Journey to the Unknown: Jane Brown's Body

I am soon having a new laptop so I'm going through my hard drive - this is a show I've had saved for ages but not really watched. Since it seems it's Unethical Medical Experimentation season on the blog, I'm going to write about this episode. I'm afraid that I'm going to drive a bulldozer through it, so will repeat my policy that I never write about a show which is a complete dud here so I am certainly not advising against watching this show. Actually this episode was written by Antony Skene who wrote A, B and C, which I've just written about in my last post. This is pure coincidence.

Journey to the Unknown was an anthology series made by Hammer in conjunction with Fox. In common with other shows it was intended to be shown on both sides of the Atlantic and it was felt every episode had to have an American in the cast, in this case Stefanie Powers. I don't know what they were thinking because you know we do have a go at speaking English over here, I just don't believe the show would be unmarketable without a token American and being set in England it produces this impression of an England that's suddenly full of Americans for no apparent reason. It's very odd, when you think about it.

I have no idea of the show's reputation in the US because there is relatively little about it on the internet. It hasn't had a commercial release to my knowledge although the whole series is available online. In Britain it was never well served, being used as schedule filling late at night and seldom if ever getting a full showing, so it seems not well known. Add to that that it's about 'the unknown' in a broader sense than just, say, the supernatural, and it has further difficulty appealing to the public. For all of these reasons it's a slippery, indefinite sort of series.

So here I am to do a hatchet job on one episode. Oh I could tear my eyes out.

The premise is relatively simple: a woman (Powers) dies by suicide and is taken to the house of a doctor (Alan Macnaughtan) who brings her back to life with his experimental treatment, only to find that she's reverted to being pre-school age and has a tutor (David Buck) to re-educate her. So far so science fiction and essentially the rest of the episode is the subsequent events revealing how she got to the point of killing herself.

The main problem is there is all sorts of wrong. In fact there's so much wrong I'm going to have to deal with it in two parts.

Part one is the whole relationship thing, because lo and behold the tutor falls in love with his deceased and revived pupil and any professional boundaries go out of the window. This is bad enough, but let's not forget that the woman was dead, and let the full implications of that sink in. In fact I think this is why this episode gets thoroughly bashed in every review I've ever seen except I don't think anyone is sufficiently inappropriate to put it like I'm about to. The whole point of having Stefanie Powers in any show is to make it appeal to the heterosexual male population of the world and having her die right at the beginning rather puts a dampener on that. Because nobody wants to be ogling the star and wondering whether she's actually at body temperature. This is just all sorts of wrong.

Even apart from that the other wrong is there are credibility gaps in this show that you could drive a hearse through. In no particular order:

Amory, the teacher, takes her to Cambridge on an impulse without telling anyone. Sure enough she wanders off when he leaves her alone then has another go at killing herself. Honestly, you wouldn't let this woman out of your sight, and she has (strictly science fiction) medical needs which mean she needs frequent injections to keep her alive. That's right, just like diabetics, those sensible people who never go anywhere without insulin, and no health professional would fail to let people know she has to have her injection and can't be left alone. Jane lives in the doctor's house and apparently hasn't been traced. She's an American citizen and I don't think her disappearance would just go unnoticed. Nor does the doctor do anything sensible to trace her, and it's only after he kicks the teacher out that Amory thinks to look through her property to trace her. Honestly these people shouldn't be allowed out. The science fiction resuscitation serum would work better if the rest of the episode was more plausible - in reality she would be all over the news, in hospital and social services and the embassy would definitely be involved. When she disappears in Cambridge they bizarrely still don't ring the police. The serum is completely secret and the doctor is understating it when he describes what he has done as 'unorthodox' - more like assault and being struck off territory! Simply seeing her (presumably wedding) dress brings memories back for Jane, but oddly it seems nobody had thought to show it to her until she found it herself. Jane tries to kill herself again during the episode, and otherwise behaves in a quite desperate way - frankly literally any doctor of any specialty would at least give some thought to her being mentally ill or traumatized, but perhaps doing dodgy medicine makes you forget obvious stuff. Amory independently finds out about her past, just appears and just tries to confront her with her past - really it's more like they're trying to finish the poor woman off.

