'A for Andromeda' and it's sequel 'The Andromeda Breakthrough' were transmitted a couple of years before I was born and although I had bootleg copies of 'Breakthrough' on video tape I had never seen 'A for...', the reason being that the BBC did to it what they did to most programmes of the time, they wiped it and it was lost.
Now the story of the junking of TV material is well known and I don't want to get started on that subject because it makes my blood boil, I shall confine myself to reviewing this DVD.
The two Andromeda serials are to the 1960's what the three Quatermass stories were to the 1950's, landmark pieces of television sci-fi drama that between them set the wheels in motion for the creation of Doctor Who in 1963, the viewing figures for 'A for...' were staggering with over 12 million people tuning in at one point and must have convinced the BBC that a weekly sci-fi series was a good idea.
All that is remaining from 'A for...' are a few clips from various episodes, a four of five minute extract from part 2 and the final two reels of the story which is about 15 minutes long. This was enhanced by the discovery of the full episode 6 'The Face of the Tiger' in 2006. Now this recovery was important as the BBC were all set to release 'Breakthrough' on DVD but the problem was that the sequel was directly linked to the missing original and as such is not at all clear unless one has prior knowledge of 'A for...', the episode found plus all the remaining bits and pieces gave the BBC enough material to present a reconstruction of 'A for...' and thus allow the viewer to fully understand the events of both stories.
The reconstruction takes the form of what fans of vintage TV call Tele-Snaps, these are photographs produced on a contract sheet and taken by a gentleman called John Cura who literally pointed his camera at the TV screen and snapped away, there were on average about 60-80 photos per every half hour of screen time and in the days before video recorders these were used by actors and production crews of TV shows as a permanent photographic record of their work. They are also the only remaining visual record of many hundreds of hours of lost TV programmes and are invaluble in providing information on what the shows looked like during transmission.
The Tele-Snaps exist for every instalment of 'A for...' and a descriptive passage appears under the photo to explain what is happening within the story, the surviving film material is placed in context to where it would have appeared originally, now this may not be ideal but the chances of finding the entire serial are zero and this is as good a way as any for showcasing this long lost TV drama into some kind of coherent sense that is easy to follow.
The picture and sound quality have been remastered and looks and sounds great, an audio commentary for most of the 'A for...' footage has been recorded by the producer Michael Hayes and actor Peter Halliday. There is no commentary for 'Breakthrough' however but there is a rather nice "Memories-style" documentary that covers both stories. An except from the TV show Points of View is included as are PDF documents featuring Radio Times coverage and the full scripts to the missing episodes, all this is rounded of by an extensive photo gallery and a viewing notes booklet.
The one downside to this release is the lack of direct access to the surviving film material from 'A for...', the only way to get to it is to activate the Tele-Snap reconstruction and then Chapter Forward until it is found, but it is all marked up and very easy to find.
'Breakthrough', as stated earlier, exists in full and while it is a fine piece of early television sci fi it is not as good as 'A for...'. Even the single episode of 'A for...' has that certain 'something' that the entire 6 episodes of 'Breakthrough' lack. The film has been treated to the same degree of remastering and looks very nice and sharp, but I must be honest when I say that, although I would have bought 'Breakthrough' anyway, my main reason for buying this DVD was for the opportunity to see the returned footage from 'A for...', which does a slight injustice to 'Breakthrough' because it is really very good indeed, sequels very rarely achieve the success and heights of the originals but 'Breakthrough' almost pulls it off, but not quite.
I would recommend this release, not only to sci-fi fans but to people that have an interest in archive TV or maybe those just wanting a nostalgia trip, it's fascinating to see a piece of drama that, along with Quatermass really started a successful sci-fi franchise that is still going strong today. I don't like to use the word 'Classic' very often, but this is 'Classic', it's as simple as that. Buy it today.