The Stone Tape is a television play directed by Peter Sasdy and starring Michael Bryant (as Peter Brock), Jane Asher (as Jill Greeley), Michael Bates (as Eddie Holmes) and Iain Cuthbertson (as Roy Collinson). It was broadcast on BBC Two as a Christmas ghost story in 1972. Combining aspects of science fiction and horror, the story concerns a team of scientists who move into their new research facility, a renovated Victorian mansion that has a reputation for being haunted. The team investigate the phenomena, trying to determine if the stones of the building are acting as a recording medium for past events (the "stone tape" of the play's title). However, their investigations serve only to unleash a darker, more malevolent force.
The Stone Tape was written by Nigel Kneale, best known as the writer of Quatermass (film in wich a very young Jane starred in). Critically acclaimed at time of broadcast, it remains well regarded to this day as one of Nigel Kneale's best and most terrifying plays. Since its broadcast, the hypothesis of residual haunting – that ghosts are recordings of past events made by the natural environment – has come to be known as the "Stone Tape Theory".
The play focuses on the relationship between three scientists: Jill, a talented computer programmer attuned to psychic phenomena; her arrogant, egotistical and ruthless, if frequently charming, boss (and lover) Peter; and Collinson, the foreman on the project and confidante to both of them. Their differing personal experiences of the mansion's haunted room provide the framework for the drama and are drawn along traditional gender lines. Kneale's script explores male and female perspectives, contrasting rational problem solving and the application of the scientific method with intuitive and emotional responses and solutions aligned with a compassionate feeling for people and their circumstances. Peter and Jill stand at the opposite poles of this dialectic, and as their inability to communicate their differences increases, so their personal relationship disintegrates. Collinson comes somewhere between the two, as the main identification figure for the audience. Iain Cuthbertson gives a powerful yet restrained performance in the role, which was expanded considerably during filming as his character replaced the one played by Michael Bates, who became unavailable when the shooting of some scenes had to be rescheduled.
The special effects in the climax, in which Jill is pursued by ancient shapeless creatures and taken back thousands of years to a high sacrificial altar before falling to her death, are often startling, despite their crudeness. The use of sound by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, however, is highly sophisticated, with atonal electronic sounds used to merge music with the noises made by the scientific machinery.
Although reminiscent of Kneale's own earlier Quatermass and the Pit (BBC, 1957-58) in the way that science unleashes supernatural forces from the past, The Stone Tape can also be seen as a dark meditation on Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', with Peter as a Scrooge figure, basically uncaring of those around him, who eventually learns the error of his ways through supernatural intervention, but only when it's too late.