Original image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Author: Robert Bloch
Originally aired: 11 August 1955
Plot synopsis: A criminal steals a newly built android from its creator, and uses it to commit robberies. Based on a short story first published in Fantastic Adventures magazine, in June 1943; and later in Robert Bloch's short-story collection Final Reckonings, in 1987.
Favourite line: 'I want you to oil me, Lola ... I like you to oil me, Lola.'
Review: Isaac Asimov was probably the most famous writer of robot stories of his time, but he was not, of course, the only one to tackle the subject of human-like machines, as shown by this very different take. Whereas Asimov's robots are constrained by his 'Three Laws of Robotics' - which include the injunction that a robot may not cause harm to human beings - the android in this story has been programmed with no such limitations. Consequently, it is quite capable of committing criminal acts, from theft to murder. The story offers a science-fictional spin on the hardboiled crime tale, in which criminals not only plot and commit felonies, but betray and double-cross each other - only in this case, one member of the gang is made of metal, not flesh and blood. However, the most intriguing theme of the story concerns the 'love' the android develops for the main female character. Given the period, this was never going to develop into anything very explicit, but there is a clear sexual subtext to the scene in which the android asks her to oil him, with the sound effects of the oil being administered only adding to its suggestiveness. Overall, a good episode.
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Dimension X (1950)]
And the Moon Be Still as Bright
Author: Ray Bradbury
Originally aired: 22 April 1955
[Another version of this story aired 22 September 1955]
Plot synopsis: The fourth Earth expedition to Mars discovers that the entire native population has died before their arrival, wiped out by the chickenpox brought to the planet by the previous human expeditions - yet one member of the crew is unwilling to accept his companions' desecration of the surviving monuments of Martian civilization. Based on a short story first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories magazine, in June 1948; and later as a chapter in Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, in 1950.
Favourite line: 'They made their way into the dreaming, dead city. The light of the racing twin moons glinted on the barrel of a pistol ... The wind blew in from the dead sea bottom and brushed through the silvery wire filigree of the towers. Strange music drifted down to the double-shadowed streets, a thin haunted music that played as it had played through the uncounted years of time.'
Review: This episode was adapted from one of the stories that forms part of Ray Bradbury's composite novel The Martian Chronicles (for other episodes based on stories in this sequence see under Bradbury in my Authors list). Prior to being published as part of this novel, it was originally a standalone short story, so works fine as a separate tale. The episode remains very faithful to the source story's plot, with the initial set-up clearly intended to parallel the history of Europeans' first encounters with Native Americans, notably the devastating effect that the diseases the former brought with them had upon the latter. Indeed, this is made very explicit when the crew member who is outraged by the Earthmen's indifference to humanity's destruction of the Martian peoples tries to enlist the one Native American member of the expedition to his cause of protecting what remains of Martian civilization. Shades of the story's plot can also be detected in everything from Dances with Wolves to Avatar - which are similarly centred on the struggles of a conscience-stricken individual siding with ostensibly 'enemy' natives against the uncaring military of his own people - and your view of this episode will likely be determined by how you feel about the liberal narrative and politics that underpin all of these stories. However, even if one leaves this aspect aside, and treats the episode simply as an adventure story, it still works pretty well; and as with most Bradbury stories, there are many memorable lines of dialogue and narration, and moments of pathos and poignancy. One issue I have with Bradbury's writing, though, is his frequent reliance upon quoting lines of poetry - even, as in this case, using them for story titles - which often strikes me as a too-easy, perhaps even lazy, way of trying to create atmosphere or an emotional impact. Consequently, I was left cold by the wistful reciting of Byron's 'So We'll Go No More a Roving', from which the episode's title is taken, and did not find it especially effective or moving as was obviously intended (see There Will Come Soft Rains for another example of Bradbury's use of poetry for similar ends). Nonetheless, another fine story from The Martian Chronicles series.
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Dimension X (1950); Audio - Omni Audio Experience (1988); TV - The Ray Bradbury Theater (1990)]
Appointment in Tomorrow
Author: Fritz Leiber
Originally aired: 7 November 1956
Plot synopsis: In a future society that is controlled by a group called the Thinkers, using a supercomputer they claim to have created, can anyone expose the deceptions that lie behind their rule? Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in July 1951; and later, as 'Poor Superman', in Fritz Leiber's short-story collection The Best of Fritz Leiber, in 1974.
Favourite line: 'A scientist tells people the truth … A magician tells people what they wish were true - that perpetual motion works, that colored lights can cure cancer, that a psychosis is no worse than a bad cold, and that they'll live forever. In good times, magicians are laughed at … But in bad times, people sell their souls for magic cures and buy perpetual-motion machines to power their war rockets.'
Review: This is a reasonably effective episode, which nonetheless feels as if something has been lost in the translation from page to airwaves. Some fairly intriguing themes and ideas are explored, though nothing spectacularly original (the story even openly acknowledges one of its debts, to the Edgar Allan Poe essay 'Maelzel's Chess Player'). Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the episode is that the ruling Thinkers in its imagined society have established their supremacy not through straightforward oppression, but by utilizing more subtle means - deceit and subterfuge - to keep the masses under their sway. Essentially, the tale is about the conflict between science and 'magic' (though the magic in the story is pure illusion) and about whether truth or fakery will ultimately win the day. However, despite the promising elements introduced at the start, a combination of not very engaging characters, too much exposition, and a slightly rushed ending - which has certain parallels with The Wizard of Oz - prevent the episode from rising much above average. (Another episode about a seemingly all-powerful supercomputer is Man's Best Friend.)
Rating: * * *
At the Post
Author: H. L. Gold
Originally aired: 27 March 1957
[Another version of this story aired 15 August 1957]
Plot synopsis: A race track tout discovers that the minds of people in catatonic states are being used by an alien race to record the sum of human knowledge before humanity manages to orchestrate its own destruction. Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in October 1953; and later in H. L. Gold's short-story collection The Old Die Rich and Other Science Fiction Stories, in 1955.
Favourite line: 'Look, kid, I don't know who these squares are that you're working for, but tell 'em if they take you, they gotta take me too, you hear?'
Review: It can often be very effective not to reveal what a story is about too early, leaving listeners in the dark and eager to find out more. The danger, though, is that the audience may simply be left confused and bored - which was how I felt after the first few minutes of this episode. Eventually, matters do become clearer, but even when the plot becomes apparent, it turns out not to be very gripping or exciting. Some of the ideas here are not without interest, such as that of aliens able to infiltrate the subconscious minds of catatonic human beings, but the plot itself is decidedly so-so. In essence, it is a fairly familiar tale of a 'superior' (read: pompous) alien species presuming to judge humanity for the errors of our ways and telling us where we have gone wrong. Frankly, I would have preferred it if the protagonist had told them where to stick their plan, instead of simply accepting their analysis and compliantly going along with their scheme. (For other examples of disapproving aliens interfering in humanity's affairs, see the Suspense episodes The Outer Limit and You Died Last Night.)
Rating: * *