Pointless to Return?: Journey Into Space, Fifty-five Years Later

As you may have gathered from my inordinately prolonged silence, I am currently forced to carry on beyond the limits of cyberspace; the aforementioned power cable refused at last to charge the old Mac (apparently outmoded at age 3 ½), preventing me not only from filing my reports but from getting at whatever files I have not yet gotten around or taken the care to transfer. While I have experienced my share of computer mishaps and malfunctions over the past few years, familiarity with such high-tech lows does little to alleviate frustration. Perhaps it is just as well that I am returning now, albeit without my customary prolixity, by taking a return trip into space, where, as the old movie slogan goes, “no one can hear you scream.” Well, never mind the outbursts. Besides, I spent the afternoon away from the web by dipping my brush into the watercolors (as evidenced above) to mark another special occasion.

BBC Radio 4, where radio drama is still alive and, some claim, well, was being original today by offering . . . a sequel. Now, considering that entertainment these days is synonymous with recycling, that hardly seems anything to get excited about (even though, I, too, am looking forward to keeping up with the Indiana Joneses next month); but this sequel is certainly a departure—rather like the first return to Tara or the reopening of Bates Motel.

Nearly 55 years after its premiere on 21 September 1953, the science fiction serial Journey Into Space is being revisited, with author Charles Chilton, now in his 90s, picking up the threads of a yarn left dangling in suspended animation decades ago. “Journey Into Space: Frozen in Time” (available here until 18 April 2008) reintroduces listeners to Captain Jet Morgan, now aged 72, lost in space after over forty years en route to Earth (the first adventure, “Operation Luna,” was set in a futuristic 1965). Morgan is played by David Jacobs, the announcer for the 1953 series and the only surviving cast member of that production.

According to this week’s issue of the Radio Times, the original Journey “marked the last time radio drama ever got higher ratings than television.” A shame, really, considering that imaged sci-fi dates so poorly and is often mind-numbingly dull. The nostalgic charm of Doctor Who, currently back for another season on BBC TV 1, eludes me entirely. Then again, I always thrill to the chance of letting my mind’s eye set the scene; and if the Journey is unlikely to attract quite the crowd lured to the tube by that overrated quack, it may yet succeed in getting the next generation of science fiction aficionados attuned to the non-imaged that has to be imagined, to the thrill of listening, of experiencing adventures in time and space as they were once offered by series like Dimension X and X Minus One.

It sure has been a while since that first outing into space. Back then, the merry crew dared to challenge their oxygen supply by enjoying an extra-terrestrial cigarette break. None of that nowadays, when staying alive for its own sake (or the sake of the ailing health care system) is deemed more important than those small pleasures of everyday living. Who needs aliens, forced as we are to distance ourselves from the past to become strangers to our former selves. . . .

Unfortunately, the BBC only gets it half right. Who, after all, remembers that first Journey Into Space? Whereas BBC TV 3 recently broadcast all three previous Indiana Jones adventures, the radio audience is not given a chance to catch up, being left in the dark as to the voyage thus far. A potentially thrilling reunion is rendered well nigh pointless, and certainly far less poignant. Luckily, recordings of the 1953 series are still extant—and you do not have to wait for the BBC to open its vaults. So, if you decide to get defrosted, you are better off to go back in time and start where it all began, during that troubled ”Operation Luna.”

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