“ Listening Length: 32 minutes / Program Type: Audiobook / Version: Unabridged / Publisher: Falcon Picture Group / Release Date: 8 Oct 2010 „
"The cast of characters in order of their appearance: a patrol of General Custer's cavalry and a patrol of National Guardsmen on a maneuver. Past and present are about to collide head-on, as they are wont to do in a very special bivouac area known as the Twilight Zone..." This is a 2010 radio drama adapted from a 1963 Twilight Zone episode written by Rod Serling. The story is not the most inspired to ever drip from the pen of Serling but it's solid enough and works quite well as a radio play. It has to navigate the impossibility of injecting the visual cues Serling laced the story with and the dialogue (something Serling usually excelled with) isn't the most purple here but this format is able to take advantage of the power of suggestion. The original television episode had to do this several times because of budget constraints and "suggest" action offscreen. Obviously this isn't a major hurdle for a radio drama. You can do anything you want because you don't have to show it. The story is fairly simple and reasonably Twilight Zone in essence and deploys the well worn "timeslip" plot device so beloved of fantasy shows. Time travel stories in The Twilight Zone are usually either great (A Hundred Yards Over the Rim, The Last Flight) or forgettable (Execution, Back There) and The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms resides somewhere in the middle. The premise for this story begins with a tank crew taking part in some National Guard training exercises near Little Big Horn. It's supposed to be a fairly routine assignment but a strange sequence of unexplainable events begins to eerily unfold in escalating fashion and spook the National Guardsmen.
They hear what sounds like gunfire in the distance and stumble across an old fashioned Wild West teepee (a tent made with animal skins and associated with Native Americans) and a canteen engraved with "7th Cavalry". This was the formation led to their doom by General Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. The tank crew are understandably puzzled by these discoveries but this is only the start of the strange occurrences for the men. They start to hear snatches of Indian war cries in the distance and see smoke signals on the horizon. It gradually dawns on them that they seem to have slipped through the known boundaries of time and space and aren't quite sure if they are in the present day or 1876. Perhaps they are somehow in both. They seem to be in pursuit of the past and being dragged into this historical massacre. The question they begin to ask themselves is should they intervene in the battle? This particular radio adaptation is narrated by Richard Grieco with Stacey Keach performing the narrating duties so famously taken on by Serling himself in the late fifties/early sixties television series. I had to look up Richard Grieco and he seems to be a staple of washed up celebrity type blogs. It transpires that Richard Grieco was (briefly) a nineties heart-throb and starred in the television series 21 Jump Street that made Johnny Depp famous.
Grieco was actually considered by some of the fans to be better looking than Depp and obviously destined for stardom. You can imagine how he probably feels now each time a new Johnny Depp film comes out and he gazes wistfully at the blank spaces on his curriculum vitae. Anyway, Grieco is a trifle bland as the guest narrator but he's fortunate in a sense because there is no powerhouse Jack Klugman or Robert Duvall performance from the screen incarnation to measure him against. The actors in the 1963 version of The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms were a fairly nondescript bunch if I recall. The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms has a decent enough ghostly time travel premise with a lot of historical fact although like the television version it's a bit of a stretch at times the way that the characters seem to have a forensic knowledge of Little Big Horn and the historical event they are being slowly dragged into. Perhaps as National Guardsmen they naturally have an interest in American military history and know the area well. I don't know. It just seems a trifle too convenient at times to have the characters so well informed. The atmosphere in this is enjoyably strange and I like the restrained music cues and use of sound effects in this radio series. While exposition that runs the risk of becoming clunky (or at least flirts with it) is required at times as you can't just have the characters stumbling across a teepee (and see their reactions like the television series) but this also works in favour of the audio medium.
Distant war cries and unsettling silences are more ominous here and when we get the sounds of battle we can picture what is going on with our imagination. In the television episode battles were offscreen because they simply couldn't afford to stage them and one was always aware of this drawback. It doesn't matter so much here. I'm somewhat confused as to the suitability of this as a radio story even listening to it and I think I would say that it isn't one of the better entries in this radio series but does work quite well at times. One slight problem of course is the fact that the men seem to presume Custer to have been on the side of good and have to debate throwing a tank into the fray. I'm no expert on American history in this period but that feels like a somewhat simplistic and one-sided take. The battle was deemed unnecessary by many experts in the first place and even the idea of deploying a tank to slaughter Native American Indians seems a bit off. Serling was usually the most socially and politically conscious and liberal of writers so it's strange that with The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms he didn't seem to have anything of note to say and merely appeared to present a fantastical time travel story. The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms is consequently not one of his very best stories.
This is not then the most memorable in the Twilight Zone radio series either and the guest star narrator is a bit dull (sorry Richard Grieco) but I enjoyed it as far as it went and at 32 minutes it doesn't run the risk of outstaying its welcome too much and stands as one of the shorter entries amongst the radio adaptations. At the time of writing you can download The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms for £1.19 or buy it as part of one of the Twilight Zone radio collections.