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A For Andromeda (1961)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of A For Andromeda (1961)
7 episodes (black and white)
Written byFred Hoyle
 Norman James
ProducersMichael Hayes
 Norman James

Cast: Peter Halliday (John Fleming); Patricia Kneale (Judy Adamson); Esmond Knight (Professor Reinhart); Julie Christie (Christine/Andromeda); Noël Johnson (J.M.Osborne)

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A genetic experiment results in the cloning of a young woman - but is she all she seems to be?

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A for Andromeda (1961) was the BBC's first major adult science fiction production since the three Quatermass serials of the 1950s. But unlike its predecessors, it used the new sciences of computing and genetics, rather than the established disciplines of chemistry and archaeology, to tell its story of an alien threat to humanity.

The series was developed by producer John Elliot from a story by Cambridge astronomer and novelist Fred Hoyle about an alien transmission that provides details about how to build a supercomputer. Once built, the machine turns out to be a form of messenger that, among other things, provides a formula for a genetic experiment that results in the cloning of a technician who it has deliberately electrocuted. The cloned embryo quickly reaches maturity, and is christened Andromeda, after the source of the original transmission. Despite her outward appearance, the woman has an alien mentality and fears about her intentions are quickly realised. "Our intelligence is going to take over and yours is going to die. You'll go the way of the dinosaurs," she informs her human colleagues.

News of the computer, which has been built in secrecy under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Defence, is leaked to a mysterious organisation - called, curiously, Intel (clearly in its pre-Bill Gates guise) - which wants the device for its own ends. Fortunately, Andromeda is humanised by her interaction with the people who built the computer, and she runs away with young scientist John Fleming (Peter Halliday) rather than play a part in the alien plan.

The series contains several elements that belie its age. Genetics and computer science were then still in their infancy - although both would be familiar to audiences today. Also, the programme features women at the centre of the action - the scientist that instigates the genetic experiment, Professor Madeline Dawnay (Mary Morris) and the alien creation, Andromeda (played by newcomer Julie Christie).

The series proved popular enough for a sequel, The Andromeda Breakthrough (BBC, 1962), which followed Andromeda's attempts to flee her human captors. Intel is once again interested in gaining access to the alien intelligence but time is running out for everyone - a genetic fault is killing the clone. The BBC's refusal to pay a £300 option to retain the services of Julie Christie resulted in Andromeda being recast, with Susan Hampshire taking over the role.

Anthony Clark

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Video Clips
Clip 1 (2:32)
Clip 2 (2:22)
Complete episode: 'The Last Mystery' - Part 1 (9:15)
Part 2 (5:38)
Unearthly Stranger (1963)
Christie, Julie (1941-)
Knight, Esmond (1906-1987)
TV Sci-Fi