1 9 8 0 (USA/UK/Germany)
3 x 95 minute episodes
This cerebral mini-series – a three-part co-production involving the BBC and American and German companies – is not one for those who think that sci-fi started with Star Wars (1977).
Based on the 1940s novel by Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles is set in 1999 when a group of astronauts embark on the first manned flight to Mars (“the Zeus Project”) because the Earth is on the verge of extinction and find all manner of strangeness once they arrive.
Hard science is ignored (astronauts arrive on a breathable Mars in leisure suits) and the space travel effects are clunky, but the action on Mars – with Assheton Gorton’s geometric sets and simple props – are far more effective.
The unprepared Earthlings quickly discover that there are Martians at large, but as the planet is rapidly colonised and humans pour in quickly – bringing with them all the evils of their old world – the dying Martian population become near spectres, bringing awe and fear to those they encounter.
Master sci-fi writer Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) smartly streamlines Bradbury’s episodic stories, giving a central role to Colonel John Wilder (Rock Hudson).
Malta deputised for Mars, although gales kept blowing away the sets, and bald, earless, Martians probably did nothing for the American Space Programme that year. The series, however, did wonders for Hudson’s bank balance. Despite his 60 films he had been practically broke before this series.
The BBC, for their part, found themselves in a row with Equity (the actor’s union) who insisted that the BBC’s £300,000 cut could have been better spent on home-made drama instead.
Col. John Wilder
Joyce Van Patten
Nyree Dawn Porter