Saturday, January 13, 2007

BBC 4 Sci-fi season - hit and miss

A long overdue comment on BBC 4's Sci-Fi season, late 2006 .... two adaptations were featured: The Haunted Airman, a teleplay version of Dennis Wheatley's The Haunting of Toby Jugg, and an adaptation of John Wyndham's Random Quest.

The Haunted Airman was an odd little piece, written and directed by Chris Durlacher; an over-wrought, blue-tinged gloomfest starring sweet-faced Robert Pattison (most famous as the doomed Cedric in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) as the wheelchair-bound Toby Jugg, an airman haunted by his role in fire-bombing Dresden in WWII. Poor Jugg is marooned in a large, shadowy mansion, somewhere in Wales, to convalesce with other similarly disturbed patients, overseen by Dr Hal Burns. Jugg instantly takes a paranoid dislike to Burns, and suspects him (correctly as it turns out) of reading his mail - letters mainly directed to his youthful Aunt Julia (Racheal Stirling), with whom Jugg is in love. Jugg's obsessional nightmares focus, rather creepily, on spiders, but before long, his hatred of Dr Burns gathers pace and he attempts to escape. This is far from surprising, given the excrutiatingly wooden acting performance given here by Julian Sands as Burns. Stirling is fine as Aunt Julia, who moves into the nursing home and soon embarks on an affair with the wooden-toned Burns - with fatal consequences.

Much better was the hour-long teleplay Random Quest, starring Samuel West as Colin, a young nerdish physicist who winds up in a parallel universe after a failed scientific experiment. In this alternative world, Colin is a top-selling, wealthy author of trashy fiction, married to a beautiful woman, with whom he (the 'real' Colin) soon falls in love, although the alternative Colin has been a womaniser. New Colin 'reforms' the Old Colin and is then pinged back to his own world - our world - where he sets about seeking his soulmate wife. This adaptation was nicely paced with some slick directing from Luke Watson. The script was penned by Richard Fell.

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