Original image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Original radio play: Ernest Kinoy
Originally aired: 19 June 1956
Plot synopsis: During World War II, British intelligence officers get a science-fiction writer in the US army to concoct a false story about the Allies having developed a 'death ray' super weapon, to fool the Nazis into diverting valuable resources into researching the imaginary weapon themselves.
Favourite line: 'You see, the trick these science-fiction lads do is to take something that's solid as a rock, and then to push it just a wee bit forward, 'til you simply can't tell where the science ends, and the fiction begins.'
Review: I enjoyed this episode perhaps more than it deserved. Mainly, this is because it is, in a number of ways, very different to most other X Minus One episodes. First, for most of its running time, it seems not to be a science-fiction story at all, which leaves the listener wondering when the SF 'twist' is going to come (even if it isn't too difficult to predict). Second, it is one of the few set not in the present or future, but in the past (though when it was first broadcast, its Second World War setting would have been the very recent past). Third, and what is most interesting about the episode, is its self-referential attitude to science fiction itself, in that the plot turns on exploiting the popularity of the 'Golden Age' SF magazines of the era - from which most X Minus One episodes were drawn. All of these aspects make the episode more than worthy of a listen, even if the plot is pretty daft, and at least some of the British accents are decidedly suspect.
Rating: * * *
Author: Robert Sheckley
Originally aired: 20 March 1957
Plot synopsis: A man comes under the guardianship of an invisible alien, who continually saves him from danger by warning him about imminent risks - but does this protection come at a cost? Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in April 1956; and later in Robert Sheckley's short-story collection Pilgrimage to Earth, in 1957.
Favourite line: 'There will be an airplane crash in Burma next week, but it shouldn't affect me here in New York. And the feegs certainly can't harm me. Not with all my closet doors closed. No, the big problem is lesnerizing. I must not lesnerize. Absolutely not. As you can imagine, that hampers me.'
Review: This is a fun episode, though it is also weak in a few areas. The central question raised - can too much safety bring its own dangers? - is an intriguing one, but as always with Robert Sheckley (the author of the short story upon which the episode is based), it is addressed in a light, witty way. There's also good value in the way the story obviously sends up some of the silliness of science fiction itself, with its daft made-up words (like 'feegs' and 'lesnerizing'), bizarre aliens and often absurd plots. At the same time, it definitely suffers from one of the weaknesses of many Sheckley stories, which is that his characterization can sometimes be quite thin. This isn't always a major problem, but here, the protagonist is pretty much a blank, about whom we learn almost nothing, which makes it a little hard to care whether he is able to escape the dangers his alien guardian alerts him to or not. The plot also feels slightly rushed towards the end, as more and more threats to our hero are thrown into the mix. There's a strong final scene, though, which is both clever and ambiguous.
Rating: * * *
[Other adaptations: Radio - Future Tense (1974)]
Author: Algis Budrys
Originally aired: 3 October 1956
Plot synopsis: An agent of the Galactic government travels to a distant jungle-covered planet to track down a counterfeiter who has been producing fake currency so convincing that it fools even the most advanced electronic detectors. Based on a short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, in February 1953.
Favourite line: 'I’d send for a replacement part, but the fax line isn't too reliable. Last time I sent for a seal unit they shipped back an overaged sea lion.'
Review: This is a smartly written, fast-paced episode, filled with imaginative ideas, and presented in a light, amusing style. In particular, there's a fun ending, which should raise a smile with most listeners. Even so, there's a couple of issues that prevent the episode from being among the series' best. First, it's hard not to find the initial set-up a little dated – the story is set in the twenty-fifth century, yet humanity is still using physical currency. This is pretty unlikely; though if it were not the case, the episode couldn't even get started. Second, although the final scene is undoubtedly good, this is one of those stories in which the whole plot is constructed just to deliver the end twist. Not all stories have to be deadly serious or loaded with meaning, but the best humorous tales (like, say, those of Robert Sheckley, a number of which were adapted by X Minus One) have some clear satirical points to make along with the jokes. Here, nothing in particular is being satirized, everything is designed purely to facilitate the punch-line at the end. So, an enjoyable episode, but not one that will leave you with much to think about afterwards.
Rating: * * *