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.
A jealous Martian murders the two astronauts when his wife has erotic dreams of meeting them. Members of a subsequent expedition are hypnotized into believing that they have landed in the childhood community of their leader and have been reunited with deceased family and friends, and they are poisoned by the Martians.
Colonel John Wilder (Rock Hudson) leads a third expedition and learns that a chickenpox virus brought to Mars by the first two expeditions has almost eradicated the Martian population.
Colonists eventually arrive on Mars to settle, among them priests seeking God, and a lone Martian masquerades as the most desired persons of various settlers.
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.
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