Tales of Tomorrow – Red Dust (05/02/52)

totreddust1

This is about as visually interesting as this episode gets.

In this science-fiction tale, America still has a space program. Four men have just lifted off from Alpha Centauri where they were apparently the first to land on the entire star system. Sadly, they left 2 of their crew-mates “buried in the red dust.” They only needed to go as far as Mars to accomplish that.  Or Sedona if they were really on a budget.  Off-season.

The Captain tells them not to grieve over Kelly and Schwartz.  “It’s a log way to Earth.  You might need those tears for yourself.” On Alpha Centauri, they found a culture hundreds of years more advanced than ours.[1]  Dr. Davidson is excited at how much mankind will gain from this appropriation.  The weird thing is that the cities were all deserted, and covered in pink dust.

They notice that some of the red dust is now in the ship.  As the days pass, the crew notices the dust is growing.  Davidson examines a sample under his microscope and discovers it is radioactive; or something.  I’d like to think there was some alien influence warping their minds, but I think it was just lousy writing:

  • Kelly & Schwartz died because they did not take their radiation shots, saying they were allergic.  You might think that would disqualify you from being an astronaut.
  • Charlie says it should have been OK because they detected no radiation before landing.  The doc now says the radiation is “in the dust!”  Hmmm . . . the same dust that covered the planet?
  • Meanwhile, Duncan and Kurt are lounging around the cabin remarking on the successful mission.  “When we signed up for this thing who would have thought we would have made it there and back without a hitch.”  Yeah, except for 1/3 of the crew being killed.

The doc determines that the dust “is a weird sort of radioactive life.  A virus that attacks any living matter that comes near it.”  Unfortunately, he tells the crew that the radiation shots can’t stop it, only slow it down.  He expects them all to be dead in 10 years. Charlie freaks out and throws himself out of the airlock.  I don’t expect an Aliens-caliber decompression, but couldn’t they at least have used a electric fan to simulate the change in pressure?  This was like opening a screen door.

totreddust2The doc realizes that Charlie’s rantings were correct — they are taking death back to Earth!

After the commercial, the writing becomes weird again.  Kurt says, “Look doc, start at the beginning and go back.  Why can’t we return?” The doc answer, “That should be obvious, Kurt.  Kelly, Schwartz, Charlie, Duncan, you, even the doctor — if we landed, do you think the red dust would stop with us?”  Was the doctor referring to himself in the 3rd person?

The doc says that once they are in contact with Earth, they will radio their discoveries, then they must self-destruct.  Kurt isn’t on-board with the whole suicide thing.  In the action portion of our show, Kurt pulls a gun on Charlie and the doc.  Duncan is able to conk Kurt on the head, the the doc shoots Duncan.  Kurt wakes up and Duncan shoots him.

Slipping for the third time into this alternate reality of shifting perspectives and pretzel logic, as Duncan is dying, he begs the doc not to take the ship back to earth.  “I know you’re a scientist, but give them a chance!”  Well, that was Doc’s position all along.

Just as in last week’s The Plague from Space, the decision is made to sacrifice everyone to save the planet.  The doc reads the mission’s findings over the radio, then blows up the ship.

Post-Post:

  • [1] It seems absurd that on an astronomical timescale, we would find a culture within 100 years of our own.  But then, that was the case with most of the planets on Star Trek.
  • Also seen today:  The Boy, not to be confused with The Boy.  It somehow takes a pretty flimsy premise and makes it both intriguing and suspenseful for most of its run time.  As always, the questions are more interesting than the answers, but that does not diminish the result.  Also, Lauren Cohan.

Tales of Tomorrow – Plague from Space (04/18/52)

totplaguefmspace03We join Colonel Ward as he is taking a swig of booze at his desk.  He is so drunk he only sees 48 stars on his flag.  He is agonizing over men killed and equipment destroyed. They happened under his watch, so he expects to be relieved of his command when the General arrives.

A flying saucer was picked up on radar a few minutes ago and has now returned.  It is flying at 70,000 feet and going 2,000 MPH [1].  The Colonel’s response is a) do his duty and take a defensive posture to protect the nation in case it is hostile, or b) attempt to peacefully contact it, establishing a friendship which could benefit all mankind, or c) observe it and learn more of its construction and technology, or d) tell his men he ain’t running no planetarium here — in fact anyone reporting it will be busted in rank.

