The Stranger – Series 1 Episode 1 (1964)
One rainy night a stranger (Ron Haddrick), suffering from amnesia and with no discernible heartbeat, is found unconscious on the doorstep of the Walsh family home. He is welcomed inside by high school principal Mr Walsh (John Faassen), his wife (Jessica Noad), teenage children Bernie (Bill Levis) and Jean (Janice Dinnen), and their schoolfriend Peter (Michael Thomas). Given that he speaks German and French as well as English, the family decide that the stranger must be Swiss. ‘Adam Suisse’, as he is quick to name himself, asks for employment at the school, until he recovers his memory of who he is and where he is from. Suisse turns out to have a gift for teaching even the most unruly of boys and is rumoured to have hypnotic powers. Secretly searching his room, the three teenagers come across a strange electronic gadget emitting communications in an unrecognisible language.
The Stranger was Australia’s first locally produced science-fiction television series and one of the first Australian TV series to be sold overseas. Two series of six episodes each were produced in 1964 and 1965 and broadcast on the ABC. It was a major hit in Australia and sold to the BBC. In the first series the Stranger is welcomed into the Walsh family home. He develops a friendship with the headmaster’s children and their friend Peter, and they discover the Stranger’s secret – he is an alien from the planet Soshuniss. The teenagers decide to help him in his quest to find a new home on Earth for his people. In the second series the children have to enlist the help of the Australian Prime Minister (played by Chips Rafferty) when Peter is kidnapped by the aliens and taken to their planet.
The Stranger can be viewed as part of a tradition of alien invader allegories. Science-fiction came into its own during the 1950s, when the Cold War was underway, and often included the theme of a mysterious threat from the ‘other’. The 1950s and ‘60s also saw a proliferation of media depicting interstellar travel at the dawn of the Space Age, and during the 'space race’ between Russia and the USA. Two iconic science-fiction TV series were born around this time: Star Trek (US, 1966–69) and Doctor Who (UK, 1963–1989, 2005–current). In Australia, The Stranger was the first of seven science-fiction series produced by the ABC, all of which were aimed primarily at children: Wandjina! (1966); the trilogy of The Interpretaris (1966), Vega 4 (1968) and Phoenix Five (1970); Alpha Scorpio (1974) and Andra (1976).
The Stranger’s creator, GK Saunders, also worked on the The Argonauts, a popular Australian children’s radio segment broadcast during the ABC’s Children’s Hour (1954–72). He was recruited into the CSIRO during the Second World War and his experience there influenced his future writing for the ABC, including a successful science-fiction radio serial, The Moon Flower (1953). The CSIRO cooperated in the design of the alien spacecraft that lands in Sydney at the end of series two.
Producer Storry Walton became Director of the Interim Training Scheme, the precursor to the Australian Film Television and Radio School. Director Gil Brealey's career in the Australian film industry spanned more than 40 years. He directed the AFI award-winning Annie’s Coming Out (1984), co-produced Sunday Too Far Away (1975) and Manganinnie (1980), and was founding chair of the Tasmanian Film Corporation.
The first episode of The Stranger was broadcast on the ABC on Sunday 5 April 1964 at 6.30 pm.