Let’s face it: a lot of great science fiction cinema, both in the movies and on TV have vanished.
You can blame the attitude that so many had that popular culture wasn’t worth preserving, particularly if it were in some new medium or format, whether newspaper comics, or comic books, or movies or television.
And one of the worst offenders was the BBC, who discarded most of their early output, including literally hundreds of episodes of Dr. Who, legendary TV movies, and, of course, this intriguing and highly influential work of grounded but extremely speculative science fiction created by a leading Astronomer, Sir Fred Hoyle.
It was so popular at the time that Hammer planned to make a feature film version (which ultimately fell through), the BBC made an interesting sequel series, The Andromeda Breakthrough (1962), Hoyle wrote novelizations of both serials, there was even an Italian television remake, A come Andromeda, and the Beeb would eventually remake the serial in 2006 in the wake of the success of the revived Doctor Who.
And several of the Hoyle’s most extravagant ideas ended up in Carl Sagan’s Contact, and the movie Species.
However, none of that stopped the BBC from discarding the original serial. As hard as it may be to believe, they obviously didn’t think they would ever need it again and taped over the original.
But, hey, it saved them a few bucks.
The surviving episode was in the hands of a private collector for years, whose price the BBC weren’t willing to meet until some fan paid him off and gave it to the BBC for free.
When it came time to release the 2006 remake on DVD, the BBC decided that they had enough surviving material to create a reconstruction to release as part of a box set which included the sequel. They’d released a similar set for the Fiftieth anniversary of the original Quatermass serials, not long before their release of the live TV play remake in 2005.
A newly constructed radio telescope detects a signal coming from the Andromeda Galaxy. The brilliant young astrophysicist John Fleming (Peter Halliday) realizes that it is a coded message, which proves to contain the instructions for building a supercomputer. This computer then gives them the instructions for creating a new life form. However, when one of the staff is electrocuted by the machine, it then develops what proves to be the embryo of a woman, which quickly grows to maturity — and is an exact duplicate of the woman killed by the machine.
Only she is completely under the control of the machine — and the machine seems to have its own agenda, one which may be putting human life on our planet at risk…
I was impressed by just how well the reconstruction turned out.
If you’ve seen the various reconstructed or animated Doctor Who episodes the BBC has created, then it will probably come as a bit of a surprise that the soundtrack for the lost episodes no longer exists. Mind you, the Dr. Who sound recordings were taped off the air by some of the show’s rabid fans, and that doesn’t appear to have happened with these episodes.
Instead, the telesnaps are shown with subtitles with a score taken from the show. It almost comes as a shock in those moments when we finally get a bit of live video. However, little happens in some of them, which suggests to me that they might have been leftovers from the editing process.
While it does feel a bit more cramped than the sequel would, it still looks fairly good, with a lot of location footage and a large cast. The model of the Radio Telescope doesn’t have much detail and never really makes us believe that it is real.
In fact, when we first see it as a model, it has so little detail that it isn’t even convincing as an architect’s or engineering model.
Still, the reconstruction is surprisingly effective and about as close to the original as we are likely to get, at least for now. The music helps a lot, and it ties it all together and gives it a strong sense of mood. The story is far more complex than in the sequel: I have to confess that I like it better because the machine seems far more sinister this time around. We are never asked to believe that its motives are benevolent, and it acts with callous disregard for human life.
It is good to see Mary Morris — one of the greatest Number 2’s from The Prisoner — giving a far less sympathetic performance this time around which plays to a lot of her strengths as an actor. I was also surprised to learn that her fate at the end of this one is very uncertain, even if there is some hope that she will recover. The sequel seems to have ignored that completely.
It also spends more time dealing with the behind-the-scenes intrigues. Curiously, the big manufacturer, Intel (not the modern computer chip company!) plays a far smaller role this time, although its agent, Kaufman shows up in several episodes.
But more than anything else, it makes you long for the original.
Oh well. It will have to do. At least until a better version surfaces.
And you never know. There are rumors that a treasure trove of Doctor Who episodes still exist in the Middle East. A for Andromeda might just be hidden in those archives.
But, until then, at least we still have this version…