Ray Bradbury Theater: The Long Years

Episode 41

First aired 16 November 1990

Production Credits Synopsis Review

"The Long Years"

The short story first appeared as “Dwellers in Silence” in Maclean’s magazine, September 15 1948.

Its first book appearance was in The Martian Chronicles (1950).

It can also be found in Bradbury Stories (2003)

Production Credits

Directed by Paul Lynch

Cast:

John Hathaway - Robert Culp
Wilder - George Touliatos

With Judith Buchan, Donna Larson, Bruce Mitchell, Jason Wolff.

Synopsis

John Hathaway walks the streets of a deserted town on Mars. He looks up to the stars, hoping to see some sign of a ship from Earth. He adjusts his radio telescope, then walks to his house.

His wife, Cora, asks him if everything is all right. He has been thinking about the past - that's all there is, he says.

Hathaway visits what appears to be a gravesite, and apologises for something he has done. He spies a flame in the sky and rushes home to his telescope. He calls his family to look and declares that they are going home.

He reasons that the people on the rocket will need a light to guide them to his location, so he takes a remote control device from his belt and uses it to make the nearby dead town light up.

The rocket arrives, bringing Hathaway's former captain Wilder and two other crewmembers. Hathaway tells them of the welcome they have planned, and Wilder realises that Hathaway's family must be with him. Hathaway explains that when Mars was evacuated, he and his family were out on an expedition and didn't get back in time to join the ships to Earth.

Back at the house, Hathaway introduces his wife and children to the crew. Hathaway and the crew eat, but Cora and the children don't. Wilder observes that Cora looks young.

Crewman Williamson becomes disturbed by the children. He went to school with Hathaway's son Tom, who should by now be in his forties. He looks, and claims to be, twenty-one however.

Hathaway takes the crew to the town and shows how he can bring it to life with his remote control. Wilder says he is a very clever man who must be able to do anything. Not everything, says Hathaway - he was never able to build a rocket ship to escape from Mars.

Hathaway says he has something to do before preparing for the journey back to Earth. He goes to the gravesite again. This time he is followed by Wilder, who has figured it all out. Hathaway explains that Tom, daughter Marguerite and Cora all died from a virus. He couldn't shake their memories, and the loneliness of being the only man on Mars drove him to build android replicas of his family.

Hathaway wants to prepare his "family" for the journey home, but Wilder tells him they can only take Hathaway himself. Hathaway must explain to his "family" that they must stay behind.

As he explains to the family, who are unmoved by what he says, he is clearly pained and suddenly collapses. Wilder runs to him, but he is dead. Wilder has to explain what this means to the "family", who have no concept of death.

Wilder and the family bury Hathaway alongside the graves of his real family. Wilder's ship then departs for Earth.

Cora then uses Hathaway's machine to construct an android replica of Hathaway. The android family can now live happily ever after...

Trivial Differences

  • in the original short story, Hathaway has no first name; his wife is called Alice; his two daughters are Marguerite and Susan; his son is John
  • in the episode, Hathaway is called John; his wife is Cora; Marguerite is the only daughter (and is referred to as Meg is one scene); the son is called Tom
  • in the original short story, Wilder and his crew of twenty have come from the outer solar system, where their patrol has become isolated from Earth, just as Hathaway has
  • in the episode, Wilder and his crew of two have come directly from Earth to look for survivors on Mars
  • in the original story, Hathaway is a medical doctor
  • in the episode, the only clue that Hathaway might be a medical man is when he says he couldn't isolate the virus that killed his family
  • in the story, the reader is given a clue that the family are not human: they drink wine and it just runs down their chins
  • in the episode, there is no wine, but Cora and the children refrain from eating (Cora giving the excuse that she has already eaten)

Review

This is one of the best "Martian" episodes of Ray Bradbury Theater, and has a strong central performance from Robert Culp. Most of the key ingredients of the original story are present, but there are some subtle changes which strengthen the dramatics of the story.

The weaknesses of the episode lie mainly in the production design. The rocket ship and space suits look decidedly 1950s, while Hathaway's house is spotless 1980s futuristic. Hathaway's beach-buggy vehicle is laughable, especially in the strange sounds it makes (Ray Bradbury Theater is not known for its creative foley work).Cora is slightly miscast, not really the thirty years old that the script calls for.

Bradbury's original story has the Hathaways living in a stone hut, warming themselves with a wood fire. This creates an effective contrast with the evident fact that Hathaway is a very talented inventor. The TV episode, however, places Hathaway in a comfortable environment, divorcing him from the cold winds of Mars.

Plotwise, the crucial change Bradbury has made is to turn Hathaway's heart-attack death into a surprise rather than something that is foretold. In some ways, this could weaken the story - after all, suspense is usually more effective than surprise. Fortunately Bradbury's script and Culp's characterisation make the heart attack a direct consequence of Hathaway's dilemma: go to Earth alone, or stay on Mars with the android family. The androids are not just replicas of his family, as they are in the original story; they embody his memories.

In fact, the original story doesn't have much of a dilemma; it's presented more as a mystery, with the inevitable heart attack just being "one of those things", giving Bradbury the opportunity to focus on the empty existence of the android family at the end of the tale. In the context of The Martian Chronicles, this story is followed by "There Will Come Soft Rains", which plays further on the irony of man's creations continuing to function long after man has departed.

Bradbury has also reworked other aspects of the story to make the dilemma work. In the original story, Hathaway's automation of the town of New New York is an explanatory afterthought expressed by his android wife. In the TV episode, it is something which is established and demonstrated earlier in the story. (In the original story, Hathaway uses the town as a beacon, but not by switching on the lights - he sets it ablaze!)

There are some elements of the story that really need ironing out, however, making the episode far from perfect.

A minor one: Wilder introduces Hathaway to his two crewmembers as if they have never met; but it later turns out that crewmember Williamson went to school with Tom Hathaway. This isn't an issue in the original story, as Williamson, one of twenty crewmen, is never specifically introduced to Hathaway and family.

A major one: Wilder tells Hathaway that he can't take his family back to Earth (he says this immediately after it is confirmed once and for all that the family are androids). However, he doesn't say whether this is because they androids or simply because there are too many of them. Given that Hathaway's dilemma is whether or not to stay on Mars, it would seem reasonable that he should at least question Wilder's announcement. (In the original story, we never quite get to this issue, as Hathaway drops dead too soon.)

It could also be argued that Wilder should try to give CPR when Hathaway collapses, rather than instantly declaring him dead...

...and why on earth does Cora serve chicken to the android Hathaway when we already know that androids don't eat?

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Page updated 7 April, 2004