Science Fiction Theatre – A Visit from Dr. Pliny (09/24/55)

The episode begins in the fictional town of Killbrook, PA so as to not embarrass any any real Pennsylvanians; although the citizens of Millbrook, PA might be getting some calls.  Two men go to Mrs. Peterson’s Boarding House near the Institute of Advanced Astrophysics. [1]  The sign outside advertises “Board and Room” so maybe some reality-warping shenanigans have already taken place.

Pliny the Elder The elderly Pliny takes a look around Mrs. Peterson’s living room.  He seems to not initially recognize a TV; but he then refers to it as “a conglomeration of mistakes” so I guess it came back to him.  He is also a little fuzzy on the concept of money when Mrs. Peterson offers them a room at “$15 a week for two, in advance.”

She is ready to throw these two oddballs out.  They ask to just stay the night so they can peruse her late-husband’s library as he had been a scientist at the Institute, and must have had many technical journals and old nudist magazines.  As they are checking out the stacks, Pliny drops what appears and feels to be a solid gold comb.  He admits it isn’t gold, and offers it to Mrs. Peterson as payment for the room and a Snickers from the mini-bar.

The next morning, Pliny and his assistant Mr. Thomas barge in Dr. Brewster’s lab.  Pliny insults their primitive equipment and says he is old enough to remember such pieces, but his assistant would know them only from books.  He admits his doctorate is honorary, but says he has information that can change the world.  He wants to give Brewster the secret of free, limitless energy.

Brewster turns them loose in the lab and they build some contraption that stuns Brewster.  Pliny says, “It’s only a model but it will actually work” so I don’t know what distinguishes this model from a real whatever-it-is.

Mrs. Henderson comes to the Institute.  She is outraged that the comb Pliny said was not gold is not gold.  She is looking for Pliny and Thomas because they owe her $3 for the room — although, at $15/week, I’m not sure of her math.  Are guests not allowed to stay for the weekend?  Dr. Brewster settles the debt by buying the comb from her.  This is really quite generous as the folically-challenged Brewster has about as much use for a comb as I do.

On the other hand, he suspects the comb is actually made of a new element which enables the infinite energy machine to operate and is potentially worth trillions of dollars.  So, way to con the widow Henderson, big shot!  Got news for you, trillionaire: to the girls, you’re still the bald guy.

They melt the comb down and fabricate the part needed for the device.  Brewster is unsure what calamity might occur when he turns it on, as it will release massive, never-before seen levels of energy.  He asks Ruth if she would like to leave, but she gamely say she will stay.  Then he tells her to turn the device on.  Rrrrright, as long as you’re here.  Brewster watches a couple of vacuum tubes light up and says “Dr. Pliny was right.  We’ve just seen the end of the Atomic Age.”

Next we see Pliny and Thomas at the Royal Scientific Academy in London.  The secretary tries to stop him from barging into the lab, but Thomas stops her saying, “Nor rain, nor hail, nor you, nor outer space can stop Dr. Pliny.”  Kinda nit-picky, but ya really need a neither before the nors.

Damn it, SFT roped me in again!  Of course, objectively, it is just awful.  The music is still riotously overwrought, and the story is as thin as Brewster’s hair.  However, every second Pliny and Thomas are on the screen, it is great fun.  The gnome-like Edmund Gwynn is marvelously odd, and thoroughly believable as a time-traveler or alien (depending on your interpretation).  Gwynn got a late start in movies, at age 43.  To be fair, that’s mostly because they were not invented — he was born just 12 years after the Civil War.  Eight years before this episode, he won an Oscar for playing Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street.  He is still the only actor to win an Oscar for playing Santa Claus after the Academy’s shameful snubbing of Billy Bob Thornton.

Mr. Thomas is played subtly by William Schallert.  By shrewdly waiting for movies to be invented before he was born, he wracked up an astounding 385 credits on IMDb.  He both predates and outdoes Seneca’s beard in The Hunger Games.  His Van Dyke consists of long sideburns and a pointy satanic beard, but also features free-floating hair on the cheek, not connected to either.  His slight frame towering over Pliny while being subservient make them a great pairing.

The fun of watching these two, and a better than usual transfer on You Tube makes this . . . well, I didn’t hate it.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] As opposed to Elementary Astrophysics.
  • This was the first IMDb credit for Victoria Fox (secretary at the London office).  Her second credit was 30 years later.  Way to persevere!
  • What I learned:  Edmund Gwynn and Ed Wynn, not the same guy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.