The forgotten Aussie sci-fi classic rivalling Doctor Who

Australians have always led the world in many areas, but most importantly in TV – with the steamy avant-garde Number 96 beating its tawdry counterpart Sex and the City onto the small screen by a generation.

Australians have always led the world in many areas, but most importantly in TV – with the steamy avant-garde Number 96 beating its tawdry counterpart Sex and the City onto the small screen by a generation.

Now it turns out Aunty ABC had a far superior sci-fi series in production before the first series of Doctor Who ever hit these shores.

Homegrown Aussie sci-fi series The Stranger was hugely successful when it first went to air in April 1964, just a few months after the first Doctor Who episode, meaning it was certainly being filmed before the Tardis first took wing on screen.

The Stranger, which has spent five forlorn decades in the ABC vaults, has recently been digitally re-mastered and re-released and it has immediately found a new audience.

In a theme which resonates today, the title character is the leader of a group of interstellar refugees who are forced to live underground in their burnt-out and uninhabitable home planet, which has been ejected from its star system.

They have spent centuries wandering in deep space looking for a new home.

On a dark and stormy evening, The Stranger knocks on the door of an Aussie family home

The Stranger somehow gets a job as a teacher and, with three teenage mates - Bernie, Jean and Peter - explore the galaxy.

And unlike early Doctor Who episodes whose cast rarely left the studio, or indeed the old BBC parking lot, The Stranger has some quality exterior shots including a chase scene across the 64m dish of the radio telescope at Parkes.

“We were given almost free reign on the then quite new Parkes radio telescope,” says the show’s producer and director Storry Walton.

"For three days we virtually took it over and our cast fiddled with the actual controls in the command centre.

"And we had a chase sequence which was a chase across the open dish of the telescope, which they allowed us to lower to its lowest possible point so that our hero schoolboy could race down the open dish, sit on the rim and jump down on to the ground.”

One thing Doctor Who had going for it was staying power, with an in-built script mechanism to recycle an infinite number of actors through the part, although of course as everybody knows there is only one real Doctor – Tom Baker.

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