“That’s all I need when the General gets here — my best jets off chasing a meteorite!  No thanks!”  It would be pretty stupid to scramble jets as, by definition, a meteorite would be on the ground.  After being updated that the object is flying in 100 mile arcs [2] and reducing speed, Ward concludes this is no meteorite — he now thinks it is a missile, and maybe even in the air!  When it approaches for a landing, Ward orders that it be taken to hangar 7.

totplaguefmspace04

Captain Stillman was right — this view is awesome!

Wanting to assess the threat, Ward diverts all incoming flights to another base.  This includes the incoming General’s plane.  The General is not amused and immediately orders another officer to the base to take command.  I wonder if Ward will let him land.

The craft is hauled into the hangar and an unimpressive group of soldiers examines it. There is an inscription on the nose and a cryptographer determines that it is Martian.  This is pretty embarrassing even for Tales of Tomorrow — how the hell could they arrive at the conclusion that it was Martian?  Was there a Rosetta Meteorite that I never heard about?

Colonel Ward orders demolition to open up the craft.  Fortunately, they discover a bit of advanced technology known as a door.  On the inside, they discover a Martian.  He is dressed in a silver suit which matches his silver skin and silver head.  It does clash a bit with the shadow of the TV camera as it zooms in, but how could he have foreseen that?

totplaguefmspace18The Martian is taken away to be examined.  Ward receives word that the doctors examining him all dropped to the floor in convulsions. Some of the men from the hangar have been affected as have men all over the base.  The doctors did determine that the Martian is just an silver ape, with no higher brain functions. Ward makes some pretty good deductions that the Martian was sent here as a living host for viruses that would decimate Earth — germ warfare.

Ward explain the threat to his skeptical Lieutenant, “Don’t you get it?  These babies don’t belong to the UN!”  So they might actually be effective.  And, did he really say “babies”?  I played it several times.  It sure sounds like “babies”, but that is some pretty swinging lingo for a military officer in 1952.  Of course, he was tossing back the hooch earlier.

27 more men are infected.  He tells his aid to order an air-drop of “every available concoction here as soon as possible.  Serums, anti-toxin, antibiotics, the works!  Throw the whole medical book at them!”  After meeting with the doctor, Ward deduces that the real Martians are the germs that the silver guy was hosting.  They have now fled the silver ape and invaded the bodies of the humans.

His men continue dying until there are only 13 survivors out of 2,000.  When one tries to flee the quarantined base like Charles Campion, he is shot down.  Seeing no alternative, Ward orders an atomic strike on the base.  Even though he was tossing back the hooch earlier.

Another meh episode, but surprisingly sophisticated for this dopey series.

Post-Post:

  • [1] I guess that was impressive in April 1952 when the record was 670 MPH.
  • [2] Whatever the hell that means.
  • Scotty from Star Trek is in here somewhere, but I could not pick him out.
  • IMDb and YouTube.

Tales of Tomorrow – Time to Go (04/18/52)

tttimetogo03It’s 11:30, do you know where your sofa, chair and bookcase are?  If you are Natalie, they are piled up in front of the door.  She next goes for the phone.  It is connected to the wall by some sort of cord, though, so she instead uses it to make a call looking for her husband Michael.  Even without Caller ID, he is able to avoid her call.  Shortly thereafter, Natalie does get a call from Michael.  He got a room at a hotel after they had a fight.

Natalie seems crazy as she says that someone is coming to get her.  And that he said he was going to “close her account” which seems a little too metaphorical even if she is being threatened by a rogue CPA.

Michael foolishly asks her what happened, when did it start, triggering a flashback. Seems like just 2 weeks ago . . .

Natalie gets a letter from a new bank in the neighborhood seeking “prompt, reliable depositors.”  They have no cash to spare, but apparently in the 1950’s people personally followed up on every piece of junk-mail, so she visits the bank.[1]

tttimetogo05She meets the temporally-named Mr. Tickton, the bank president, who assures her there has been no mistake.  This is a different kind of bank.  Besides actually being solvent, it takes deposits of time rather than money. For example, one customer found a new route to work so was able to bank a few extra minutes every day.  Many other male depositors cut their foreplay time in half.  Kudos to Tickton for being honest with Natalie, telling her that the bank staff is not of this world.

Their world is a million light years away with a civilization much like our own . . . except they are able to travel a million light years.  Their society has begun to crumble and decay; so I am starting to see the resemblance.  Their society needs this extra time to rebuild.  After depositing a minute here and an hour there over the years, Natalie would receive back her saved time plus interest at the end of her life in order to be a more prolonged burden on her children. It could be years!

tttimetogo09Natalie gets fanatic about saving time — doing her housework more quickly, skipping lunch, avoiding friends, getting rid of Michael’s dog. Natalie’s efficiency and dog-napping are too much for Michael — he walks out on Natalie.  After Michael drives off, Mr. Tickton makes a house-call.

