“ Genre: Crime/Thriller / Author: Richard Matheson „
"Picture of the spaceship E-89, cruising above the thirteenth planet of star system fifty-one, the year 1997. In a little while, supposedly, the ship will be landed and specimens taken: vegetable, mineral and, if any, animal. These will be brought back to overpopulated Earth, where technicians will evaluate them and, if everything is satisfactory, stamp their findings with the word "inhabitable" and open up yet another planet for colonization. These are the things that are supposed to happen . . . Picture of the crew of the spaceship E-89: Captain Ross, Lieutenant Mason, Lieutenant Carter. Three men who have just reached a place which is as far from home as they will ever be. Three men who in a matter of minutes will be plunged into the darkest nightmare reaches of the Twilight Zone..."
The crew of the spaceship E-89 are on the hunt for samples of life to take back to Earth and duly set down on a planet that seems a likely suspect for success in this space hopping endevour. However, on touchdown, their attention is drawn to something very large and metallic partially hidden by bushes and when they investigate they find an inert spaceship. The really strange thing (this is The Twilight Zone!) is that this spaceship is identical to their own - right down to the tiniest detail. The bemused crew decide to venture inside the derelict craft and make a truly shocking discovery on a par with Victoria Principal finding Bobby Ewing in the shower. Inside the spaceship are three dead crew members who look exactly like them. What in the name of Rod Serling is going on? Are they being manipulated by aliens with spooky hallucinogenic powers? Are they dead? Have they been given a glimpse into the future? Captain Ross has no time for these unsettling theories though. He insists they are all very much alive and there must be a logical course of action that will avoid the fate that the doppelganger ship seems to indicate for them. Is he right?
Death Ship was episode 108 of the original sixties Twilight Zone television series and written by Richard (I Am Legend) Matheson. It was one of the more memorable of the hour long episodes (only one series was broadcast in this longer format) because of both the excellent premise and the wonderful Jack Klugman as Captain Ross. Klugman is probably best known for Quincey (staple of daytime television in recent years) but he was wonderful in The Twilight Zone and and put absolutely everything into each performance. You KNOW that a Twilight Zone episode is going to be good if Jack Klugman is in it. You have to make do with Stacy Keach and John Schneider in this 2010 adaption but both are perfectly fine. Schneider is the lead guest star and Keach takes the opening and closing narration duties and provides support. The two actors work well together and although Schneider is not Sir Laurence Olivier he does a good enough job here in conveying the confusion and stubbornness of the Captain in this very strange situation. I really love the old fashioned flying saucer effects in the television version and while you obviously don't get that here there is an enjoyably retro atmosphere permeating the drama with the electronic beeps and pings of life on the E-89 and the whooshing buzz that signals the ship is taking off or landing. Death Ship is a fun mystery - although it was probably a lot more original when Matheson concieved it. I've lost count of how many science fiction doppelganger/are we or are we not dead? capers there have been since.
The crew start to think they are indeed dead but the stubborn Captain Ross won't hear a word of it. His attempt to formulate a plan to escape the fate of the identikit ship is very sixties Star Trek puzzle solving (and remember The Twilight Zone was made before Star Trek) and fun. There is scope here for some good confrontational dialogue and Matheson's script delivers. They don't follow the original 100% but retain the essence and most of the dialogue. Death Ship works well as an audio drama I think because it's very talky as the crew bicker over this pesky dilemma. It becomes quite dreamlike too when the crew start to have visions of their families, as if they are being beckoned to join them and accept a fate. Ross reasons that if they don't take off they can't crash. Is there a way they can get off the planet though? You do find yourself wondering what you would do. I think I'd have a nice cup of tea and a long think myself. This is a bit longer than some of the other radio adaptions (understandably as the episode it's based on was longer too) and runs to over 40 minutes. There is always a nice otherwordly aura in Death Ship and the music is pleasantly atmospheric without going over the top and drowning out the actors.
Death Ship works surprisingly well as a radio drama and is another good addition to this series. I had just sufficient spooky fun to have made it worth my while. I like the fact that that this a very old fashioned spooky science fiction yarn and the sort of thing you can imagine was a staple of radio in bygone years before everyone had a television. At the time of writing You can buy Death Ship as part of a Twilight Zone audio collection or download it for £1.19. It's a decent listen if this sort of thing is your cup of tea.