July 1976: Viking 1, an unmanned space probe, lands on Mars and transmits the first pictures of its surface back to Earth. No life is found, confounding centuries of speculation about canals and the aliens who might have constructed them.
January 1999: The first manned mission to Mars lifts off from Cape Canaveral, carrying a team of three astronauts to Mars. Unknown to them, their arrival has been anticipated by an advanced race of Martians whose presence went undetected by the Viking probes. When the astronauts from Earth land, a xenophobic Martian kills them before they even have a chance to walk on Martian soil.
April 2000: A second manned mission is launched to Mars, and its three-man crew is stunned when the Martian dust clears to reveal a very Earthlike environment. But it’s not the true Martian civilization exposed at last; instead, it’s an illusion tailor-made to emulate memories plucked out of the Earthmen’s minds. At first the astronauts are taken in by the illusion, but when they begin to question it and try to escape it, the Martians show their true form and intent, allowing the astronauts to die without getting a message off to Earth about life on Mars.
June 2001: Despite the tragedy, a more extensive follow-up mission is launched, with a larger crew commanded by Colonel John Wilder, who has overseen the previous missions from Earth. Almost immediately upon landing, evidence of a Martian civilization, seemingly abandoned, is found. There’s no longer any denying the presence of life there, though the monuments seem to be abandoned, perhaps evidence of an extinct civilization. Major Jeff Spender, Wilder’s right-hand man on Earth and hand-picked to join him on this mission, ventures off into the Martian ruins himself and comes back a changed man. But changed into what?
teleplay by Richard Matheson
based on the novel by Ray Bradbury
directed by Michael Anderson
music by Stanley Myers / electronic music by Richard Harvey
Cast: Rock Hudson (Colonel John Wilder), Gayle Hunnicutt (Ruth Wilder), Bernie Casey (Maj. Jeff Spender), Christopher Connelly (Ben Driscoll), Nicholas Hammond (Arthur Black), Roddy McDowall (Father Stone), Darren McGavin (Sam Parkhill), Bernadette Peters (Genevieve Seltzer), Maria Schell (Anna Lustig), Joyce Van Patten (Elma Parkhill), Fritz Weaver (Father Peregrine), Linda Lou Allen (Marilyn Becker), Michael Anderson Jr. (David Lustig), Robert Beatty (General Halstead), James Faulkner (Mr. K), John Finch (Christ), Terence Longdon (Wise Martian), Barry Morse (Peter Hathaway), Nyree Dawn Porter (Alice Hathaway), Wolfgang Reichmann (Lafe Lustig), Maggie Wright (Ylla), John Cassady (Briggs), Alison Elliott (Lavinia Spaulding), Vadim Glowna (Sam Hinston), Richard Heffer (Capt. Conover), Derek Lamden (Sandship Martian), Peter Marinker (McClure), Richard Oldfield (Capt. York), Anthony Pullen-Shaw (Edward Black), Burnell Tucker (Bill Wilder)
Notes: A lavish co-production between NBC and the BBC, shot on “otherworldly” Lanzarote (a volcanic island where the BBC would also later shoot the 1984 Doctor Who story Planet Of Fire), The Martian Chronicles was intended to be the major draw to NBC’s fall 1979 season. But Ray Bradbury himself, the author of the original stories the miniseries was based on, torpedoed that launch by calling the TV adaptation out as “boring” in a publicity appearance. With the creator of its major premiere alerting the public to a stinker, NBC rescheduled the miniseries to run during the winter doldrums of January 1980, before the ratings sweeps month of February (for which NBC already had a dire forecast, since the 1980 Winter Olympics would be airing during February on rival network ABC, likely trouncing anything scheduled against the games by NBC or CBS). The BBC didn’t air The Martian Chronicles until August 1980.
The show’s decks are stacked with genre veterans, including Roddy McDowall (Planet Of The Apes), Maria Schell and Barry Morse (Space: 1999), and Darren McGavin (Kolchak: The Night Stalker). Robert Beatty had appeared in pivotal episodes of Doctor Who (The Tenth Planet) and Blake’s 7 (The Way Back). Bernie Casey would appear in both Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 during the 1990s. (Tangentially, Rock Hudson had starred in 1971’s creepy non-genre movie Pretty Maids All In A Row, written and produced by one Gene Roddenberry.) Director Michael Anderson also had a well-known genre credit under his belt, the 1976 SF cult classic Logan’s Run, while one of composer Stanley Myers’ earliest TV music credits was for the 1964 Doctor Who story Marco Polo.
LogBook entry by Earl Green