Science Fiction Theatre – Dead Reckoning (09/17/55)

After the completion of the 3rd DVD set of what appeared to be random (rather than chronological or, God knows, the best of) episodes of The Hitchhiker, I had a dilemma: Fill in The Hitchhiker gaps with episodes from You Tube, finish Science Fiction Theatre, poke self in eye with stick. [1]

I fear there is no right answer here.  As soon as I heard the comically overwrought orchestral music of SFT, the stick started sounding pretty good (honestly, it was never going to be lower than 2nd place).  On the other hand, this appears to be a much better transfer than the episodes I watched earlier, and host Truman Bradley starts playing with magnets.  You can’t go wrong with magnets.

A volcano erupts on an island in the Arctic Circle.  Before they decide whether to evacuate the island’s military personnel, the government decades to fly in a geo-physicist from 7,000 miles away.  A nameless commanding officer summons four soldiers to his office.  He tells them their top secret mission is to fly Dr. Lewis Townsend to Dorian Air Force Base in the Arctic Ocean.  As in every 1950s SF episode I’ve watched, he will be accompanied by a young hottie.[2]

Once the plane is airborne, the pilot goes back to check on his passengers.  He sees Evelyn Raleigh is reading one of those, whattaya call ’em, books.  He asks what it is, and she says, “This is a book on aerodynamics”.  Then she proceeds to tell him how airplanes work.  After he leaves, Dr. Townsend tells her, “As a scholar, you are brilliant.  As a woman, tsk tsk . . . didn’t you ever notice that only single women are smarter than men?”

During some turbulence, their altimeter is busted.  This is important as the approach to the island runway requires a specific path to avoid cross-winds and mountain goats.  Even worse, the other instruments start acting screwy due to a magnetic storm.  Maybe my senses have been dulled by weeks of The Hitchhiker and years of drinking, but this episode is actually pretty good.

As always, that is a relative assessment.  It is impossibly dated, the acting is that stilted early TV style, and the sets are cheap.  It is easy to say the treatment of the woman is sexist, but consider this: there is a woman there at all.  Also, she is a scientist.  Certainly, she would be treated with more respect today.  Like when I called her a hottie above.

After losing other instruments in a magnetic storm, the crew begins searching for alternative methods of navigation.  They can’t guide by the planets and steer by the stars because of the fog.  After 3 hours of flying blind, a hole in the fog allows them to see they are 500 miles off course.  Finally, Dr. Townsend says, oh by the way, I can make a compass and an altimeter.  Oddly, he also has the formula for the polio vaccine in his wallet, just waiting for the right time to spring it. [3]

The doctor rigs up a thermometer and boiling water to create a make-shift altimeter.  By noting the boiling point, he an calculate the air pressure and altitude.  Of course, conducting this procedure in a pressurized cabin, he would have ended up flying them into the side of a mountain.  But that’s just being churlish; this is good stuff.

The plane climbs and successfully clears the mountains.  Townsend starts talking about how wondrous the earth is.  As he drones on, Evelyn gives the pilot a lascivious look like she is ready to join the 202-degree boiling point club.  Dr. Townsend pronounces the volcano safe, but says Evelyn is ready to blow.

Not a bad 30 minutes of TV.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Other options:  I watched the first episodes of Friday the 13th and Tales From the Dark Side.  Both were dreadful.
  • [2] Arleen Whelan was also in something called The Women of Pitcairn Island.  The mutineers from The Bounty have all died and the tropical island is now populated by their widows.  Now, there’s an idea with potential!  Someone should have sent that to Russ Meyer.
  • [3] OK, the polio vaccine was discovered by Jonas Salk two years earlier, so this doesn’t quite work.

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