Jeremy Wilkin also voiced Virgil Tracy in Thunderbirds and Captain Ochre in Captain Scarlet.
Release Date: 23 July 2012
1965 | PG | 528 minutes | £30.62
Distributor: Network DVD
Creator: Robert Banks Stewart
Cast: Jeremy Wilkin, Rosemary Nicols, Dennis Quilley
At times, this little-known conspiracy thriller series seems like it was storylined by a Daily Mail editorial writer who’s gone a bit David Icke. Britain is going to the dogs thanks to juvenile delinquents, seditious children’s books and the like, with sinister forces intent on bringing the country to its knees – enemies within brainwashed by alien signals.
Doctor Who fans will be drawn in by the writing credits; Undermind was the brainchild of Robert Banks Stewart, creator of the alien Zygons and Krynoids; in all, eight of its 11 episodes were scripted by writers who also worked on Who (Bill Strutton, David Whitaker and Robert Holmes also contribute).
It’s an idiosyncratic series in many ways. We never discover who the aliens are, and not many genre shows have a main protagonist who’s a personnel expert (Drew Heriot, played by Jeremy Wilkin); in the absence of any psychic paper to wave under officialdom’s noses, his investigations often require a rather major suspension of disbelief. There are never any consequences either; Heriot can shoot a government scientist dead or save Eamonn Andrews from being blown up, live on air, by a box of exploding cigars (yes, really!) but somehow never ends up being grilled by the police.
After a few episodes, the show soon settles into a familiar format; the game is “guess the Undermind agent”, and your best bet is usually to plump for the least likely, most personable character, and ignore the sinister red herring. That said, there’s at least one shocking twist in store; as someone declares at one point, “Trust no one!”
The show’s interesting as a time capsule. The ‘60s may have been a time of enormous social upheaval, but in 1965 the establishment was regarded with much more respect. Nowadays we assume public figures are probably corrupt, but in Undermind the revelation that a politician might have visited a call girl is seen as something that could bring the country crashing to its knees, which must be covered up for the national good. It’s rather quaint. Then there’s the fourth episode, which patronisingly portrays the IRA as a hapless bunch of pensioners (cue jovial Irish music), and The Troubles as firmly a thing of the past. Oh dear.
Quite often, the alien schemes are amusingly small beer. One episode involving murder and hired mercenaries boils down to nothing more than a plot to steal some exam papers, while another hinges on (gasp) someone chucking weedkiller on a church flower show – not exactly a terrorist spectacular. If only that was the worst we had to fear nowadays.
None, which is rather a shame – a contextualising interview with Robert Banks Stewart would have been most welcome. Be warned: the “archive nature” of the footage means the sound quality isn’t the best – at times, there are so many sibilant “S” sounds that it seems like the entire cast has been afflicted with a lisp. Of course, the limited audience for such an little-known series probably doesn’t warrant an expensive spruce-up – it’s just good to have this interesting obscurity available at all.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman
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