Sunday, 16 July 2017

They Came From Somewhere Else Episode 1

I see that I have written a general post about this classic of cult TV, this giant of the genre, this show which was so influential on me as a young weirdo. In fact you can tell that we are in the territory of cult TV here, in that I am watching it on my laptop, downloaded from the internet, in a copy uploaded from some kind person who uploaded their original VHS recording. To watch They Came From Somewhere Else is to go out on to the true frontier of cult TV and also to experience the world of cult TV before easy downloads and DVDs - the age when people swapped actual tapes.
This show's influence on me in my youth was not limited by the fact that this is actually a spoof of the entire sci fi genre. At the age I saw this I must have been barely aware of the genre, but it was clear how the show upturned the pillars of society as we all learned them, and also upturned the pillars of the sci fi genre.
Wendy, the policewoman is a principle character of the whole series - I could see that she was also a parody of many real people, who are set firmly in their own world and rarely if ever go out of it. They are therefore unprepared for an onslaught by Something from Outside that world, because they can have no conception of it. Middleford, the show's location, is of course also a parody. I suppose the immediate inspiration would be one of the new towns - Milton Keynes, say, and while it is presented as an ordinary place where something went horribly wrong, it is plain that Middleford is very clearly intended to be an awful place. In fact I knew for a fact that it was based on the Black Country village I grew up in. Surely there can't be anyone reading this who is unaware of the Sapphire and Steel adventure set in a garage where there is just blackness outside - well that is what the place I grew up in is like, and it is also the whole point of Middleford.
Ironic, then, that we should be introduced early to the work of the forensic lab. Out here in the real world, we would assume that any business in a fairly closed community would either cater to that community or a very specialised business would largely serve the world outside. Here, the presence of a forensic lab implies that there is something very wrong in Middleford already, since it is very clear from the time we see Martin showing Shawna the ropes that the forensic lab is frankly a barmy place. Martin is one the key characters in the chow but he is show up here to be a bit of a dunce, who despite apparently being a very clever chap, can only parrot (and badly at that) what his boss says.
As an adult, of course I can see that Martin lives the same sort of dull life we all do, with his flatmate Graham. I think one of the reasons this show was so formative on me was that it doesn't have the oppressive feel you get of adult expectations when you are a teenager. These are adults, with adult responsibilities, but nonetheless they manage to live in a way which at the time I thought was very sophisticated. Martin can go off to his political meeting. Colin and Anthony play badminton after work and exchange sci fi novels. For a teenager champing at the bit of parental expectations They Came From Somewhere Else was a breath of fresh air, and its relatively constrained world seemed like an escape.
That said, I do feel that this show wouldn't stand up to too much in the way of examination. The whole point of it is that it is a parody of sci fi. The plot is also one which wouldn't really stand up to the sort of hammering I give many a plot here. As an escape route, the world of They Came From Somewhere Else would always ultimately fall on its face because it is a parody and because it isn't really intended to have a serious message.
But the key to understanding it is nonetheless to place it in its time. Recently here I wrote about The Omega Factor, which was made a decade before. The concern there for the harnessing of psychic ability by the mid to late 1980s had become all out fear in Thatcher's Britain. I have written here before about the numberous fears we lives under at the time. Such as alien hamburger restaurants suddenly appearing overnight. Well, perhaps not literally that, but once Chernobyl happened, there was a very real sense that the world was being run by dangerous lunatics and that anything could happen. The authorities responded with violence (although the New Age travellers weren't half a pain) and that violence is echoed in this episode where the police leave the party and leap into their van to go and do someone a mischief. Couple these contemporary conflicts with any amount of alternative stuff with one eye to getting a laugh and this show is very much what you will get. All the fears of the time literally appear here in one form or another and I loved it then and love it now.
There is another way in which They Came From Somewhere Else is very 1980s - I'm not sure how to phrase what I mean, but there is just so much of it. An example would be the way the stranger at Wendy's door takes off his hat and there is another one underneath, and then another. Even though the show is against a background of conflict there is never a feeling of need or want, and I am reminded that this was also the age of the yuppie. There was a genuine feeling of prosperity, a sense of richness and abundance, and I also feel that that is reflected in this show.
Without making this a spoiler, the episode ends on a wonderfully funny note of incongruence, and despite the fact that this episode has largely been spent setting the scene, sets the viewer up very well to expect some seriously weird stuff to occur in the following episodes.

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