The Martian Chronicles (miniseries)

The Martian Chronicles
Written by Richard Matheson
Directed by Michael Anderson
Starring Rock Hudson
Roddy McDowall
Maria Schell
Composer(s) Stanley Myers
Country of origin United States
United Kingdom
No. of episodes 3 (list of episodes)
Producer(s) Milton Subotsky
Andrew Donally
Running time 97 min each episode
(Without commercials)
Original release 27 January – 29 January 1980

The Martian Chronicles is a television miniseries based on Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and dealing with the exploration of Mars and the inhabitants there. The series starred Rock Hudson, Darren McGavin, Bernadette Peters, Roddy McDowall, Fritz Weaver, Barry Morse, and Maria Schell. It was aired on NBC in January 1980 in three episodes with a total running time of just over four hours (nearly five hours on the DVD version).

Bradbury found the miniseries "just boring".[1]

The script (by Richard Matheson) differs significantly from Bradbury's original novel from the 1940s; see episode summary below.

Episode 1 Summary : "The Expeditions"

The first episode starts at the scene of Viking 1 unmanned probe landing on the surface of the planet Mars in July 1976. A narrator is explaining what is happening and explains that the purpose of the probe is to determine whether or not Mars is inhabited. As the narrator is speaking, the viewer becomes aware that there are two viewpoints at NASA amongst the scientists who launched the probe: One group obviously believes Mars is uninhabited, the other is open to the possibility of indigenous life on the planet. Each has their convincing arguments, but ultimately the probe indicates that Mars does not harbour life. At the close of the scene the camera pans back to show a larger view of the probe's landing area, with what appears to be indigenous Martian settlements in the surrounding terrain, with the narrator noting that, "If the probe had landed just a few miles further on, things might have been different." Afterwards the opening credits roll.

The next scene places the viewer at the Kennedy Space Center in January 1999 when the first "Zeus I" manned spacecraft to Mars is carried into orbit by a Saturn V rocket. The Zeus project represents the beginning of a major effort by NASA and NATO to explore and eventually colonize the outer planets.

On Mars, Ylla (a Martian woman trapped in an unromantic marriage) dreams of the coming astronauts through telepathy. Her husband, though he pretends to deny the reality of the dreams, becomes bitterly jealous, sensing his wife's inchoate romantic feelings for one of the astronauts. He kills the two-man expedition, astronauts Nathaniel York and Bert Conover, as soon as they arrive. Mission control on Earth does not know the fate of the crew, and one of the senior astronauts Jeff Spender urges the project director Col. John Wilder to abandon the Zeus project because of concerns that Mars may already harbor life. Wilder (who has shepherded the project for ten years) refuses, among other things because he believes mankind might escape environmental pollution and war on Earth by colonizing Mars instead.

A second mission is launched and the "Zeus II" crew lands on Mars in April 2000. To their amazement the crew (astronauts Arthur Black, Sam Hinkston and David Lustig) discover that they have landed in a town that looks exactly like Green Bluff, Illinois. circa 1979. They are warmly greeted by close relatives and loved ones who all died years ago. In fact, the Martians use the memories of the astronauts to lure them into their old homes, where they are killed in the middle of the night by the Martians.

A third mission, "Zeus III", lands on Mars in June 2001. It is commanded by Col. Wilder himself with five other astronauts (Spender, Parkhill, Briggs, Cook, McClure) as subordinates. The crew discovers five ancient cities in the vicinity of the spacecraft, one of which apparently was inhabited only a few weeks ago. The scientists find that all of the Martians have died of chickenpox accidentally brought from Earth by the first two Zeus crews. The men, except for the archaeologist Spender and Colonel Wilder, become more boisterous. Spender loses his temper when Briggs starts dropping empty wine bottles into a clear blue canal. He knocks him into the canal. He leaves the rest of the landing party to explore Martian ruins. Spender (who always has had deep misgivings about the mission) then goes on a killing spree to avenge the destroyed Martian civilization and manages to shoot all astronauts except Parkhill and Wilder, who shoots Spender in the chest before he has the opportunity to kill them as well.

Episode 2 Summary : "The Settlers"

Wilder returns to the Red Planet in February 2004 with an entire fleet of spaceships, having been appointed director of the American colonization of Mars. In six months, a dozen communities are laid down. They are named after the Zeus mission astronauts ("York Plain", "Blackville", "Wilder Mountain", "Spender Hill", "Briggs Canal" and "Lustig Creek"). The colonies grow rapidly over the next two years but not always successfully as the colonists bring the vices of Earth (graft, corruption, bureaucracy) with them.

In September 2006, the Martian colonists start to encounter strange phenomena. David Lustig, presumed dead six years ago, returns to his parents in Lustig Creek but for some reason he does not want to see other people in First Town (the main colony on Mars). A group of missionaries (Father Peregrine and Father Stone) are rescued from a landslide by a group of mysterious lights who claim to be the "Old Ones"; immortal non-corporeal Martians from over 250 million years ago who now live in the hills. Father Peregrine later sees a vision of Jesus Christ in his church in First Town, but the vision requests him to go away with words "I am not what I seem! I am not that vision!" Peregrine concludes that the vision in fact is a Martian who involuntarily looks like anybody other people have in mind: David Lustig, Jesus or anybody else. The Martian is trapped by the colonists and dies shortly afterwards. Meanwhile, nuclear war is imminent on Earth. Congress cuts the budget for space exploration, all flights to Mars are canceled and the colony is closed down.

