Part 2 of a post on the 1981 British television series The Nightmare Man (you can read Part 1 here).
Real world worries of the time around the Soviets gaining a lead in the arms race are also touched on as the Soviet commander reveals that they are “20 years ahead” of the West in terms of creating functioning cybernetic man-machine technology.
Cybernetics is often used to refer to the scientific study of how information is communicated in machines and electronic devices, comparing this with how information is communicated in the brain and nervous system, with a connected interest and research in the possible linking of the two. Science fiction often seems to have been fascinated by the idea of cybernetics and the controlling of machines and electronic devices by a literal physical connection with them via say a brain implants etc, whereas in reality the advances and digital technology becoming ubiquitous to a level that previously would have been science fiction like has almost exclusively focused on the continued physical separation of brain and device. Watched today the “cybernetics-gone-awry” nature of The Nightmare Man seems to connect with an almost primal human fear of Frankenstein-like unnatural meddling in the correct order of things.
Curiously at the end of the series when the police officers are shown discussing what has happened there is an almost light-hearted dismissiveness, as though the washing up of advanced Soviet military technology on their shores, the deaths of a number of island inhabitants by a deranged cybernetically enhanced pilot, the arrival of a secret Soviet military task force on the island and so on were just slightly out of the ordinary occurrences rather than quite extreme and almost fantastical.
In tone and thematically the series connects with previous British science fiction, in particular Doctor Who and Quatermass and the Pit; with different characters its four half-hour episodes and the battle with a science fiction horror-esque creature could well be a Doctor Who story, which often followed a similar format and themes and the sense that to some degree the Vodyanoid craft has its own nervous system and is alive appears to be an implicit nod or connection to the characteristics of the mysterious craft discovered in Quatermass and the Pit.
This connection with Doctor Who is further emphasised as the series was adapted by Ron Craddock, who wrote and edited a number of Doctor Who scripts and it was directed by Who veteran Douglas Camfield. Less overtly there is a further connection as the attacker was played by Pat Gorman who played a number of bit and supporting characters over the years and appeared in 83 episodes of Doctor Who.
Initially when the Soviet commander presents himself in military uniform and declares martial law and a state of emergency it is also reminiscent of the fictional Doctor Who military organisation UNIT which was prominent in the series in the later 1960s and part of the 1970s. This organisation’s purpose was to investigate and combat paranormal and extraterrestrial threats to the Earth and they often collaborated with the Doctor.
Despite being based in technological advances, there is an almost preternatural aspect to the Vodyanoid and its sense of being alive, along with that the research by the Soviets that created it and the pilots appears to have been rooted in part in esoteric fringe areas of science such as mind control. This otherworldly aspect is also heightened by it being named after the Vodyanoi which the Soviet commander explains is a deadly creature of Russian mythology which can fly above the water or deep beneath it.
For myself there is a further connection with Quatermass and the discovery of more cerebral science fiction and fantasy; I watched the series when it was first broadcast in the early 1980s and bought the television tie-in release of the novel from a selection of reduced price books in a local newsagent. From the same book racks I also bought Nigel Kneale’s adaptation of the final series of Quatermass and the 1981 reissue of Hank Stine’s The Prisoner: A Day In The Life, based on the iconic 1960s television series.
This was at a time when to grow up in a small British town meant that your access to more exploratory or non-mainstream culture was very limited and that rack of bargain books became an almost magical portal-like seeming selection or part of the world to a young chap (something I have referred to before around these parts and which some of the roots of A Year In The Country may well be traced in part back to). Such at the time heady discoveries incorporated seeking the like of the less mainstream sides of science fiction and fantasy via discovering the likes of Michael Moorcock in a local bookshop, Quality Communications comic anthology Warrior that included early episodes of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s dystopian V for Vendetta alongside the also Quality published House of Hammer/Halls of Horror anthologies that featured an adaptation of The Quatermass Xperiment and even The Rocky Horror Picture Show seen view a late night television broadcast.
I am not sure that I fully understood what much of this culture was at the time as I was probably a little too young but looking back I think that one of the things I was being drawn to was not purely then contemporary science fiction but rather a strand of work that connected back to when “the likes of ‘speculative fiction’ magazine New Worlds and Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius captured and expressed a moment where science fiction and related writing was hiply, exploratively psych like” (to quote myself at A Year In The Country) – a point when science fiction intertwined with and was an expression of the counter-culture and work of a more exploratory nature.
- The Nightmare Man DVD
- A very particular period snapshot: the opening and closing continuity announcements for the opening episode of BBC1’s 1981 thriller series “The Nightmare Man”, posted by The TV Museum
- New Worlds Magazine
- Warrior Comics
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
- The Nightmare Man – Cold War Paranoia, The Island as Restorative Balm and Unsettling “Other”: Wanderings 42/52
- Peter Haars, New Worlds and the Slipstream of the Future’s Past: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 42/52
- The Stone Tape, Quatermass, The Road and The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale – Unearthing Tales from Buried Ancient Pasts: Chapter 40 Book Images
- Day #197/365: Huff-ity puff-ity ringstone round; Quatermass and the finalities of lovely lightning
- The Prisoner – Part 1 – A Visit to a Real Life High-Definition Dream: Wanderings 33/52
- The Prisoner – Part 2 – Ongoing Battles and a Circle of Escape: Wanderings 34/52
- Day #312/365: The closing of corner shop portals, island nocturnes and a revisiting of transmissions from after the flood