Saturday, 23 July 2016
451 The Martian Chronicles
First viewed : 9 August 1980
This is the first ( largely ) American mini-series to feature here.
The Martian Chronicles was an adaptation of the sprawling Ray Bradbury collection of loosely-linked short stories about the colonisation of Mars, originally published in 1950. It was broadcast as three 97 minute episodes on a Saturday evening filling the gap between the end of Knots Landing and the return of Dallas.
The action starts in 1999. With nuclear war threatening to destroy humanity, NASA turns to Mars as a way to escape the carnage. As the first mission approaches the planet we meet our first Martians , telepathic humanoids in skimpy clothes who speak perfect English in a monotone. The first astronauts are killed by a jealous Martian husband almost before they've got out of the the spacecraft. The second expedition is eliminated more elaborately in a telepathic hoax where the astronauts believe they're meeting lost loved ones in their home town. Before their deaths however one leaves a parting gift of chicken pox which nearly wipes out the Martian population so the third expedition led by idealistic Colonel Wilder ( Rock Hudson ) finds merely a deserted civilisation. This turns the head of Major Spender ( Bernie Casey ) who declares himself "the last Martian" and starts shooting the rest of the crew before Wilder gets him.
That was the first and probably best episode . The second focuses on the early settlers and the inevitable disappointment with their new home. Each have some contact with the remaining few Martians. One is trapped by his own telepathy into manifesting according to the humans' desire so he appears as a dead son to a mourning couple and then Jesus Christ himself to a priest . Sam Parkhill ( Darren McGavin ) the only other survivor from Wilder's expedition ends up with a land grant from the Martian survivors after a desert chase.
In the third episode the nuclear war has happened so the Martian colony is pretty much all that's left of humanity. Wilder mooches around the survivors looking glum and philosophising before deciding to make the best of things.
The screenplay was necessarily a condensed version of Bradbury's opus and he didn't like it describing it as "just boring ". Some of it was - the storyline about Hathaway ( Barry Morse ) creating an android version of his family wasn't very interesting and seemed disconnected from the rest of the narrative - but on the whole it was a worthy attempt at bringing a difficult book to the screen.
It's been repeated twice , as a late Saturday night item on BBC One in March 1983 and then an early evening feature on BBC Two in 1984.