From 1965-1971, the BBC produced an anthology program called Out of the Unknown. Strangely, like Rod Serling’s Zone and Gallery, the series followed a similar path from traditional SF into supernatural horror as it moved from black and white to color. Some writers contend it was at its best in the black and white years. If nothing else, Doctor Who fans can enjoy listening to many of the same sound effects and library music that the William Hartnell serials employed.
Like many British TV productions of its era, much of Unknown was destroyed, but a few years ago, the BFI put out a splendid DVD collection of all the existing episodes, including fragments, clips, and audio recordings of others. In 2018, Marie and I watched them. It’s a pretty uneven show. Most of the episodes were at least interesting. Some were terrible, and at least one, Frederik Pohl’s “Tunnel Under the World,” was amazing.
The most curious one for me was an adaptation of C.M. Kornbluth’s “The Little Black Bag.” Only about two-thirds of this 1969 production, starring Emrys Jones and Geraldine Moffat, survive. (for more details, see here.) I thought it was incredibly interesting, went online to read more about it, and saw that Night Gallery made their own adaptation the following year. I figured I could wait and see how Serling and team did it.
The Night Gallery adaptation is radically different. In Unknown, the disgraced doctor gets as far as reopening a small clinic. The Doctor Fall of this story, played by Burgess Meredith, only has the chance to use the bag a few times in one day before he is murdered by his associate to profit from it. Meredith is superhumanly good in the part, but his associate, played by Chill Willis, just aggravated me. Serling didn’t give the character a point of view other than “argue against all plans of protagonist” and I didn’t like Willis’s tone of voice, his mannerisms, anything.
Surrounding “Bag,” there are two short stories with quick payoffs: a mean-spirited black comedy of jealousy featuring Joseph Wiseman and Diane Keaton, and a more straightforward adventure tale with a very dopey twist ending starring Joseph Campanella. This one is so goofy that it must have been made for any kids who ran across the episode, because the revelation was the first Gallery moment that our kid found remotely entertaining.
And no, the kid did not recognize Burgess Meredith. Confounded child!