Twilight Zone S4 – Death Ship (02/07/63)

tzdeathship4In the year 1997 . . .

We open with a shot of the least inspirationally named spacecraft in history.  Liberty . . . Intrepid . . . Eagle . . . Challenger . . . Enterprise . . . Discovery . . . I give you E-89. However, cruising above “the 13th planet of star system 51,” it seems appropriate.

They are seeking a planet suitable for colonization.  Lt. Mason sees a signal and is excited that they might finally be meeting another race, although another species seems more likely.  Capt. Ross reluctantly agrees to land the ship and check it out.  When they land, they are shocked to look out of the porthole and see a crashed E-89.

They do not need helmets to go investigate, although they do all put on the snazzy astronaut suits.  This is preferable to the aliens landing on earth who always seem to be naked.  They identify it as an Earth ship.

tzdeathship2The interior of the ship is identical to theirs.  So is the crew — 3 dead bodies who look exactly like Ross, Mason and Other Guy.  Mason reaches into the pocket of Dead-Mason and pulls out his ID — were these guys expecting to get carded in space?

They attempt to radio back to Earth Station 1217, and get nothing but static.  Ross proposes that the wrecked E-89 is from a probable future.  A good captain would have said it was a possible future.  He says if they never take off, it is impossible for them to crash.  Of course, the captain has no one waiting for him back on Earth (or Planet 3 as it is probably known then).

Other Guy is mulling their situation when he suddenly finds himself back on Earth.  At his house, he sees his wife’s black hat and black gloves laid out on the bed for her to wear to his funeral; or a bank heist.  He picks up a telegram which announced his death.  Zap — back to the ship.

tzdeathship5Ross and Other Guy then notice that Mason is missing.  As it is 13 below zero outside, he probably didn’t go for a walk.  We see Mason waking up on Earth.  He actually sees his daughter, and later his wife. Somehow Ross intrudes on Mason’s hallucination and orders him back to the ship; then we cut to them struggling on the ship.  If Mason physically disappeared, how did Ross yank him back to the ship?

Ross still denies the obvious.  His new theory is that aliens are controlling their minds. Scaring the crew into not taking off, they prevent Earth from knowing of their existence. Ross says they will go back to Earth.  They take off, making their best G-force faces. Once they are safe from the planet, Ross decides to go back and complete their mission.  Having beaten the aliens at their own game, he expects the wrecked ship to be gone.

In a struggle over the controls, the ship goes out of control.  Mason manages to stabilize it, and they are able to land safely.  Initially, they do not see the wrecked ship.  I was completely suckered in and thought this might be an interesting ending.  However, they look out the back window and see the other E-89.

tzdeathship3Mason tries to convince Ross they are dead, but the Captain just won’t accept their fates.  They are doomed to rinse and repeat this cycle forever.

Another good episode in the often maligned 4th season.  It really succeeds in spite of itself in some ways.  Once they see the wrecked E-89, it is pretty obvious what is going to happen.  The story unfolds along beats familiar to TZ viewers. The ending could have gone a couple of different ways, but I’m a sucker for trapped-in-purgatory stories where people suffer through the same bleak, hellish existence day after day. There is a certain familiarity to them.

While it might have been better at 30 minutes, it did not feel padded out.  The extra time allowed for more character development, and Ross Martin and Jack Klugman made the most of it.  Nice music and camerawork contribute to making this a pretty good episode.


  • Jack Klugman (Captain Ross) was in 4 Twilight Zones and later in the 2nd greatest sit-com ever.
  • Mary Webster, who played Mason’s wife, disappeared from TV for 30 years, then resurfaced on Senior Jeopardy.  I wonder if she mentioned TZ in the interview segment.

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