Ray Bradbury Theater – The Toynbee Convector (S4E8)

bradbury02I’m not sure if this series is wearing me down, or if it was just a late bloomer — I’m actually starting to like some of the episodes, or at least I can appreciate them when I can see through the figurative filter of 80’s style and the more literal filter of an awful DVD transfer.

It also helps to not go in expecting The Twilight Zone.  As much as Serling was praised for his humanity, it is Bradbury that really digs into it.  The science is given a complete pass, sometimes there is a lack of twist, irony or even closure; sometimes it is just a slice of slightly askew life.

The evidence in this case is that the twist is obvious almost immediately — yet it still kept me interested.  It was well-cast and well-acted; Bradbury’s rambling prose was appropriate to the story and was well executed.

Craig Bennett Stiles (James Whitmore) is looking out at a beautiful day.  There are boats sailing on the blue waters, people are hang gliding in clear blue skies.  A helicopter is flying in carrying reporter Roger Shumway.

rbttoynbee02In the control room, they are running tapes of “burning rain forests, smog alerts, gridlocked cities, sea birds caked with oil — that’s how it was as we entered the [19]90’s”.  But 100 years ago, in 2000, Stiles became the first and only man to travel through time.

After his trip 100 years ago, Stiles went into seclusion after showing the world the pictures he took of the pristine future where man had conquered the ecological chaos he had created in the late 20th century.

Stiles selects Shumway out of the pool of reporters because he has a reputation of telling the truth — that would certainly make him unique in 2015 also.  At 4 pm that afternoon in the year 2100, the world will see his ship whiz by on the time-travel journey he made 100 years earlier.  Stiles and Shumway enter his home.

Stiles shows off the time machine, the Toynbee Convector.  Styles tells us it was named for Arnold Toynbee who said, “If a people, civilization does not rush to meet the future, the future will plow them under, kill and bury them.”

rbttoynbee03I’m not sure if that is an exact quote. Wikipedia summarizes his study of civilizations as “he concluded that they rose by responding successfully to challenges under the leadership of creative minorities composed of elite leaders.”  Which seems pretty self-evident — if they don’t meet the challenges, they fade away.  And there will always be a certain segment of any society that is the smartest or most creative.  Unfortunately, today “elite” has come to mean politicians and actors, both groups which have more than their share of criminals and imbeciles.

Stiles recalls his return to ticker tape parades and the people as he showed them the pictures of the future that was possible for them. “We cleaned and made fresh the air we breathed, we replanted the forests, reclaimed the oceans, lakes and river.”

When Stiles fly-by does not occur at 4:00, Shumway realizes that the whole story, for 100 years, has been a lie.  Seeing the shape of the environment, Stiles came up with the idea of the time-travel to inspire people to change their ways.  He faked tapes, even built tiny perfect fake towns under blue paper skies.  Seeing this beautiful future, people know it was possible and made it happen.

Stiles crawls into the time machine and just seems to die; in the short story, it is more like a suicide.  In the episode, Shumway edits the tapes of his talk with Styles so his deception is cover up, and his words are inspirational,  He even uses laser technology to simulate Stile’s fly-by.

In both versions, Stiles lie is covered up.  The episode is a little more uplifting though, further establishing Stiles as a world-changing hero.  It is nice for a change in sci-fi seeing someone’s lie or hubris actually work out well, and have them be elated at what they have done.

Post-Post:

  • Short story first published in Playboy, January 1984 (by which time incredibly poor photographic choices had literally made the magazine into the joke that it had always inspired — worth a purchase only because of the articles).
  • The plan could have easily backfired.  When presented with tapes of the clean, beautiful future, people could have thought that if they keep doing what there were doing, things would still turn out fine.
  • In any event, maybe we could have kept Al Gore off TV for the past 10 years. That’s gotta be worth something.

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