The 1970s were a bold time for children’s TV in the UK. A generation of writers weaned on the weirdness of Doctor Who were coming into their own.
They began proposing original projects that had some of the Doctor’s sci-fi and fantasy DNA…mixed into a frothy brew with a bit of local legend and superstition and sinister tales. Shows like Children Of The Stones and The Tomorrow People were becoming the norm. And shows like Sky.
Created by writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who had already written for Doctor Who earlier in the decade and would continue to do so well into the late ‘70s, Sky is a bizarre supernatural tale of natural forces personified and anthropomorphized. In the opening moments of episode one, a gaunt, pale boy appears out of thin air in a forest, and immediately seems to be under attack by the surrounding foliage. (Let’s take a moment here to appreciate young star Marc Harrison’s enormous patience in allowing the crew to throw buckets of leaves on him for these scenes throughout the series.)
Three youths, who have grown tired of watching their adult relatives duck hunting, find the boy, who is quickly named Sky, since they assume that’s where he came from. But it’s a bit more complicated than that: Sky Is from Earth’s possible future, and he has powers beyond those of mere mortals. But there are vast powers ranged against Sky as well: like the immune system of a body under attack by disease, Earth itself is rejecting this out-of-time, out-of-place visitor, manifesting as a bearded, sinister man known only as Goodchild. He stalks Sky throughout the show’s seven episodes, intent on wiping him from the face of the Earth and restoring the natural balance of things.
Actor Marc Harrison is the best young actor that the show’s makers could have found to play Sky. Thin and pale, and wearing scleral shells that no only make his eyes look huge but are frequently used as part of the show’s somewhat meager special effects, Harrison is more Bowie-esque than Bowie: if the rock star had adopted his Thin White Duke persona in his teens, one imagines this is what he would have looked like.
His youthful co-stars include Richard Speight, who played kid-from-the-future “Peter” on Sky’s ITV stablemate, The Tomorrow People. In one episode, you can even catch a glimpse of David Jackson, a few years before he became strongman Gan on the BBC space opera Blake’s 7, as an affable policeman who isn’t quite buying what he’s being told about sinister supernatural forces on the march.
Adding to the considerable atmosphere of the show is the spooky music. There isn’t a lot of it – maybe all of five minutes of music was created, repeating throughout all seven episodes – but it’s full of foreboding atmosphere that does a lot to set the stage.
Sky is available as a region 2/PAL DVD, but…there’s a problem. Let’s talk about the British broadcasters and their tendency to lose tapes and entire shows. At the time that this show was made, two-inch open reel videotape was the industry standard…but it was also expensive and took up a lot of space, at least as much as reels of film. In 1975, there was no afterlife for television shows – home video recorders were an incredibly expensive rarity – and once they were shown once or twice, it was customary to wipe and reuse the tape.
As it happens, the original 2” master tapes for Sky still existed through the 1990s…but two of them were fatally damaged in storage. Episodes two and seven on the DVD are represented by VHS backup recordings of those masters, the quality being noticeably lower than the other episodes…but again, when there are classic UK series missing episodes or even whole seasons, the alternative would be a show lost to time. It’s better than nothing.
Sky is an acquired taste – it takes a little while before the show tips its hand as to what it’s really about – and it reflects the theme of many a ‘70s show from that era, questioning whether or not human technology is outracing human wisdom…and trying to find a way to play that struggle out dramatically.