Original image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Author: J. T. McIntosh
Originally aired: 15 May 1956
Plot synopsis: An astronaut alone on a space station orbiting Pluto finds himself succumbing to 'Solitosis', a mental disorder brought on by long-term isolation, which causes him to hallucinate a succession of female visitors and threatens to undermine his grip on reality. Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in January 1952.
Favourite line: 'I've got to find out when she comes whether she's real. That's the key. As long as I know if she's real. When I don't care anymore, that's when it's really got me.'
Review: The author of this story is no longer well remembered, but this is a fine, intelligent episode that ranks alongside the best X Minus One adaptations of much more famous authors' works. A psychological portrait of a man struggling to retain his sanity in the face of utter solitude and loneliness, it is a tale that feels ahead of its time compared to much science fiction of the era. The episode is also reminiscent of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris - which it predates - with the main character similarly living on a distant space station plagued by creations originating from the depths of his own mind, and with the line between reality and illusion becoming increasingly blurred. This story isn't quite up there with Lem's classic - there is, after all, no time in a half-hour episode to explore the many philosophical ideas that Lem does in his novel - but this is still a very inventive and thought-provoking episode. It is also surprisingly honest about the male psyche, especially given the time it was produced, as the figments the lonely spaceman conjures up are all attractive women - drawn, as he puts it, from his 'pornographic subconscious'. The opening and concluding scenes that frame the main story, set aboard a spaceship travelling to pick up the isolated astronaut, are slightly weaker than the central section, and there's a jarring comment towards the end about a female character being a 'dried-up old bat', but otherwise this is a very impressive episode. Strongly recommended.
Rating: * * * * *
The Haunted Corpse
Author: Frederik Pohl
Originally aired: 25 July 1957
[Another version of this story aired 12 December 1957]
Plot synopsis: A scientist develops a machine that can transfer minds from one body to another, which the military wishes to exploit for its own ends. Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in January 1957; and later in Frederik Pohl's short-story collection Tomorrow Times Seven, in 1959.
Favourite line: 'The Horn effect is my personal property - not the government's, or the army's. What is this, creeping socialism?'
Review: A great title, but a so-so episode. Despite the impression the title may give, there's nothing supernatural about this story; instead, it's a mildly diverting, yet ultimately somewhat lacking, tale about a scientific invention and the competing purposes for which different characters wish to use it. The main problem is that although the idea of a device that allows people to swap bodies is interesting enough, it isn't actually used until quite late on in the plot. Instead, most of the episode is concerned with a not terribly exciting conflict over who gets to control the technology - its inventor or the military - when it might have been more interesting to have started with a mind-swap and allowed the plot to follow from there. Some may also find the tone a little wearying, as the emphasis is placed on the story's humorous aspects; yet there's nothing terribly funny about the script. It's hard to understand, too, why this was deemed worthy of being one of the few X Minus One episodes to have its script reused for a repeat broadcast.
Rating: * *
Original radio play: George Lefferts
Originally aired: 3 November 1955
[Another version of this story aired 29 February 1956]
Plot synopsis: In the year 4195, after the Third Atomic War, humans have been forced to live underground, and in the subterranean society they have created, those who display radiation-induced mutations are treated as inferior beings.
Favourite line: 'No stable person allows feelings to enter into his work.'
Review: The most interesting aspect of this episode is its exploration of the way in which genetic differences may be used as the basis for discrimination, with the future society it presents being segregated into two groups, 'perfects' and 'imperfects'. In other words, it is a society founded upon eugenic principles, and for this reason the story probably resonated very strongly with listeners when it was first broadcast, since memories of World War II and the horrors of Nazi racial ideology would have been fresh in people's minds. In any case, the plot allows the central 'imperfect' character to give a stirring speech about the right to be different, which constitutes the story's underlying message. The other notable feature of the society described in the episode is its attempt to banish emotions, though this is challenged - as is typically the way in such stories - by the male and female leads when they discover that they have feelings for each other. All in all, there aren't too many ideas here that won't be familiar to long-term science-fiction fans, but the story plays out engagingly enough, and there's a fair twist at the end. (What may also be of interest is that two other episodes centre on the idea of humanity living underground in the aftermath of nuclear war, The Defenders and the Dimension X episode The Last Objective.)
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Dimension X (1950)]
Honeymoon in Hell
Author: Fredric Brown
Originally aired: 26 December 1956
Plot synopsis: Against the background of increasingly tense East-West relations, a new threat to humanity's future is discovered when it emerges that the only babies being born anywhere on Earth are female, which leads to an American man and a Russian woman being sent to the moon to try to conceive a son. Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in November 1950; and later in Fredric Brown's short-story collection Honeymoon in Hell, in 1958.
Favourite line: 'Look, you're a whizz on rocket fuels and space orbits, but when it comes to women you're a total bust, just like me. I don't understand 'em, and never will.'
