Original image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The Man in the Moon
Original radio play: George Lefferts
Originally aired: 29 May 1955
Plot synopsis: An employee at the Federal Bureau of Missing Persons uncovers a conspiracy involving an assortment of criminals and scientists who have all been reported missing, having been abducted and taken to a very surprising location.
Favourite line: 'Now, listen flathead, you asked for a fix, I gave the best fix our instruments can find, take it or leave it. Somebody on the moon is calling the Bureau of Missing Persons!'
Review: The problem with this story is that the entire episode feels like merely the first act of a much longer one. What is here is quite promising, but it is all underdeveloped. What exactly is going on with the missing people? How on earth were they taken where they have been? How could this not have been detected by the authorities? Who is behind the plot? What, precisely, are their objectives? None of these questions is adequately answered, so what begins as a reasonably intriguing mystery by the end just seems to fizzle out.
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Dimension X (1950), Future Tense (1976)]
Man's Best Friend
Author: Evelyn Smith
Originally aired: 24 April 1957
Plot synopsis: Eight hundred years in the future, a man is shocked to find himself chosen to be society's new ruler by a seemingly all-knowing supercomputer. Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in April 1955.
Favourite line: 'Oh, come now, Mr. Schnee. Even a ruler can use money - bribery for government officials, bread and circuses for the people. Oh, money's a very useful commodity, Mr. Schnee.'
Review: There are shades of Robert Sheckley in this story, as an ordinary man is propelled by a series of fanciful events into an outlandish adventure, against the backdrop of a bizarre future society. As with Sheckley, there is an undercurrent of social commentary to the tale, delivered in a humorous rather than a didactic way. The episode satirizes a number of aspects of modern society, highlighting the dangers of placing too much faith in technology, as well as some of the absurdities of high politics. The final act has clear echoes of The Wizard of Oz - I won't reveal any more about it than this - with a fair, but somewhat contrived, conclusion. A definite problem, too, is that the main character predicts early on the nature of the secret behind the supercomputer that is central to the plot - as such, the reveal at the end isn't as surprising as it might be. (Another episode about an apparently all-powerful supercomputer is Appointment in Tomorrow.)
Rating: * * *
Author: Frederik Pohl
Originally aired: 26 September 1956
Plot synopsis: When a spaceship is struck by a meteor, its human 'Atlas' is killed and its navigator rendered blind, leaving its crew unable to chart a course home. Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in July 1955; and later in Frederik Pohl's short-story collection Alternating Currents, in 1956.
Favourite line: 'I remember once I saw a row of monkeys, sitting on the control console. I wondered what they were before hyperspace twisted them into monkeys.'
Review: The story in this episode is nothing very special - a spaceship is stranded in deep space following an accident and the rest of the plot concerns the attempts of its crew to find their way home. Yet what makes it a fascinating listen even today is its exploration of a number of ideas that seem far ahead of their time. One of these is its depiction of hyperspace - which spaceships navigate to cover vast distances very quickly - as passing through it causes travellers to experience bizarre hallucinations, which bring to mind the psychedelic sequence at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yet most intriguing is the notion of human beings whose brains have been artificially enhanced so that they can make the complex calculations needed to traverse hyperspace, turning them into organic computers. This feels like an idea one might find in much more recent science fiction, and helps make this a far more interesting episode than its fairly average plot would suggest it to be. (For another, though inferior, episode about a spaceship marooned in space, try Death Wish.)
Rating: * * * *
Author: Ray Bradbury
Originally aired: 21 December 1955
Plot synopsis: A husband who feels suffocated by his over-attentive wife learns from his friend of a company that supplies robot doubles to be used as stand-ins when clients wish to take secret breaks from their families - yet allowing these 'marionettes' to take on their owners' identities has unforeseen consequences. Based on a short story first published in Startling Stories magazine, in March 1949; and later in Ray Bradbury's short-story collection The Illustrated Man, in 1951.
Favourite line: 'No strings attached / No strings attached / A very nice puppet with no strings attached!'
Review: This is an enjoyable episode, though one which also feels quite dated - not so much in terms of the technology of its robot marionettes, but in relation to the social values that permeate the plot. On the plus side, the story offers a quirky and unusual take on the use to which humanoid robots might be put. The androids in this tale are not used to release men from the burdens of physical labour or to fight their wars, but simply to solve their petty domestic troubles. The story may be interpreted, therefore, as a critique of relying upon technology for what are essentially trivial purposes. Yet there are also problems with this episode. First, anyone familiar with Isaac Asimov's efforts to rid science fiction of the tired clichés of robots-run-amok storylines may well find themselves thinking, surely such advanced creations as these marionettes would have some basic safeguards built in - akin to Asimov's 'Three Laws' - to prevent them from turning against their owners? Second, the story is grounded in a very old-fashioned view of relations between the sexes. This is a world in which husbands regard their wives as little more than tiresome nuisances, who limit a man's freedom and stop him doing whatever he wants, and women seem to exist solely to dote subserviently upon their men. Yet the episode does have a neat sting in the tail, with an ending that undercuts the somewhat chauvinistic perspective of what has preceded. It is interesting, indeed, that this conclusion is different to the one in Ray Bradbury's original story, and may actually be an improvement on it. (Two other episodes that feature characters using clones of themselves to deceive others are Child's Play and Prime Difference - see my review of the latter for a discussion of all three episodes' plots.)
