Out of the Unknown – Some Lapse Of Time Review (or “Unnecessarily Complicated”)

It’s been one hit, one miss and one in between for me in my Out of the Unknown reviews.

Hopefully Some Lapse Of Time will be a hit…

Out of the Unknown – Some Lapse Of Time Review: What’s This One About?

A Doctor who has been plagued by a recurring bad dream since the death of his son to a rare disease is shocked to find a man from that dream has shown up outside his house dying of the same illness.

The man – speaking a severely regressed form of English that only a language expert can understand – appears to be someone from the past, but at a time when nuclear testing is at its peak, could he be from a future dystopia?

Thoughts – Well That’s Not Complicated At All, Is It?

The ‘What’s This One About’ section of these reviews is supposed to be a snappy one-liner that gives you the basic synopsis of the plot.



That doesn’t seem possible for Some Lapse Of Time.

Don’t get me wrong, I was able to follow it well enough, but it just seemed unnecessarily complicated.

Why? Because so many of the different things associated with the plot didn’t feel like they were needed or that they made much sense.

To give you the brief, here’s a step by step guide to the plot…

  • A man (Dr Max Harrow) has a recurring bad dream.
  • He wakes up to find the old guy from that dream is outside his house, dying of an illness that only kills babies (like his son). He’s also clutching a finger bone.
  • He takes the old guy to the hospital where his illness is cured, but the guy can’t speak a word of English.
  • Eventually they establish his name is Smiffershon.
  • They bring in a language expert who discovers he is speaking English but a regressed version of it.
  • Harrow’s wife takes a massive strop when she sees him talking to the female language expert.
  • They have a blazing row which results in her accidentally trapping his pinkie finger in a car door. He loses the finger.
  • At the same time as this is happening, some politician/expert in nuclear testing is admitted to the hospital. Harrow and his colleagues treat him.
  • X Rays show that Smiffershon – is highly radioactive.
  • Harrow starts to go a bit mental and concludes that Smiffershon must be from the future, because the finger bone he was clutching must be the one he just lost. He reckons that he’s come back in a bid to change history by killing him, as one of the people responsible for saving the life of the guy in charge of the nuclear testing.
  • He has a severe nervous breakdown and starts talking in the same weird dialect as Smiffershon.
  • The language expert says she’s worked out that Smiffershon is saying he came back from the future.
  • Harrow’s colleagues – having dismissed him as a fantasist – are shocked

Now read that back and ask yourself if it made sense.

Does it? It’s certainly on the borderline of being utter nonsense.

The thing is, if it just followed the basic narrative of a guy who has come back in time to try to prevent nuclear war, then it would be better.

Instead, there are aspects to it – like the illnessSmiffershon was initially suffering from, the dream and thefingerbone – that could be chucked out on the scrap-heap entirely, while other parts of the story that I think were missing or were poorly explained/developed – like how he managed to time travel or how he seemed obsessed with a Doctor who didn’t really have that much to do with the events that would result in

That's right love, just light up beside the hospital bed

That’s right love, just light up beside the hospital bed

nuclear war – could have been done a lot better.

Perhaps the problem is that this is another episode that is based on a book. Maybe the hour just wasn’t enough to tell the story as it was meant to be told?

The result though is that Some Lapse Of Time feels like a story that could have been – and ultimately in other forms has been – told better.

The Old British Actors Checklist

Amazingly, only one actor in this has appeared in a Doctor Who, and considering he played a character for about two minutes in the Reign of Terror, I can be forgiven for not realising it was him.

The only actor I’ve ever heard of here is Peter Bowles, playing a policeman at the start.

Still, it’s got an actor in it called Moultrie Kelsall, so it deserves some bonus points!

Random Observations

  • Until around 15 minutes in, I assumed this was supposed to be set in contemporary Britain, i.e. the 1960s; that’s certainly what it looked like anyway with the traditional 60s police uniforms and absolutely nothing to indicate it wasn’t contemporary. Then all of a sudden they start communicating using those two-way TVs you’d see in almost every Patrick Troughton story. Do you think people generally thought that’s how we’d communicate in the future, or is it more likely it was the brainchild of one guy who worked at the BBC?
  • Considering when this was made, I imagine the idea of a post-nuclear dystopia probably struck a chord with the viewers at the time.
  • To give the story some credit – as I feel I’ve been quite critical of it so far – it has top quality incidental music. No, it’s not the sort of thing I’d want to listen to, but it captures the underlying tension of the episode perfectly.
  • There’s a marvellous example of how society’s attitude towards dogs seems to have changed since this was made. As much as I can’t stand them myself, it’s fair to say that the UK is a nation of dog-lovers. So when in this episode they talk about a dog having its throat slit by Smiffershon, they say “Thank goodness he only attacked a dog. He could have done seem real harm”. These days there would be such an
    Having seen her husband committing the grievous crime of talking to another woman, Mrs Harrow storms out of what appears to be Dundee College. She then amputates his finger; that'll learn him.

    Having seen her husband committing the grievous crime of talking to another woman, Mrs Harrow storms out of what appears to be Dundee College. She then amputates his finger; that’ll learn him.

    uproar if a line like that was said in a TV show that it just wouldn’t be allowed to go out.

  • Another great ‘Of The Time’ moment was when the language expert decides to light up and have a cigarette whilst sitting by Smiffershon’s bedside in the hospital ward. It’s amazing to think people thought this was acceptable.
  • Beyond coming up with a convenient way for Harrow to lose his finger, there’s no good explanation for the huff his wife took upon seeing him talking to a female colleague other than ‘Bitches Be Crazy, Yo’.
  • It seems as though every day is a school day. Watching this I discovered that a cretin is a genuine medical term for someone who has grown to be disproportionately small thanks to a thyroid condition. I think I know one or two people like that.
  • Smiffershon sounds like Jon Pertwee in Episode One of Spearhead From Space. “Shoes”.
  • Showing that buildings made around this time look very similar to each other, the outside of the hospital looks exactly like Dundee College. I’m guessing very few people will care about that.
  • This is the second episode I’ve seen that has finished on a cliffhanger of ‘I guess the guy we’ve locked up for being crazy was right’. A bit soon to go back to that particular well I’d say.

Out of the Unknown – Some Lapse Of Time Review: Final Thoughts

It’s a decent idea, but like I say, I’ve seen it done better in the likes of Day of the Daleks.

On the whole, it’s unnecessarily complicated, and fails to connect the dots properly in making all that much sense.

I doubt it’s an episode I’d want to watch again.

Remember to buy my books, focusing on my reviews of Doctor Who from the 1960s through to present day. You can read more about them here

Also, on a completely different note, if you’ve got any friends who post the crappest Facebook status updates in the world every day, you might get a kick out of my piss-take Facebook blog, ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’ 



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