Suspense: Report from a Dead Planet

By Brian Moakley Oct 30, 2023

The year was 1960. Television was growing in both dominance and influence. The glow of radio’s golden age was starting to dim. Apocalypse was in the air. The once vibrant world of Old Time Radio was about to become to a dead planet.

Can you imagine being apart of the Suspense writing team? Can you imagine opening up Variety and reading about the end of another Old Time Radio series and knowing that your time was coming? I like to think that this melancholy made it into this tale for in this story, for these interstellar travelers don’t wander the ruins of a civilization in search of adventure, they look for the meaning of loss.

At this point, you should stop reading and actually listen to the episode. Otherwise, keep in mind that if you keep reading, that major spoilers be off the port bow.

First of all, this episode is deliberately misleading. These aliens speak like men. Act like men. Even share all of the colloquiums. They even identify the Van Allen Belts by the proper name. It was all to underline those last two words that adds a Shyamalan twist before Shyamalan was even conceived. Two words that still pack a punch. New York.

It’s a great ending, especially the way that the scientist over-pronounces it, giving the city more jowls than necessary.

But the part of the episode that stands out to me is the part when the exploration team wanders into a building to find an alien statue. First off, the actual sound effects of the door opening and closing still give me the jitters and the constant sound that empty wind blowing in the background is equally effective. (On a side note, I was in the desert one time – near Joshua Tree – and I was shocked to hear the wind blow in the same way).

A picture of a decimated city back dropped by grey dead sky.

But it’s the part when they stare at the alien statue. Their reactions are priceless.

“Such ugly little creatures. Do you suppose … that’s its head?”

“Yes. Do see these must be the arms and these are clearly the legs.”

“Look how close together the eyes are placed. And the spindly legs. Ew. I hope we don’t run into one.”

I feel like this description is pretty self explanatory. If you were one of the last people standing in a dying industry, you too might see your neighbors as “ugly little creatures”. There wasn’t much hope time left in Old Time Radio. There are always people who ride a sinking ship to the bottom of the ocean and I’m guessing the writer of this episode was one of them.

The movie poster for 13 Days that shows JFK, RFK, and Kevin Costner in deep worry.

But the other thing that makes me think about this episode is the inherent fear encapsulated in it. The United States and the Soviet Union stood chest to chest at this time, waging proxy skirmishes in smaller countries. These were the days of Duck and Cover and “the lucky ones die from the first bombs”. Two years later, the collective fears came to terrifying realization during the Cuban Missile Crisis (which the wonderful 13 Days dramatically re-enacts). If you haven’t seen it, definitely give it a watch.

The funny thing … twenty years and some change after this episode, the world almost did quite literally end in the fire of a nuclear war. In 1983, Soviet duty officer Stanislav Petrov saw five nuclear warheads appear on his early warning radar. His judged the radar blips to be a false alarm and did not launch a counter attack. Had there been another person in his place, then this Old Time Radio show may have been somewhat prophetic. Personally, and I’m sure you all agree with me, I’m glad it’s not.

Ugly little creatures, indeed, but beautiful as well.

What did you think? Did you think that was an effective ending? What would you have done differently?

By Brian Moakley

Brian Douglas Moakley is a writer and technologist who lives amongst the quiet hills in New England. When not reading tales of high adventure, he is often telling such stories to all who will listen.

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