What this show has going for it is a great science fiction premise, some totally unethical medical experimentation and a twist which kicks like a mule.

There is another undercurrent to this in that Jane is treated spectacularly badly by pretty well everyone involved, which makes it even more uncomfortable. She is treated as a guinea pig and actually described as a 'diversion'. The whole show has a kidnap/deviant sexuality vibe to it which is really uncomfortable, so I suppose when I think about it the main thing it has going for it is the sense of discomfort it elicits.

If you can turn a blind eye to the remarkable plot holes and avoid fancying Powers because she's dead, you may enjoy the guilt, pity and other difficult emotions effectively brought up by this show.

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  1. Chicago Calling: Presenting More Than You Wanted To Know!
    As it happens, I've had a bootleg DVD set of Journey To The Unknown for quite some time.
    When ABC(US) ran this show in 1968-69, I was just out of high school.
    I was already following American prime-time TV as a kind of sport: the three commrcial networks were a league of sorts, highly competitive, winning your weekly time slot was all-important - for years, the Rules were as law as far as survival was concerned.
    For clarity, I'll be specific here about Journey To The Unknown:
    ABC scheduled Journey on Thursday nights, at 9:30 pm Eastern Standard Time (8:30 Central).
    Journey's lead-ins were four sitcoms: The Ugliest Girl In Town, The Flying Nun, Bewitched, and That Girl, in that order.
    You can ignore that first one (most viewers did anyway); the other three were solid if unspectacular rating draws for ABC.
    Journey was not exactly a logical lead-out for light sitcoms; it didn't make it past mid-season.
    The competition on NBC was Daniel Boone, Ironside, Dragnet 1969, and Dean Martin's variety show, which basically dominated the evening.
    CBS countered with Blondie (a sitcom which flopped immediately), Hawaii Five-O (which didn't catch on until it was moved to Wednesday in mid-season), and the weekly movie (which was always a wild card).

    As to Journey the series:
    The partners here were Hammer Films, Twentieth Century Fox TV, and ABC(US).
    I'm not sure which of the American partners was responsible for bringing in Joan Harrison and Norman Lloyd as showrunners; their long-standing partnership on Alfred Hitchcock Presents likely got them their positions
    I've got books: Norman Lloyd's memoir, and a recent boigraphy of Joan Harrison, which deal briefly with Journey's short history; it was apparently tight budgetary considerations that did the show in (ABC had limited funds and a short station lineup, which didn't help).
    As to the American guest presence: according to Lloyd, this was a given, part of The Deal that sold to show to ABC prime time (the network was doing quite a bit of British business that season - The Avengers, Tom Jones, plus Engelbert Humperdinck, Val Doonican, and Sir Lew Grade's bench in the wings).
    I did watch "Jane Brown's Body" - or at least I tried to.
    My DVD doesn't have captions, so the dialog was a bit of a problem (I promise to try again later).
    The story itself, well, the source is a novella by Cornell Woolrich, so we're in grim territory to start with; add the fact that Woolrich's stories are very American, and switching the locales to GB might present certain problems of their own (I'm trying to track down Woolrich's original story).
    I seem to be nattering here; if you have any questions, by all means ask (not that I'll be able to answer, but I am game to try ...).

    1. Never more than I want to know, Mike. In fact as I was typing that I wasn't sure about the US side I was hoping you would chime in.
      Your comments suggest to me that the show was more US-led with UK involvement which makes perfect sense. All the UK sources I've read put it the other way round. And that scheduling makes more sense than anything it's had in the UK as far as I can tell, and I was thinking it was odd to invest in a show and never give it a fair chance to be seen!
      If you're having problems with the audio on your set, the copy I watched was downloaded from YouTube ages ago and I see it's on there still so you may be better with that one.
      Thanks for keeping commenting!

