Original image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Author: Robert Sheckley
Originally aired: 11 July 1957
Plot synopsis: A space explorer equipped with a newly developed device that generates a protective force field around its wearer discovers when testing it on an alien world that this early model may have some serious defects. Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in August 1956; and later in Robert Sheckley's short-story collection Pilgrimage to Earth, in 1957.
Favourite line: 'Look, you'll just have to take my word for it. I'm not evil - Scout's honor!’
Review: As with most Robert Sheckley stories, this is a satirical tale, which cleverly and amusingly explores what can go wrong when a new piece of technology has not been properly thought through. What shines through very clearly is both Sheckley's intelligence and his mischievousness, as the story plays with audience expectations about the supposedly primitive alien natives and their superstitions. The plot is also handled with great wit and inventiveness. British listeners in particular may enjoy the fact that the translator used by the space explorer, being British-built, converts the aliens' speech into cut-glass BBC accents, which makes many of the exchanges between human and aliens very funny indeed.
Rating: * * * *
Author: Donald A. Wollheim
Originally aired: 25 July 1955
Plot synopsis: A private detective agency is hired to locate a Martian embassy hidden somewhere in New York, which has been established to prepare the ground for a full-scale invasion. Based on a short story first published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine, in March 1942.
Favourite line: 'It might be, it just might be - them!'
Review: This is a classic example of a Cold War science-fiction story (even if the original story upon which it is based dates back to World War II) using the threat of alien invasion as a metaphor for the fear of communist subversion - in this case, it is invaders from the 'Red Planet' who are stand-ins for the 'Red Menace', as they were so often in 1950s SF (for other examples, see the episodes The Last Martian and The Parade). Indeed, the episode plays out much as a spy thriller of the period might, with the plot centred on the effort to track down a secret enemy organization bent on world domination - the story makes this a Martian embassy, but it could easily have been a Soviet spy ring. There is, though, an interesting twist at the end. Thus, in the final act we learn that - SPOILER ALERT! - there is not one, but two, sets of potential invaders, with Venusians just as intent on Earth's conquest as the Martians. This second group of hostiles can be interpreted as representing a rival communist conspiracy (agents of Red China, perhaps), adding an extra layer of paranoid anxiety to the tale. There's nothing very special about either the script or the performances, but this is nonetheless an entertaining episode, especially when the historical context is taken into account.
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Dimension X (1950)]
End As a World
Author: F. L. Wallace
Originally aired: 1 August 1957
Plot synopsis: The end of the world has been announced, yet nobody seems the slightest concerned. Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in September 1955.
Favourite line: '''This is the day the world ends." Oh, that. Well, world's end or no, I won't have you eating cold scrambled eggs.'
Review: This is quite an unusual episode, possessing a strange, almost disquieting, atmosphere for most of its duration. The newspapers have proclaimed that the world is about to end, yet rather than descending into panic and chaos, society carries on as normal, with everyone continuing to go about their everyday business. This raises many questions. How is the world going to end? What makes the papers so certain about the precise time? And why are people so resigned to their fates? These issues remaining intriguing right up until the last few minutes. When the end finally arrives, some listeners may feel cheated by the 'reveal', which does undermine the peculiar, unsettling mood that has previously been created. However, it's a very good ending, which cleverly subverts expectations and assumptions about how the episode will conclude. There aren't many stories that have truly original ideas at their heart, but this is one.
Rating: * * * *