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"Death Ship" is a very successful one hour episode in that the show did
not seemed padded and was able to use the time slot well. This is a
com0plaint I have with some of the hour-long shows, but not this one.
It begins with a ufo-like spacecraft from Earth exploring for habitable planets. I thought it was rather funny that this interplanetary ship was supposedly traveling in the futuristic year 1997! When the ship lands, however, things get very, very confusing The three astronauts (Jack Klugman, Ross Martin and Fred Beir) are very confused to say the least. There is a crashed ship next to them...and it looks exactly like their ship! The Captain (Klugman) is very rigid and insists they cannot jump to conclusions. But, when they investigate the wreck and find themselves dead in the wreckage, what conclusions are they to draw?! Is this REALLY them? If so, how can they be looking at their dead selves?! Overall, this is a really good episode. My only problem with it is that there are multiple possibilities as to what is happening. It could be that residents of the planet are causing this and many other hallucinations in order to either scare them off or cause them to destroy themselves. It could be that they are dead and are seeing themselves but cannot accept it. Or, there could be another excellent possibility. I loved the ambiguity of this and was very disappointed when, at the end, the narrator makes it very clear exactly what has occurred. This seemed unnecessary and like over-kill. Still, a fascinating show and one that shows that season four's one-hour format could work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You can identify 50s science fiction by it's curious blend of ancient
technology (large computers with blinking buttons/lights that are
operated with binary switches) and characters who smoke, but with
stories which aren't very far off scientifically. The reason for this
is simple: relativity, quantum mechanics and most physics we know
today, at least the barebones, was known then. But technology such as
computers and social norms, such as not smoking, didn't become part of
our culture in the 1990s. It was a gradual change.
What we have in this story is an interesting incident in which 3 astronauts find a ship crashed on a planet they're exploring. The characters are clearly in a time loop in which all space-time routes away from the planet loop back to the planet. They arrive to see their crashed ship. They attempt to leave at some point, and their actions, which are in response to their own observance of the crashed ship, cause them to crash their ship. So, you're left with "how did they first crash the ship?" The solution in physics can only be a closed space-time loop. There's no way for it to have happened the first time in the universe they are in.
The universe in which they crashed it initially is no longer part of their history, but it is part of one of their histories, which has now broken free from all of their possible current histories. My guess is that this could be explained using Everett's many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics if you suspend the axiom of independence for all universes--at some point, they made a transition to one of the virtually infinite branches of their current universe to a version which has a closed space-time curve
curves back on itself, and there is no way to get back to the actual universe they came from and no way to leave the planet.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ultimately, this episode of The Twilight Zone turns out to be an
interplanetary ghost story. Along the way, the writers (Serling and
Richard Matheson) delve into a scientific theory of circumnavigating
time into potential time warps and a possible future. I have no idea if
any of this has been posited before, but it all sounds pretty cool, and
makes more sense than some of the pseudo-scientific rationale that was
used in sci-fi flicks of the Forties and Fifties.
A thought that came to me while watching was whether Gene Roddenberry ever took note of the story before coming up with a Star Trek first season episode called 'Shore Leave'. In that one, the ST crew conjured up a range of experiences related to their life back home, much in the way that Lieutenant Mason (Ross Martin) and Liutenant Carter (Fred Beir) did here. Whether experienced for real or in their mind's eye, it all seemed very real to them while it lasted.
One thing you have to say for Rod Serling and the production crew, they took every advantage of recycling their equipment to keep expenses down. There were probably a good half dozen TZ shows utilizing your standard elliptical flying saucer that was commonplace during the era. I was surprised the camera was never used to pan over the downed spacecraft to reveal the insignia of E-89. I mean, if you wanted to play head games with the crew, there would have been no better way to do it than with that revelation.
Two very cool concepts from the story that emerge with the benefit of almost a half century of hindsight - it took place in the way distant future of 1997! And - the futuristic Interplanetary Administration had the foresight to create a Rocket Bureau - imagine that!
Jack Klugman stars as Earth spaceship Captain Ross, who is in charge of a science vessel meant to determine the suitability of a planet for colonization. Under his command are Lt's Mason(played by Ross Martin) and Carter(played by Fred Beir). All three men are shocked upon landing to discover their exact doubles on board a duplicate crashed ship already on the planet dead. The two Lt's. believe that they are now dead, ghosts basically, but obstinate Capt. Ross refuses to believe this, no matter how many times they have to go over it... Eerie outer space ghost story has fine performances by the three leads, and an effective atmosphere, but especially chilling is the idea that somehow Ross is able to prevent the other men staying in heaven... Deeply disturbing,(even absurd) though of course there may be something else going on here as well...
