The BFI really do take an exhaustive approach to their film seasons. To tie-in with the forthcoming Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder, they have ventured deep into the BBC archives to unearth this classic piece of children’s small screen sci-fi. The Boy from Space was a ten-part serial attached to educational series Look and Read. Aimed at improving children’s literacy skills at primary level, schools programme Look and Read ran for an unprecedented five decades, lasting from 1967 until 2004. The Boy from Space, available here in Look and Read bite-sized chucks, or as a standalone hour-plus minute version, was first broadcast in the early seventies, but was deemed successful enough to be repeated a decade on.
The Boy from Space concerns two young siblings Dan (Stephen Garlick) and Helen (Sylvestra Le Tole), who discover an alien child (played by Colin Mayes) of a similar age to themselves, following a meteor crashing on earth. The children name their ET chum Peep-Peep, reflecting the impenetrable alien language he speaks, which even C-3PO would struggle to decipher – although benevolent observatory owner Mr. Bunting manages to understand. It transpires that Peep-Peep’s father has been imprisoned on their spaceship by dastardly fellow passenger the Thin Space Man (John Woodnutt), and he needs the help of his new earth friends to free him. One overriding impression viewing the The Boy from Space from an adult perspective is just how geared towards very young children it was.
From its simplistic plotting to the mannered and extremely stilted performances on display, there’s a charmingly Enid Blyton-like naivety and innocence about it. It’s truly a product of a simpler, unfussy era in children’s entertainment. The haunting theme tune – “Space goes on forever” – is sung by legendary BBC kid’s stalwart Derek Griffiths, and the wonderfully homespun lo-fi effects makes those found in a Doctor Who episode from that era look like the work of Weta Digital. The aforementioned villain of the piece is still genuinely creepy – even if he does resemble Iggy Pop daubed in metallic paint – and the funky psychedelic score cooked up by the renowned BBC Radiophonic Workshop is a retrospective delight. By today’s standards, The Boy from Space is undeniably clunky and inert. It’s difficult to image modern tykes possessing the attention span to enjoy any of it, but for those who fondly remember the series from their own school days, it’s a powerful and welcoming blast of nostalgia.