A telepathic American plans to meet with her fiancé in England, but what is planned as a surprise reunion places her in grave danger. RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES on the Thriller episode, Won’t Write Home Mom, I’m Dead..
TITLE: Thriller – Won’t Write Home Mom, I’m Dead
BROADCAST: 26 April 1975
STARRING: Pamela Franklin, Ian Bannen, Suzanne Neve, Oliver Tobias
WRITER: Dennis Spooner, from a story by Brian Clemens
DIRECTOR: James Ormerod
Abby Stephens (Franklin) heads to England in search of her fiancé Doug, who seems to have fallen off the radar during a trip to Europe.
Doug had intended to catch up with an old friend, Alan (Tobias) at an artist’s commune in the countryside, and it just so happens that Alan is Abby’s half-cousin, although the two haven’t seen each other in fifteen years – It’s no wonder that Abby has difficulty in identifying him on arrival.
Abby can’t help feeling that something is wrong, a suspicion heightened by her gift for telepathy for she has a psychic link with Doug and can hear him calling her name. As she begins to suspect foul play, Abby needs to work out who she can trust out of Alan, English artist Beryl (Neve) and the temperamental and volatile Frank (Bannen) whilst trying to work out not only where Doug has gone to, but whether those around her are who they claim to be…
It has to be said, there are some wobbly attempts at American accents on display here: Curiously, for an episode with so many American characters this is one of the few Thriller episodes with no US performers. However, Pamela Franklin was by this point a Brit mostly working in Hollywood, thus filling the common Thriller role of the visiting US guest star in peril and less controversially than in the series four opener, Screamer.
The phrase “slow-burner” is an understatement, but patient viewers (very patient, perhaps) may enjoy losing themselves in its almost somnambulistic atmosphere and the supernatural elements add a welcome touch of spice to the brew, although the more chill-inclined members of the audience might feel a bit short-changed when the recurring imagery of a desolate group of elm trees promises frissons which never quite materialise. The same can be said of the mysterious head-sculptures being fired in a kiln, another tantalisingly creepy thread which is never fully pursued.
Ultimately, Won’t Write Home Mom, I’m Dead is never quite able to successfully gel its supernatural and corporeal elements, and frequently seems unsure of what kind of tale it wants to be, not an accusation one could usually make against a Thriller episode. It’s additionally hampered by Doug’s fate being shown in the opening teaser, a move which ultimately leaves the story following a traditional whodunnit path when there are other possibilities which may have made for a more satisfying episode.
To be fair, having to follow the brilliant The Double Kill doesn’t do Won’t Write Home Mom, I’m Dead any favours. None of Thriller’s episodes could be called a total failure (there’s not many anthology shows that can say that) and warts-and-all, in its best moments the episode still provides a nice, eerie interlude between two more traditional (and similarly titled) entries – file this one under “curate’s egg”.
The first of two episodes scripted from an original Brian Clemens story by his friend Dennis Spooner, and the two were also collaborating on a comedy pilot for ATV at the time, What A Turn Up. Spooner had previously worked for Clemens on The Avengers, and had plenty of form working for ITC from Thunderbirds and Stingray to Man In A Suitcase, Department S, Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased) and more – an impressive CV indeed!
Followers of the Thriller episode guide will know that I have bemoaned the tendency of the US TV-Movie versions to give the game away in their amended titles, but in this case it’s perhaps the original UK title that blows the twist, as least once the penny drops as the story progresses. The replacement moniker of Terror From Within is far less revealing.
The US alternative title sequence plays up the story’s paranormal elements, as a figure clad in a white robe wanders about and promises considerably more of a creepy bent than the episode actually delivers. Perhaps all concerned know that the episode’s languid pace is going to be a hard sell and want to grab the viewer early on.
Ian Bannen was making quite a living in unsettling roles during this period: see also the very Thriller-esque Fright (1971), and the same year’s Shadows Of Fear episode, White Walls And Olive Green Carpets. He would reappear in the final Thriller of all, Death In Deep Water (1976).
Very much concur with thoughts and opinions of this installment expressed in this review! The ‘is he dead or only missing’ angle is indeed compromised by events made clear from the teaser and the supernatural moments tend to left unexplored, underdeveloped or wholly ambiguous – despite being quite eerie in isolation. And it probably IS the slowest THRILLER of them all. Still some value is present – Bannen has that special intensity especially – and the director here (James Ormerod) appears far better suited to this type of moody tale than his next assignment in the series. The other Dennis Spooner episode – to follow next – is back to classic territory!