Original image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Author: Robert Sheckley (writing as Finn O'Donnevan)
Originally aired: 10 July 1956
Plot synopsis: A New York jetbus driver who suffers from homicidal mania fears that he is going to kill his best friend, so buys a home therapy machine to cure himself - however, the salesman he purchases it from mistakenly sells him one designed to treat Martians, rather than humans. Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in July 1956; and later in Robert Sheckley's short-story collection Pilgrimage to Earth, in 1957.
Favourite line: 'He didn't want to use the weapon, but he was certain that he would. This was justifiable. You see, Elwood Caswell was a homicidal maniac.'
Review: The short story upon which this is based is a reasonably effective one (though by no means Robert Sheckley's best), but this adaptation simply doesn't work very well. Sheckley was a great satirist, yet it is unclear here what exactly is being satirized, or indeed, what the point of the story is. In the original, there are some amusing swipes at American big business - with corporations like IBM and General Motors presented as venally self-interested and mercenary - but the effect of these digs is greatly diminished in this dramatized version by the company names being changed to made-up ones (for legal reasons, perhaps?). So what is the episode supposed to be satirizing: psychotherapy? Consumer culture? The search for easy solutions to problems - just buy a machine, and it will cure all your ills? Whatever it may be, the story doesn't really hit any of its targets - after all, the therapy machine used is programmed specifically to cure Martians, so the fact that the advice it gives to a human is inappropriate and misguided is the fault of the salesman who sells it, rather than the machine itself. The only insight to be gleaned, therefore, is that salesmen sometimes make mistakes in their over-eagerness to make a sale, which is hardly headline news. What would have been much more interesting, and given the story much more bite, would have been if the machine had in fact been one designed for humans - then we might have been presented with a genuinely satirical take on psychotherapy and the desire for quick fixes. Leaving all this aside, the other main problem with this episode is that it just isn't very funny - it strains too hard to be quirky and off-beat - which is pretty fatal for a story that is supposed to be humorous.
Rating: * *