Ray Bradbury Theater: The Earthmen

Episode 43

First aired 3rd January 1992

Production Credits Synopsis Review

"The Earthmen"

The short story first appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1948.

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

Production Credits

Directed by Graeme Campbell

Cast:

Captain Jonathan Williams - David Birney
Mr Xxx - Gordon Pinsent

With Larry Musser, David Sivertsen, Patricia Phillips, Jim Shepard, Paul Tome

Synopsis

A spaceship crew from Earth arrive on Mars. Two expeditions have preceded them. The one led by Captain York has vanished without a trace. Could they all be dead?

The crew approach what appear to be a door. Captain Williams knocks, and is surprised when a Martian woman answers, speaking English. She seems to know all about him, claiming she is telepathic. She tells him the proper name of this planet is Tyrr. When introduced to Williams' crewmen, she says "Congratulations, captain - so many voices!"

Williams gets excited when the woman claims to know about the previous expeditions, but she says she has no time, and tries to close the door. She insists it is Mr Ttt that they need to speak to.

A few minutes later, she reappears, saying Mr Ttt is too busy, but they should go and see Mr Aaa, the next farm over. She gives Williams a note to give to Mr AAA

Mr AAA hears the Earthmen approaching and says, "Not again!" Mr AAA tells the crew they need Mr Iii - whereas he is off to see Mr Ttt.

A crewman suggests to the captain that they should return to their ship, but the Captain insists they have a duty to the other expeditions to find out what's going on.

Another door. About to knock, Williams is taken aback when Mr Iii suddenly opens the door. He invites them in. Williams enters, and Mr Iii blinks his eyes, causing the door to slam shut before the other crewmen can enter. Williams pleads with him to let the others enter. Mr Iii blinks again, and in they come. Mr Iii offers to help Williams solve his problem.

Williams explains why they are here, and Mr Iii reads his mind, finding images of Earth. "Now you understand?" says Williams. "Clearly," replies Mr Iii. He asks Williams to sign a form - this is done by touching a thumb to a special pad. Mr Iii sends the crew to a room where they may spend the night. He says he will send Mr Xxx to see them...

The crew head for their room. They are greeted by Mr Uuu and a crowd of Martians who lift them aloft, cheering. The crew are delighted to at last be welcomed. Each crewman introduces himself to the crowd and receives rapturous applause.

"Welcome," says Mr Uuu, "It's good to meet another man from Earth". Williams is stunned. He thinks Mr Uuu has met York and the crew from the earlier expedition.

But no. Mr Uuu claims that he is from Earth. The Martians go into a crazy dance. Clearly, this is a Martian lunatic asylum.

The Martians suggest that they should be able to open the door using their minds, if only they would concentrate. So the crew do this - and the door flies open. Behind it is another Martian. Williams tells him they are leaving, and they are not insane. The Martian corrects him: he is insane, but his crewmen are just hallucinations. "You are ill, Captain, and your projections remain intact. IF you were well, they could vanish."

The Martian takes Williams into a separate room to talk to him. He tells Williams his psychosis is the most detailed ever seen. Williams challenges the Martian doctor to touch one of the crewmen. The doctor is surprised to be able to feel the solid form of this "projection", but says this merely proves the extended form of Williams' condition.

The crew draw their weapons on the doctor. Williams takes their guns and places them on the table. The doctor believes these to also be projections.

As a last-ditch attempt to prove the reality of the crew and their mission, Williams takes the doctor to their ship. He sees it as being the cleverest projection he has ever seen. The doctor shoots all four of the crew - but is surprised to find that even when Williams is dead, the other crewmen persist. The ship, too, remains - he believes the projection has entered his own mind.

Unable to accept the reality of the ship and the dead men, the doctor takes Williams' gun - and shoots himself.

Trivial Differences

  • in the original story, the crewmen sign paper forms
  • in the episode, they sign the plastic forms by pressing their thumbs on a shiny disc
  • in the original story, doors open on Mars much as they do on Earth
  • in the episode, they open only when Martians "think"/"blink" them open (the first we see of this is a very brief shot of Mrs Ttt blinking just prior to her second appearance before the crewmen

Review

This episode might be expected to be a disaster. Bradbury's humour rarely translates effectively to the screen, especially on Ray Bradbury Theater, where it often seems neither the cast nor director can see irony when it stares them in the face. Plus, this is a science-fiction episode, something Ray Bradbury Theater repeatedly proved itself to be weak at.

What a surprise, then, to find the episode to be well performed and thoroughly logical! As usual, the props, costumes and special effects leave a lot to be desired, but the lighting and cheap sets are put to good effect.

There are some nice subtle touches in the Martian performances. The blinking to open doors is smart, and never needs to be explained. Mr AAA does a strange crossing and uncrossing of his eyes when we first see him.

There are very few changes to Bradbury's original story. An encounter with a small child is omitted. This is no great loss, as the crew already have several encounters with named Martians.

Mr Xxx, the Martian psychiatrist who kills the crew, in the story actually goes on board the rocket ship. This was probably too expensive for the TV budget, so here he just walks around the outside.

In the original story, Mr Xxx is slow to draw his gun, and holds the crew under threat for some time before he pulls the trigger. In the episode, however, he whips out his weapon with barely a second thought.

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