Doctor Joe Burke (Simon Oates) is a scientist whose Startalk project is the fulfilment of a lifetime's ambition, a chance to communicate with the denizens of civilisations outside Planet Earth's orbit. However, so far his investigations have brought up the grand total of no contacts whatsoever and his bosses, led by Shore (Max Adrian), want a word with a view to discussing his position in the organisation. Now Burke has a deadline: if no progress is made by the time three months are up, then the project will be terminated as the bosses cannot justify the cost and use of the radio telescope on the premises, an ultimatum which infuriates the boffin, especially as he feels he has an almost divine right to pursue his fascination with the subject...
That's because when Burke was a boy, he was given a mysterious cube by his archaeologist uncle as we see in flashback, something uncovered at a dig in France. The clumsy child knocked the object over one day and it smashed into pieces, one of which he held in his hand when he went to sleep and experienced the vision which has haunted him all these years. If this was sounding jolly interesting then it didn't play that way for the first half hour at least: the action took far too long to step up a gear, and for a while it seemed as though this was a tale of office politics at a research station in England, complete with laboured comic relief from Charles Hawtrey as an accountant and Patricia Hayes as a tealady.
Hawtrey, then as now most celebrated for the Carry On series, looked to be taking an interest in science fiction because around the same time he appeared in the decidedly saucier Zeta One, while Hayes was bringing her accustomed working class charm (though she spoke posh in real life) to a role she could have played in her sleep. Do not underestimate Mrs Jones the tealady, however, as only in a British science fiction movie would it be imperative to bring along a character who provided a nice cuppa as they travelled into the depths of space. That was what happened, the entire building was spirited away by a spacecraft sent from the Solar System's asteroid belt once contact had finally been made.
What are the odds Burke should receive that deadline and mere hours later he made that breakthrough? Well, maybe we shouldn't be too surprised, since it would be a rather dull movie if the rest of it played out as the leading man lost his job and had to attend a series of interviews to get another one. Although nobody is called the Terrornauts in the film, the plot actually plays out not unlike the eighties BBC TV series The Adventure Game as Burke, nervous Hawtrey, Hayes, and assistants Zena Marshall (famous as James Bond's first ever conquest in Dr. No) and Stanley Meadows find themselves on a hugely advanced space base run by a not very advanced-looking robot (Marshall was obviously amused by this and gives the contraption a noticeable pat on the bottom as it goes by in one scene).
This was drawn from a Murray Leinster book by heavyweight science fiction author John Brunner, best known for his classic dystopian novels Stand On Zanzibar and especially the unforgettable environmental miseryfest The Sheep Look Up, but don't expect anything so profound here, this was more aimed at the families who crowded around the television sets to catch the latest episode of Doctor Who of a Saturday afternoon. That said, it looked like they had that serial's meagre budget, even using a quarry as one location, and with quite remarkable monster in one sequence which has the notable addition of an eye in its armpit (better than a nose in your armpit, one assumes). The explorers are adept at the problem solving, well, two of them are, the others tending to dither including Meadows' supposedly intelligent scientist who manages to trip over his feet and bump Marshall into a matter transporter. It builds to a conclusion that won't be entirely alien to anyone who has played Space Invaders, but overall that lively last half more than made up for the mediocre first. Music by Elisabeth Lutyens.
[Network's Region 2 DVD features a good quality copy of this film's shorter reissue from the seventies, and a slightly beaten up copy of the original 1967 version which lasts about fifteen minutes longer. It also has the trailer and an image gallery to round out the extras.]