THE BOY FROM SPACE (1971)

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DVD REVIEW: THE BOY FROM SPACE / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: MADDALENA FAGANDINI / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD CARPENTER / STARRING: STEPHEN GARLICK, SYLVESTRE LE TOUZEL, ANTHONY WOODRUFF, GABRIEL WOOLF, JOHN WOODNUTT / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 25TH

With today’s British daytime television dominated by cheap quizzes, endlessly repeated home makeover and antiques auction shows and, worst of all, the horrors of Jeremy Kyle, it’s sobering to recall a time when those hours were the domain of schools programming. The BBC in particular took the ‘to educate’ part of its ‘entertain, educate and inform’ remit incredibly seriously and from 1957 to 1983 transmitted a wide range of programming aimed at children aged from 5 to 16, designed to complement school timetables and curricula.

One of the most enduring productions from this era was the Look and Read strand, a series which presented imaginative serialised stories supported by reading materials and pamphlets distributed to participating schools. The nippers would watch the TV broadcast – each instalment would be split into two segments – and the class could base discussions and activities around elements of the story and its themes. The BFI have exhumed one of the best remembered serials, 1971’s The Boy From Space, and buffed it up for a generous new 2-DVD release. It is, by any reasonable standards, quite a curious thing.

Written by Richard (Catweazle, Robin of Sherwood) Carpenter, who was given a vocabulary of just 386 separate words to work with, The Boy From Space tells of the adventures of Helen and Dan, a pair of 'golly-gosh' young astronomers who spot a mysterious light falling through the sky during the night. On investigation they discover an alien boy who, not unreasonably, they name Peep-Peep (because of his incomprehensible electronic burbling speech). The boy is being hunted by a stiff-walking, ray-gun wielding alien referred to as ‘the Thin Space Man’ and, together with their kindly astronomer friend Mr Bunting, the children set about protecting Peep-Peep and, eventually, reuniting him with his father in their spaceship hidden in a nearby lake.

The Boy From Space was originally broadcast in 1971 in black-and-white but was actually filmed in colour. Look and Read was much given to regurgitating its material and in 1980 the serial was exhumed, re-edited, given funky new music by the Radiophonic Workshop’s Paddy Kingsland, and dropped into the series’ new format. The serial’s segments were now introduced by smug space-puppet Wordy from his Wordlab space station. Assisted by his chum Cosmo, Wordy introduced the serial and together the pair discussed the story, its characters and its language and phraseology, supported by short informative films and crude animations. The Boy From Space series runs to ten twenty-minute episodes, comprising footage from the serial and interjections and contributions from Wordy and Cosmo – although if it’s just the serial you’re after, disc two contains a handy seventy-minute version of the story itself.

The serial is quaint and naïve stuff but, considering the limitations Carpenter was working under, it’s remarkably imaginative and endearingly innocent. Children of a certain vintage might well remember the creepy ‘Thin Space Man’ (Woodnutt) and with its cheerful Radiophonic score there’s a pleasing mid-period Doctor Who vibe about the whole thing, from its homespun special effects through to its earnest, rather mannered acting performances.

Wordy and Cosmo notwithstanding, The Boy From Space itself is a marvellous little period piece, a reminder of the days before Google became every kid’s fingertip teacher and before daytime TV became a sensationalist vulgar stew of shouting and cooking. Ah, happy days… I can remember when this was all fields…

Extras: Booklet / Feature-length edit / Audio version / Film version combining 1972 audio and 1980 footage / Wordy’s ‘think-up‘ animations / PDFs


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