    2. Chicago Re-Calling (Clarification):
      I believe I mentioned in the past that when I watch a British show, I frequently have to resort to using closed captions to understand British English (my copy of British English A To Zed gets as much use as ever, but if the actors talk too fast and there aren't words on the screen, I am in Coventry, so to speak).
      It's not the tech, it's the King's English, so forgive an innocent Chicagoan.

      In the late Sixties, US and GB television were having one of their periodic infatuations; producers on both sides of the pond were eager to do business with one another, in hope of international sales and popularity.
      Some series and stars were more successful than others, of course; in the USA, the Three-Network War was unbreakable, and Journey To The Unknown was pretty much foredoomed in a tough timeslot (Dragnet and Dean Martin were unbeatable back then).
      How the BBCs and ITV did things on your side of the pond, I only know what I've read, which I barely understand, and can't really relate to our system (were our systems reversed, you'd probably have the same questions ...).
      Any other questions on your end? I'm wide open ...

    3. After I replied to your original comment I actually thought that in a meeting between Hammer and Fox hammer would always get the worst of it, so I was already thinking it was doomed! Certainly the received wisdom here is that TV executives thought series wouldn't sell in the US at all without one American actor - look at only other question would be, Does this feel like a lack of communication or even common sense on both sides like it does to me!
      I do forget that American English speakers can find British English difficult to understand. Recently I had a conversation with a friend from South Africa who didn't even notice that somebody was talking with one of the most obvious Liverpool accents I've ever heard, so I'm really shocked by other native international English speakers either not understanding or not even noticing!
      If it's any consolation I lived in Leeds for a time (120 miles from here) and had real difficulty understanding people at first!

  2. Chicago Calling (one more time!):
    Well, I tracked down a copy of "Jane Brown's Body", the original Cornell Woolrich story from 1938!
    (First published in All-American Fiction, March-April 1938, copyright renewed 1965.)
    In 2018, the story was reprinted (along with three others) as part of a series called Literary Noir, devoted to Cornell Woolrich's early pulp stories (this was Volume Two of Four).
    I've given this story a quick skim (I'll read it more fully later); I can tell you now that Journey To The Unknown completely rewrote Woolrich's story, starting with relocating it to England, and codensing the living daylights out of it into a TV hour (it's a novella, with a very complicated plot that changes locales several times - but that's another story ...).
    As far as I know, this was the only Woolrich story to be adapted for this series; from what I've been able to learn, they mainly did original stories.
    This show aired in 1968, the same year Woolrich died; his cult hadn't kicked in just yet.
    You can possibly tell me about Woolrich's status/reputation in GB, then, now, or ever; I'd imagine that his name alone might attract attention on both sides of the pond these days.

    Just curious - I'm wondering if Norman Lloyd's reputation as a producer in this genre is as large in GB as it was in the USA?
    Side wonder: Do you in GB share the misconception (still widely held in the USA) that Lloyd was himself British?
    (Due to his long associations with Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hichcock?)
    Back to you, John ...

    1. I didn't know that about the story, thank you!
      This is terribly embarrassing, and don't take me as typical because I don't tend to take that much attention to producers but I had never heard of Norman Lloyd. (Goes and sits in the dog's basket out of sheer shame).
      The things I personally am familiar with that he directed (Columbia, Alfred Hitchcock etc) as well as acted in (St Elsewhere, Quincy, etc) are very clearly American so I would guess his nationality isn't mistaken. But I'm just guessing.
      Don't you have a whole phenomenon over there of people trying to be British though? And always being British in a way which doesn't and never has been real outside of cinema? They might think they can learn to make tea properly but not one of them actually likes Marmite. Because obviously having a spread named with the French word for saucepan is the most English thing you could ever do. 🤣


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