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Dimension X (1951), Audion Theatre (1990); TV - Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1958), The Ray Bradbury Theater (1985)]
Mars Is Heaven
Author: Ray Bradbury
Originally aired: 8 May 1955
Plot synopsis: The third Earth expedition to Mars discovers a habitation that appears just like a small American town from the 1920s, populated by dead friends and relatives of the crew - could this, they wonder, be heaven? Based on a short story first published in Planet Stories magazine, in Fall 1948; and later, as 'The Third Expedition', as a chapter in Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, in 1950.
Favourite line: 'Maybe that's why there was no one for me. Because in all my life, there is no happy memory. No real loved person, not even my mother. I don't remember her. Only the piles of rotten corpses at Dachau.'
Review: This episode was adapted from one of the stories that forms part of Ray Bradbury's composite novel The Martian Chronicles, appearing there as the chapter 'The Third Expedition' (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's initial premise is both provocative and intriguing - have the human explorers somehow discovered 'heaven'? However, it soon becomes clear that this is not a story about religion or the afterlife (a pity, perhaps, though this would have made it a very different sort of episode). Instead, it is an exploration of themes such as the power of memory and nostalgia, and how easily we may be deceived - how easily we may allow ourselves to be deceived - by the comforting security of the known and the familiar. Thus, most of the Earthmen seem remarkably quick to accept that the beings they meet on Mars are who they claim to be, without asking more sceptical questions, simply because they look and behave just like the crew's deceased friends and relatives. Indeed, it seems particularly ironic that it is space explorers, who one would assume would be people especially attracted to the new and unknown, who are so readily seduced by the warm and cosy embrace of the small-town community they appear to have discovered. In terms of the plot, overall the episode remains faithful to the source story, though with some interesting changes. Most notable is that the character of the doctor does not feature in Bradbury's story (either in the version published in The Martian Chronicles, or its original magazine form), and is given an original back story that proves crucial to the tale's resolution. This is centred on the fact that all of his loved ones died at Dachau - though this revelation is introduced in a more casual way than one might expect of such a disclosure - which explains why only he is able to perceive the truth behind the crew's Martian encounter. In any case, a classic story, well dramatized.
Rating: * * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Dimension X (1950 and 1951), Escape (1950), ABC Radio Workshop (1953), Future Tense (1976); TV - The Ray Bradbury Theater (1990)]
The Martian Death March
Original radio play: Ernest Kinoy
Originally aired: 8 September 1955
[Another version of this story aired 14 November 1956]
Plot synopsis: On a Mars colonized by settlers from Earth, some of the last surviving Martians set out from their reservations on a long, dangerous march to their ancestral mountain homelands.
Favourite line: 'My dad says the spiders are treacherous, cowardly, murdering savages. That's what he says!'
Review: Clearly owing a large debt to the Martian stories of Ray Bradbury (listen to the episodes The Martian Chronicles and And the Moon Be Still as Bright to hear the parallels), this episode is a barely disguised parable about the tragic experiences of Native Americans following the arrival of European colonists in the New World. As in a number of Bradbury's tales, the Martians (described here as spider-like creatures) are presented as innocent victims, and the humans as uncaring, rapacious settlers. Similarly, human diseases like chickenpox are held responsible for devastating the native population. In addition to these Bradbury-esque elements, there is a quasi-religious thread to the story, with a human character adopting the role of a Moses-type figure, leading a group of Martians through the desert to find the promised land of their ancestors. Frankly, though, there is not a great deal of subtlety to the tale, and despite its future setting it often feels more like a history lesson, thanks to the way it strains too obviously to remind us of America's past misdeeds towards Native Americans, by having its Martians treated as an inferior species, placed on reservations and so on. Alongside this, most of the characters are very one-dimensional (mainly a mixture of noble aliens and hard-hearted colonists) created purely to deliver the story's condemnatory message. Furthermore, the plot itself follows an entirely predictable course. Nonetheless, though it lacks the power of Bradbury's writings, many aspects of the episode are effective, with some moments of genuine sadness and pathos, especially towards the end.
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Dimension X (1951), Future Tense (1974)]
Original radio play: Ernest Kinoy
Originally aired: 3 April 1957
Plot synopsis: The struggling LA Dodgers finds a way to reverse its fortunes - by recruiting a Martian pitcher with a 32-feet long arm!
Favourite line: 'It's legal. Any Martian is entitled to the same legal rights and privileges as a citizen of Earth. And among those is the right to play ball in a national league.'
Review: One of the slightest, most inconsequential stories X Minus One produced, this episode inspires little more than a shrug of the shoulders and a distinct sense of 'meh'. I give it two stars, rather than one, because there is nothing offensively bad about the story; it's just that there is almost nothing of any note about it either. The episode's direction is clear from early on, thanks to the giveaway title - just about anyone who listens to this will guess very quickly how the baseball team it features is going to improve its chances of winning, yet it still takes an inordinate amount of time getting to this point. When it does, and the team recruits the Martian pitcher they hope will win them the season, it's also - SPOILER ALERT! - pretty obvious how other teams are likely to respond, by employing alien players of their own. Baseball fans might add another star to my rating, as the episode does include some passingly amusing gags about the sport, but even they won't find a great deal here to get excited about. (For those interested, another sports-based episode with a science-fiction twist is Open Warfare.)
Rating: * *