Out of This World: Little Lost Robot DVD review

The sole surviving episode of this classic anthology series stills impresses on DVD

Not only have science fiction writers and filmmakers adopted the word ‘robot’ from Czech playwright Karel Capek’s 1920s play R.U.R, they’ve also ‘borrowed’ on numerous occasions’ science fiction writer Issac Asimov’s ingenious ‘Three Laws of Robotics’. First appearing in his 1942 story Runaround, the laws are as follows: (1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; (2) A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law, and (3), A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

It was the main reason why Robby the robot was incapable of confronting its master Morbius’s Id monster in the 1956 science fiction classic Forbidden Planet, and was instrumental in depicting robot-cop Gort’s sentinel like presence throughout the 1951 movie The Day the Earth Stood Still.

In the 1962 TV play Little Lost Robot, sadly the only existing episode from the ABC TV series Out of This World, Asimov’s ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ are once again up for scrutiny when scientists tampering with the first law create a problem for the inhabitants of Hyperbase 7, a military research station in orbit above the surface of Saturn. 

A robot called a Nestor has concealed itself among a shipment of twenty identical mechanical men (a scene later replicated in the Will Smith movie I, Robot) en route to a work colony. The authorities led by Major General Kallner (Clifford Evans), have no choice but to call on the services of robo-psychologist Dr Susan Calvin (Maxine Audley) to root out the defective machine.

This proves difficult to accomplish, thanks in part to Calvin’s confrontational attitude towards the other crewmembers of the research station, in particular chief engineer Black (Gerald Flood) who already harbours a pathological hatred of all robots.

Don’t be fooled by the cutesy-sounding title, Little Lost Robot is bleak and uncompromising. Production values, considering the series’ vintage, are impressive with sets that certainly give Doctor Who a run for its money. And there’s no skimping on the robot costumes either, with scenes in which twenty unknown actors shuffle about in shiny suits with impressive looking, but simply designed robot masks.

Produced by Sydney Newman  (The Avengers, Doctor Who) and Irene Shubik (The Wednesday Play, Out of the Unknown), each episode of Out of This World also had the distinction of being introduced by Hollywood veteran Boris Karloff, fresh from three years hosting his own TV show Thriller. It was also highly praised by critics at the time, including the invaluable Kinematograph Weekly magazine, who thought it 'the most intelligent and best written of its genre since Quatermass.'

Picture: The picture quality is remarkably good thanks to the fact that this episode was originally transferred from videotape to 35mm film. There are, in fact, two versions on this DVD to choose from, including a 2K scan which eliminates the coarser 377 line structure and accompanying artifacts, as well as a copy with VidFIRE processing, a unique technology that recreates a format not to dissimilar to the show’s original 1962 appearance.
Picture rating: 4/5

Audio: As you'd expect the soundtrack is only presented as Dolby Digital 1.0 mono, but it's rendered extremely cleanly with the all-important dialogue coming through absolutely perfectly.
Audio rating: 3/5

Extras: As with all the BFI releases, Little Lost Robot is brimming over with some fascinating extras, including amateur audio recordings of two of the missing episodes from the series (Cold Equations, which Karloff alludes to at the conclusion of Little Lost Robot, and Imposter). The script for a third episode, Dumb Martian by John Wyndham, which was originally planned to be the series opener but was shown as part of the Armchair Theatre series instead, is included in a PDF format. Finally, actor Toby Hadoke moderates an audio commentary with series producer Leonard White and Irene Shubik-expert Mark Ward.
Extras rating: 4/5

We say: If Little Lost Robot is an example of just how good the Out of This World series was, then it’s particularly regrettable that the other 12 episodes were junked.

Out of This World: Little Lost Robot, BFI, R2 DVD, £20 Approx