Review: This is quite a silly, and peculiar, Cold War tale, but one which is also strangely enjoyable. To begin with, the episode seems to be about the nuclear standoff between the USA and the Soviet Union, and the possibility of nuclear armageddon. Another key element is the role played by an apparently infallible supercomputer, which makes the listener wonder if this is going to be a story about the perils of advanced technology. Yet not long in, the plot appears to veer off in an entirely different direction, with the discovery that no male babies are being born anywhere on the planet. It is at this point that the episode becomes quite bizarre, mixing in a hastily arranged marriage, a trip to the moon and the appearance of some decidedly odd aliens. Heavily dating the episode is the way the female character who is introduced at this stage is treated by the men - she may be a qualified space pilot, but she is viewed here essentially as a baby-making machine, as well as being blatantly leered over. However, although the episode won't win any awards for its progressive sexual politics, it at least makes the female love interest a reasonably strong character in her own right. It also comes as a pleasant surprise that all the disparate plot threads do come together at the end, so although the story as a whole is completely contrived and implausible, it does make a kind of sense. In sum, this is a better episode than I thought it was going to be after the first few minutes.
Rating: * * *
Author: Isaac Asimov
Originally aired: 12 December 1956
Plot synopsis: A biologist invites a visiting alien doctor to stay at her and her policeman husband's home, but when the visitor's true motives for coming to Earth are uncovered, some astonishing facts about humanity are revealed. Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in May 1951; and later in Isaac Asimov's short-story collection Nightfall and Other Stories, in 1969.
Favourite line: 'A male. Of course. You must forgive me, Mrs. Smollett. Perhaps the greatest source of confusion among the five known races of the galaxy lies in the differences among them in regard to their sex life and the social institutions that grow around it.'
Review: This episode is based on a well-known short story by Isaac Asimov, and it is unusual for a number of reasons, all of which are great strengths. First, the main character is an intelligent, capable woman - she is an accomplished scientist, not just a stereotypical doting wife or damsel-in distress - which was rare in science fiction of the era (though Asimov himself had previous to this story already created the memorable character of 'robopsychologist' Susan Calvin, another able female scientist, who appears in a number of his robot stories). Second, the premise behind the story is quite bizarre. I won't reveal too many details, but it is a classic 'big idea': a mysterious disease known as the 'Inhibition Death' has been afflicting all known alien races, with cataclysmic, galaxy-wide implications. Yet what is clever about the way the plot is constructed is that the disease has not only major, galaxy-shaking repercussions, but also very intimate, personal ones for the two human characters. Third, the morality of the episode is quite complex, and it refuses to offer any simple or clear-cut answers to the dilemma presented. When the alien doctor reveals what he has discovered to be the cause behind the Inhibition Death this is not followed by the traditional search for a solution normally found in genre stories. Instead, the response of the human characters - certainly that of the husband - is morally ambiguous at best; some may even find the husband's actions shocking. However, it remains difficult to decide whether or not they are, in the circumstances, justified. If there's a problem with the episode, it's that it feels slightly limited that such momentous revelations are presented purely via three characters' conversation, in a single setting, i.e. the central ideas aren't very fully dramatized, apart from one moment of (admittedly effective) action. Still, a powerful, thought-provoking episode, and not a little bleak and disturbing!
Rating: * * * *
Author: Clifford D. Simak
Originally aired: 3 April 1956
Plot synopsis: A man builds an intelligent serving robot from a mail-order kit, but having been mistakenly sent an experimental model that is capable of reproducing itself, his sudden acquisition of dozens of mechanical helpers draws the attention of the government, and embroils him in a court case with profound implications for all of society. Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in November 1954; and later in Clifford D. Simak's short-story collection Eternity Lost, in 2005.
Favourite line: 'One high government official has said that if robots are declared free and equal, it means they must be given full citizen rights under the Constitution. Already, the chairmen of both major political parties are mapping campaigns to corner the robot vote.'
Review: It's interesting to compare this tale with those of the master of robot stories, Isaac Asimov. Many of the themes and ideas it contains can similarly be found in Asimov's work - most notably, there is an intriguing parallel between the court case that features in this episode, dealing with the question of whether robots should be granted equal rights to humans, and the one that has a similar purpose in Asimov's famous novella 'The Bicentennial Man' (which this story predates by a couple of decades). However, whereas most of Asimov's robot stories are played straight - including 'The Bicentennial Man' - here Clifford D. Simak's tale offers a more humorous, satirical take on the idea of robots demanding rights. Indeed, from start to finish, the episode is very witty, as well as ingenious, presenting a series of clever and funny ideas, such as the notion of self-replicating robots, and the swipes it takes at over-intrusive government. Also strong is the performance of the actor in the main role, who is very engaging as the bemused and bewildered lead. Altogether, an amusing and highly enjoyable episode.
Rating: * * * *