He has come with bad news.  The transference of time back to his people is not going fast enough. Cosmic pressure and nebula gasses have made drastic action necessary.  Natalie’s account is being closed, and the fine print of the agreement allows them to “borrow” all the time remaining in her life.  She will die at midnight, but get to keep the toaster for opening her account.

Tickton shows up punctually that night to collect Natalie’s time.  There is some ambiguity in the way she is killed, but it was appropriately set-up . . . just not worth detailing.

tttimetogo18Kind of a goofy premise, but the kind of high-concept nonsense I like in my 1950’s sci-fi.  Tickton was suitably creepy and the bank was pretty surreal. For a change, the lack of budget was perfect for the stark set design.

I rate it 20 out of 24 hour.

Post-Post:

  • [1] To be fair, junk mail in the 1950’s would not have required a trip to Nigeria to meet the Prince.
  • Natalie (Sylvia Sidney) played Mama Carlson on WKRP.
  • Mr. Tickton was portrayed by Robert H. Harris, last seen in The Safe Place.
  • IMDb
  • YouTube

Tales of Tomorrow – The Children’s Room (02/29/52)

ttchildroom02Bill suggests to his young son Walt that it is time to go to bed, and that it might be better to go now rather than wait for his “old lady” to say so.  Walt is engrossed in his studies but takes the time to help his old man [1] with a physics problem.

Walt points out that Bill has made a simple mistake in converting, from Fahrenheit to Centigrade [2].  To be honest, this hits close to home — I screwed up that 9/5 vs 5/9 thing on a test in high school and am still bitter about it.

Walt’s old lady Rose enters and indeed orders him off to bed.  Bill smacks him on the butt and tells him to head upstairs.  Walt seems to need no sleep, but his mother insists that he go to bed and not play pup-tent with his textbook; or copy of Spicy Adventure.

Rose is appalled at Walt’s behavior, but Bill defends him as just being a normal boy with an IQ of 240!  Just like me, except for the IQ part.  Rose insists there is something wrong with him.  “Half the time he speaks a language that makes no sense.  He uses words an ordinary person can’t even comprehend.  And those horrible books with the strange markings.”  When Rose asks him what they mean, Walt says she is stupid.

After Rose goes to visit her mother, Bill goes up to Walt’s room.  He is reading one of those books with the strange markings.  Walt shows his father the book and he too can read the odd language.  I don’t know what the text’s symbols are, but I’d hate to try to board an airplane with it [3]. Walt says he got the book from the titular Children’s Room at the library. Bill remembers seeing no such room.

Bill takes the book to the library and is ridiculed for suggesting that it came from there. The librarian says, “Are you trying to tell me that these foolish hieroglyphics are readable!”  He asks for the Children’s Room and is told that there is no such place, but on the bright side, she doesn’t call the police.

There is a neat (for 1952) lighting effect where a wall of the library transforms into an entrance to the Children’s Room.  The librarian instructs Bill to read the book, as he is one of the few adults who can understand it.  The book tells him that he is a “mutation, a superior human being, a deviation from the normal.”  It informs him that such mutants must unite, because aliens are on the way to enslave us.  She says she needs to take Walt and that he can come with them.  Rose isn’t smart enough to join them, though.

ttchildroom13The next week, Rose chews Bill out for going out the last five nights. Last night, she followed him to the library. Maybe he is into the librarian type — like, you know, a librarian.  Bill implores her to understand for just a while longer.  She snaps at Walt for reading books she can’t understand. He replies, “Poor mother, you’re not one of us.  You’re just plain, poor mother.”  Walt tells her he is a superior human being.  Maybe Bill is right — this is a typical teenager.

Bill returns home to find Rose in tears.  When Rose tried to take the book away from Walt, he slapped her.  They go to Walt’s room where Bill tears up the book — i.e., renders it unreadable by tearing out a couple of pages.  Bill says they will go fishing the next day and everything will be A-OK.  Walt seems to agree, but after his parents leave, he gets another volume of the book from the secret place where he hides the swimsuit pages torn from the Sears catalog [4].  Hearing the call of the librarian, he leaves a note and climbs out the window.

This is more ambitious than most of the episodes.  Tales of Tomorrow had already used the concept of evolving humans in The Dark Angel and The Miraculous Serum, but this one was more intense.  It was primarily children involved, they are turned against their parents, there is a clandestine cabal running things, and an alien invasion seems imminent.

