversation before though apparently. There’s an intriguing scene where a brick wall near a phone box turns out not to be brick after all but sort of wallpaper with brick wall print and which when peeled away reveals metal underneath. At this revelation Guy wakes up screaming once again.
It’s June 15. His wife Mary comforts him, but is slightly freaked out after he’s told her about his dream: she had the same dream. Still, Guy is not overly concerned as it wasn’t real. No signs of any explosions in real life…yes, déjà vu… More advertising gadgets, more jumping up and down on them, more loudspeaker van blaring advert jingles, same newspaper headline…
Later, more déjà vu at the office and a visit from Swanson who is there for the appointment he made with Birkett yesterday (but none of them remember anything about an appointment). Swanson claims to have tried meeting Birkett day after day.
Guy and Mary are visited independently by a couple of reps from the advertising company that disturbed everybody earlier in the morning with their loudspeaker van, which was pretending to be a fire engine to get attention. Mary gets a cold-calling man and Guy gets a visit from a Miss Dorn in a restaurant. Miss Dorn works for Feckle Freezers, is terribly apologetic about all the racket earlier, and insists on buying them a lavish lunch. It’s an unusual sort of apology though because she goes on and on about how marvellous these freezers are. She gets all fluttery-eyelashed, looks Birkett in the eye and exclaims “I’d do almost anything for Feckle Freezers.” As you can imagine Guy’s signed the cheque in the seconds it’s taken for Swanson to walk in and spot them from the doorway. What a sucker! No wonder he hates advertising.
Guy arrives home. Of course equally gullible Mary has bought a brand new Feckle Freezer too, from her visitor. Luckily they see the funny side. It’s bedtime, so they head to the bedroom. Guy tries to use the light switch but it wobbles like the wall did earlier and it seems the fuse has blown. So he goes to the cupboard containing the fuse box to repair it. In the process he notices that the floor is as fake as the brick wall was earlier and tears it away. Then before he can examine it properly a suitcase falls from the shelf and knocks him out, in the way people from the sixties were often knocked out – i.e. Very easily – they must have had much thinner skulls in the sixties, anything from a slight tap on the head to a punch in the face leave characters out cold instantly.
This is all very handy because it means he avoids the next scene, in which his sleeping wife is visited by a couple of men in overalls who appear via a secret lift shaft from under the floor and ‘tidy up’. Now we’d all like the tidying up fairies to visit while we sleep I’m sure, but these guys also seem to have put a headset on Mary’s head (electrodes or something) which I think is quite suspicious frankly. They also put the clock forward from just past midnight to the morning. Lucky they didn’t look in the fuse cupboard.
The alarm clock goes off a minute later and Mary wakes oblivious to the fact she’s only had 10 minutes sleep maximum. Even weirder, Guy is already up. Now because he avoided the midnight callers he actually remembers yesterday and believes it to be June 16. Mary however insists that he’s gone loopy and of course it is June 15. They say so on the radio so for a start. What’s more she doesn’t remember a thing about any freezers. But hang on a minute…how can it be suddenly daylight?
Birkitt remembers his appointment with Swanson now and meets him in the restaurant where he bumps into Miss Dorn who is now repping for a chocolate company and denying all knowledge of freezer selling, apology giving or eyelash fluttering. She’s obviously bothered by Guy’s insistence though and runs off to tell the waiter “they know”.
Swanson fills Guy in on his missing memories: it’s not June at all but months later. Guy had come to Swanson babbling about men without faces and a huge hand in the sky and asked for somewhere to hide. So they hide in Swanson’s darkroom. He suggests that someone wants them to live the same day over and over.
They discover a ladder leading down to some metal tunnels and climb down. At this point my 2016 Doctor Who fan mind is thinking “it’s a miniscope!” (The Doctor Who story Carnival Of Monsters had a big plot twist in which it turned out that most of the characters had been miniaturised and the story had been taking place inside a sort of peep-show device called a miniscope).
The two men investigate this new area and find themselves in the deserted chemical plant where they see banks of monitors showing adverts…and one showing Mary at home. They hear voices from approaching people: it’s Spellman and Miss Dorn. Birkett wants an explanation and gets aggressive with Spellman. Miss Dorn gets hurt but…she’s an android! So Spellman spells it out. Birkett is dead – he is also a robot with a human mind, and so is Swanson and everyone else. Spellman replaced all the workers with machines and used their minds to programme them. Birkett runs off as all the alarms go off like they did in the opening scene (his dream). We then get our second twist: I was thinking along the right lines with my miniscope suggestion – they have indeed been miniaturised! The whole factory is a tabletop model. This of course gets the Out Of The Unknown crew off the hook with their wobbly walls and obvious looking model! Or am I just being kind?!
As the air pressure builds we hear the scream of escaping air and then Birkett himself wakes up screaming…
So what did I think? Ok so perhaps the satire or political message might have been a bit heavy handed but I think that would be to judge it by 21st century standards. This sort of satire was I think relatively new to sixties television. I found it all quite intriguing and certainly enjoyed it much more than those earlier episodes. I wonder if Carnival Of Monsters‘ writer Robert Holmes was watching this one.
This is the last one I am able to watch from this second series so I look forward to seeing how things develop next series…