In the final scene we again meet Parkhill, the only survivor (apart from Wilder) of the third Zeus mission. He has opened a hamburger bar on Mars with his wife, when a lone Martian walks in. Parkhill panics and kills the Martian. Suddenly, numerous Martians appear in sand ships. Parkhill takes his wife to his very own sand ship and flees. The Martians catch up and give Parkhill a message: he now owns half of Mars. Unfortunately, the fleet of 10,000 rockets filled with 100,000 "hungry customers" won't be coming to patronize his restaurant, as the nuclear war has begun on Earth.

Episode 3 Summary : "The Martians"

World War III has occurred on Earth, and Mars was evacuated shortly before. Wilder travels back to Earth in November 2006 in a vain effort to rescue his brother and his family. He visits the abandoned Zeus project mission control facility, where he discovers a video recording showing the death of his brother and all personnel as the enemy missiles detonate outside.

Only a few scattered humans remain on Mars. One of them is Benjamin Driscoll, who lives alone in First Town. One day, he hears a telephone ringing in someone's home, and suddenly realizes that he should answer it to find companionship. Missing the call, and several others, he sits down with a phone book of Mars and starts dialing at A. After days of calling without answers, he starts calling hotels, and then (after guessing where he thinks a woman would most likely spend her time) calls the biggest beauty salon on Mars (in New Texas City) and a woman answers. Tremendously excited and overcome with romantic dreams, he flies 1,500 miles to New Texas City to meet Genevieve Selsor. She turns out to be thoroughly narcissistic and entirely obsessed with her own good looks. Driscoll asks her out on a date, and she reveals that she decided to stay behind simply because "they wouldn't let me take all my clothes with me back to Earth." She enjoys having access to all the clothes, makeup, footwear etc. in New Texas City without having to pay for anything but also laments the fact that she has to do all the cooking and technical maintenance herself. Disappointed, Driscoll runs away when she rejects his advances but still expects him to make a nice breakfast the next day while repairing her sauna.

Meanwhile, Peter Hathaway is living retired on Mars with his wife Alice and daughter Margarite, even though everyone else has departed. Hathaway is a mechanical tinkerer, who has wired an abandoned town below their house to sound alive at night with noise and phone calls. One night, he sees a rocket in orbit, and puts on a laser light show to signal the rocket. It turns out to be Father Stone and Wilder, who have just returned from Earth. They land and have a reunion with Hathaway, who is troubled by his heart. Undeterred, Hathaway brings the crew to his house for breakfast. Wilder remarks that Hathaway's wife looks exactly as she did many years ago when they got married, as he knows her real age and was present at their wedding. Wilder goes off to check some headstones that he saw earlier. He returns, pale, and says that the adults now before them died in July 2000.

The Hathaways give Wilder and Father Stone a toast, but Peter Hathaway's heart fails and he dies, begging Wilder not to call his family because they "would not understand." Wilder then confirms that Alice and Margarite were made by Peter Hathaway. The android family continues on with its meaningless daily life, alone. Ben Driscoll lands shortly after the rocket has departed. The Hathaways are relieved when Driscoll asks if he can stay with them.

In March 2007, Wilder visits Sam Parkhill again to inform him that the Earth now is done with and Mars is all they have. Parkhill tells him about the "land grant" that he received from the Martians. Wilder suspects that the Martians were aware of the coming war, and therefore wanted to give the other half of their own desolate planet away to the survivors of the Earth colony.

In the final scene, Wilder, now alone, meets a Martian ghost from thousands of years before (whether the Martians are ghosts or shadows of the past is not made clear). Each can see the Mars he is accustomed to, but the other person is transparent to him and has the appearance of a phantom. Wilder sees ruins where the Martian sees a thriving city. Neither knows if he precedes the other in time, the point being that any one civilization is ultimately fleeting. Wilder then takes his family into the ruins of a Martian city, saying they will live there and learn the Martian way. He then points into a pool of water at the family's reflection and states, "Those are the Martians", indicating that the humans will be the new citizens of Mars. Finally, he pushes a button on his remote control to blow up the last remaining Earth return rocketship.

Production notes

Apart from the obvious science fiction aspects of living Martians, the series was filmed in deserts on Malta and Lanzarote and therefore has very noticeable blue sky with white clouds. As well as an Earth-like climate, Mars is depicted as having a "thin atmosphere" which humans can breathe, and there are canals of water and desert type vegetation.


Original television score CD

In 2002, the Airstrip One Company in association with MGM Music, released a 3000 copy, limited edition 36 track soundtrack CD of the original Stanley Myers score recorded in 1979. This release, still available from rare Film & TV soundtrack specialists, includes a comprehensive 18 page full colour and fully illustrated booklet which details various aspects of the making of this mini-series. The catalogue number of this CD is AOD 003.

See also


  1. Weller, Sam (2005). The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 301–302. ISBN 0-06-054581-X.
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