Frankly, this last point was ill-conceived as it lends some positive purpose to the events.

ttchildroom06Post-Post:

  • [1] Strange how “old lady” is offensive and disrespectful, but “old man” sounds warm and chummy.
  • [2] Actually the name was officially changed to Celsius in 1948.  Like the Metric system, it just can’t seem to catch-on.
  • [3] I mean like El-Al — there would be no problem in this country.
  • [4] See, this was pre-Playboy.  And Sears was a huge chain of department stores “where America shopped”.  And a catalog was this 3-inch thick paper magazine they would send out with pictures of their products.  And teenage boys . . . yada yada.

Tales of Tomorrow – The Dune Roller (01/04/52)

ttdunerollers02Ol’ Cap Zanser is telling 12 year old Sally Burgess tall tales about Dune Rollers.  They are flaming hoop snakes that roll along with their tail in their mouth, taller than a man can reach.  Cap attributes the high number of deaths on this island to that fabled creature.  The fact that this is called Lightning Island and not Flaming Hoop Snake Island seems to undermine his theory a little.

Sally is going to the dock to meet her father on the boat that identifies as mail.  Before she leaves, she hands Sam some rocks she has collected.  He is paying her a dime each for these special specimens.  He files them away in his special rock file cabinet.

Sally returns from the dock with her father and sister.  When Sam hears Sally’s sister Jean is coming he frets about his appearance and says he would have changed his shirt. In a fitting microcosm of the times, Jean walks in with her arms full of groceries and her father walks in with an armful of science books.  Maybe Sam wanted to change his shirt so she could wash it.

ttdunerollers20Sam shows Dr. Burgess his rocks and is stunned to see the two rocks that he filed have fused into one pointy stone, and that the weight is now double the two stones combined.  Burgess theorizes that the stones are a mineral from a meteor.  The fragments are trying to recombine into the original rock.

Jean calls Dr. Burgess and Sam to dinner.  Sam says he needs to change his shirt.  This guy goes through shirts like Bruce Banner.  Dr. Burgess goes to check on the rocks before dinner and Jean tells him to get to the table.  She calls him Carl so maybe I have misjudged their relationship.

After dinner, they go to check on the rocks.  They find that two stones have burned their way out of the cabinet, fused together, and burned their way right through the front door leaving a scorched cutout like Speedy Gonzalez.  Later that night, Cap is attacked by the flaming stones and killed.

ttdunerollers29Instead of the usual commercial for Kreisler Watchbands, this episode has a bizarre break where a man gives the mission statement of the series.  “The stories may seem improbable but are they impossible? Nobody really knows.  We do know the universe that surrounds us is an enormous mystery.  Our stories try to break through the barrier of life as we know it through discovery and our imaginations what life beyond may be like.”  And if you understand that last sentence, you should be working for the NSA.

Dr. Burgess and Sam find Cap’s body and assume he was killed by lightning.  Sam says he looks like the “Japs” he saw in WWII who had been hit by a flame-thrower.  They realize that these rolling stones are the mythological titular dune rollers.  Dr. Burgess plans to blow up the main stone, but Sam volunteers to take that risky assignment so Burgess can get the girls off the island.

It isn’t even clear what this is supposed to accomplish.  Is he intending to blow up the main rock?  Wouldn’t it just reassemble?  And why did he drop some stones at the blast site? Was it to lure the master rock?  But the smaller stones seek out the big rock — the big rock isn’t like Uber conveniently picking up the kid rocks.

But the bigger mystery is why this young girl is living on a remote island with Sam and Cap.  At least Jonny Quest had his dad to keep an eye on Race Bannon.

ttdunerollers38The very end should have had one of those horror movie question marks at the end.  We pan to see a glowing dune roller.  But is it a large fragment from the blast?  Is it another one? The last shot is bizarre and difficult to describe.  It is not just a zoom-in on the rock — the soil below it is moving.  I think they were trying to create an illusion that it was growing.  It is pretty clever, but doesn’t work today. On a fuzzy 1952 RCA, who knows? [1] 

Post-Post:

  • [1] Actually, the lousy YouTube version might be a good 1952 RCA emulator.
  • Bruce Cabot (Sam) starred in King Kong.  No, the other one.  Before that.
  • Sally is played by Lee Graham and is clearly a young girl.  Graham’s other IMDb credits include Storekeeper, Marine, Titanic Lookout, Crew Chief and a few more androgynous roles.  Back then these would have been traditionally male jobs.  If this were 50 years later, I would get it, but in the 1950’s, I can make no sense out of it.