This is a very familiar episode. It was written by Richard Matheson who
always raised the Twilight Zone to a higher level. In it, a group of
space travelers (using the same tired flying saucer that has appeared
numerous time in Serling's offerings) land on a planet with a friendly
atmosphere. There is tremendous tension among the three, Jack Klugman's
Captain an ornery, inflexible autocrat. They are on an exploratory
mission and it is natural for them to do this. Upon looking out on the
landscape, they see a crashed saucer, an exact copy of the one they are
on. Since it is safe for them to do so, they enter the ship, and are
aghast to find exact duplicates of themselves, in various poses, all of
them dead. Klugman refuses to listen to anything the others say. They
are in shock and believe that they have actually died. The two
shipmates actually experience a kind of out-of-body experience where
they find themselves meeting people who have died in the past. They
have also experienced evidence of their own deaths: a newspaper
clipping and a funeral bulletin. They are shocked into returning to the
ship. Suddenly, the prospect of remaining on the planet becomes
unacceptable and this leads to action.
This is a nicely done episode. Jack Klugman's Captain is insufferable. It makes one wonder how these three haven't killed each other long before this. He sees the others as weak and whimpering.
It is not exactly news that the 50 minutes format of the TZ did not work, but some episodes were not quite as bad as this. For starters, this episode is completely dated. I can appreciate why this might have been original or interesting when it first aired. A space mystery that might be an illusion, some kind of a mind game or a more morbid reality. However, today it comes down to three men chasing their own tale, with a solution too easy, and a technology that does not come through as impressive anymore. Add to that the characters, non of them is very interesting. Three men in space, lack any real depth and likeness, and you've got yourself 50 minutes of snoozefest.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Three astronauts -- skipper Klugman, and Martin and Beir -- land their
flying saucer on a planet with orders to collect any specimens of life
they find. What they find is an exact replica of their own ship,
crashed, and containing their own dead bodies.
This rather discomfits them. How can they be examining the wreck of their own ship, and how can they roll their own dead bodies around? Well, in fact, they don't know.
Captain Klugman guess that they've passed through some sort of time transmogrification or something and the crashed ship they're looking at is a vision of one possible future. There follows a sequence in which Martin and Beir each experience a hallucination or something in which they are reunited with some dead loved ones.
When Klugman snaps them out of it, he decides that his original hypothesis about crossing the equatorial time barrier was wrong. They're really being hypnotized by invisible beings who live on the planet, resent their presence, and don't want them to leave. No kidding, that's how Klugman's explanation works out.
The three men argue about this at some length, take off and land the ship again, and the crashed replica is still there. "Why not give it up, Captain," sobs Martin. "Can't you see we're all dead already?" Cut to the beginning of the episode, with the flying saucer approaching the planet and about to land for the first time. Maybe they'll do it "unto eternity," Rod Serling's narration informs us.
That's all well and good, except I don't know what they'll be doing unto eternity or why. Neither will you.
Beir is unconvincing but Klugman and Martin do decent jobs. The problem is that the story makes very little sense. Serling once observed that the show as perfect for a half-hour time slot and he was right, by and large. The story seems padded out and turgid at one hour. Some of the hour-long episodes were much better but this one is kneecapped by poor writing and a sort of slapdash quality to the production. It's supposed to be thirteen degrees below zero outside, yet the ship has its windows open and there are banana plants growing around it.
The spaceship from Forbidden Planet is used again. I even think of this
as Forbidden Planet 2...well almost. This is all about a
pain-in-the-bum Captain (Jack Klugman) who can't understand what is
going on with his "death ship". I first viewed this episode when I was
17 (in 1983) and it never really escaped my memory...the closing
narration plays in my head whenever I encounter stupid people doing the
same thing all the time. But is the episode a classic? No. The teaser,
act one and the end are classic but a good part of it is crap. It feels
like a 51 minute episode that should of been a 25 minute show.
It gets high marks for the use of stock Jerry Goldsmith music played during the bit where Klugman glares at the dead crew. And, as I said, the closing narration is a mind-blower.
I love spaceship shows on television and Death Ship would have to go down as one of the first produced to really capture my imagination. Twilight Zone was not the only series to steal from Forbidden Planet, it is common knowledge that Star Trek/Lost In Space stole from Forbidden Planet but the underground city in The Time Tunnel pilot (1966) was designed after the underground city seen in Forbidden Planet.
Jack Klugman makes his third of four appearances in TZ and Ross Martin
returns after 'The Four Of Us Are Dying' from series one. What kept me
interested in this story was whether the three spacemen could end up
alive somehow even after finding dead bodies of themselves. Some
interesting theories are put foreword by the headstrong Captain Ross
(Klugman). I watched knowing that spacemen have a generally low
survival rate in TZ.
The flying saucer and tilted camera effects somewhat date this entry. There are bright moments also some real conviction shown by Klugman and especially Martin. Yet I consider this a lesser TZ as you get the feeling of deja-vu. There are certainly earlier episodes that this resembles. Die-hard Zone fans might almost expect them to pass by Rod Taylor up in space.
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