REVIEW: Out of this World – ‘Cold Equations’

  • Episode: Cold Equations
  • Broadcast: Saturday, July 14th, 1962
  • Character: Captain Martin Barton

Out Of This World was the brainchild of Canadian, Sydney Newman, and Irene Shubik as a spin-off of the highly successful Armchair Theatre series of plays (1956-1974).

The run of 14 episodes, all of which were hosted by the legendary horror star, Boris Karloff, began on 24th June, 1962 and featured stories from some of the best sci-fi writers of the day, including Issac Asimov, Terry Nation, John Wyndham and Philip K. Dick.

‘Cold Equations’, was based on a short story by American science-fiction writer, Tom Goodwin, which was first published in ‘Astounding’ magazine back in August of 1954. This ABC production, which became the third episode proper of ‘Out Of This World’, was the first time the tale had been put onto film, although several adaptations have since followed.

Broadcast in July of 1962, the episode was destroyed* in the late 1960’s but, thankfully, an amateur recording of the play was made on the night of broadcast and preserved on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. That soundtrack was latterly obtained by the British Film Institute, who restored and digitalised it.

The episode, which was directed by Peter Hammond, was filmed at Teddington Studios in London in early 1962. At a duration of 49-minutes, the drama was divided into three acts and shown in a one-hour slot at 10pm on Saturday, 14th July, 1962. At the time of broadcast, PETER said that there’d evidently been a lot of advances in space travel and rocket technology since the B-movies of the 1950’s: “I needed none of the spacesuits and paraphernalia used by the astronauts of today,” he told the TV Times. “I just wore a plain black jumpsuit throughout”.

THE STORY

When the scientists of a research unit on the planet Woten report that they’re all suffering with symptoms relating to the deadly Kala Fever Stardust, the nearest Earth vessel to the planet, readies a one-man Emergency Dispatch Ship (EDS) to rush serum to the technicians.

Since the incubation period of the disease is just 24 hours from the first symptoms appearing until death, nothing is left to chance when preparing the ship for its 80,000 mile mission of mercy. Every gram of equipment; each mile of its journey, has been worked out according to the most minute physical and mathematical specifications.

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PETER as Captain Martin Barton discovers a stowaway on his ship

Captain Martin Barton (PETER WYNGARDE), who has been chosen to carry out the mission, runs through his pre-flight checks, and when satisfied that all is in order, requests permission from the Stardust to depart.

Only a short time into his journey, the Captain notices an abnormal reading on his control panel, and immediately reports back to the Mothership that there’s been a 20oC rise in the temperature of the Supplies Locker. Personnel on the Stardust initially suppose that the anomaly has been caused, either by the EDS’ jets during take-off, or from a circuit failure. Since both these theories are highly unlikely, Barton rebuffs them – reasoning that there can be only one other cause of such an acute temperature change: he has a stowaway on-board.

Directly, Barton approaches the Locker and demands that the interloper show his or herself. He’s stunned when, after a brief pause, a teenage girl appears from between the storage racks to give herself up.

The youngster introduces herself as Lee Cross (Jane Asher), and when Barton demands to know what she’s doing on-board, she tells him that she just wanted to see her brother, Gerry, who’s part of a government survey crew based on Woten for the past decade. The 18-year-old, a newly qualified linguist, tells Barton that she’d been travelling on the Stardust to the planet of Mimir, where she’d recently secured a new job, and had slipped onto the EDS when no one had been paying attention.

Barton is furious, not least at the girl’s somewhat flippant attitude towards her situation – her response to his fury being to enquire if she might be required to pay a fine.

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PETER sitting at the Controls of EDS 34GII and, (centre), Jane Asher

When he asks if her brother is aware of her new position on Mimir, she tells him that he’d been informed weeks earlier by Spacegram. Barton’s anger is swelled still further when he’s latterly told that Gerry is due to be posted to Mimir the following year. Why, the Captain demands, had she taken such a risk to board his ship when she would see her brother in a few months’ time anyway?

Lee, who until now had been oblivious to the trouble she was in, apologies profusely to Barton who, for now, has returned to the pilot’s chair. Lee notices that there’s been a sudden increase in speed, and enquires why. The Pilot reveals that since the ship is now carrying additional weight, he may not have enough fuel on-board to reach his destination.

Barton flicks a switch on his communicator and signals Stardust. He asks to speak with Commander Delhart (Peter Williams), in the vain hope that he might have a solution to the dilemma currently facing him. Delhart, however, bluntly reminds Martin of Paragraph L, Section 8 of the Interstellar Regulations relating to stowaways on Emergency Vessels: that any such person must be jettisoned immediately.

On hearing this, Lee becomes hysterical, as she can’t understand why such a severe punishment should befall her for what she perceives as relatively minor violation.

In the meantime, Barton tries to impress on his superior that the intruder is just a kid, but Delhart is resolute, and demands to know when Barton intends to carry out the “execution”. The Captain protests, but when Delhart insists, Martin takes the girls Identity Disc from around her neck and commences to read aloud from it: “T8374 dash Y84….” However, before Martin is able to continue, the Commander again insists on having the time of execution.

Barton stalls for a moment, then once again starts reciting from the Disc: “Name: Lee Cross; Sex: Female… “, but the cold voice stemming from the ships communicator becomes ever more instant: “Time of execution MUST be given before ID details!” The pilot, however, continues reading.

“This is most irregular!” bemoans the Commander.

“Then we do it in a ‘highly irregular way!”, the pilot responds, defiantly: “Hair: red; Eyes: blue; Date of Birth: 7 July 2060…”.

By this time, Lee is in a blind panic – begging Barton to make his commanding officer reconsider, but the Pilot’s hands are tied. Nevertheless, he launches one last angry salvo at Delhart: “The subject is a girl. Are you capable of understanding that?” The communicator, nonetheless, falls silent.

Martin now tries to calm the panic-stricken girl, who still can’t understand why she must face such a harsh penalty. Quietly, Barton attempts to explain their situation – revealing how the Kala Virus can kill within 24 hours of the first symptoms appearing, and how the medication supplies of the stricken Group 1 had been destroyed in a recent tornado.

“But don’t the others in Group 2 have the serum?” Lee enquires.

Barton acknowledges that they do, but because they’re based 8,000 miles away across the Western Sea, they wouldn’t be able to reach the others in time. Martin now hands her as copy of the Interstellar Regulations, which explains the amount of weight his vessel can carry given the quantity of fuel they have on board. If it were to run out, he explains, they’d both die.

Once again he contacts Stardust to ask if they would calculate his direction and velocity. They advise that he must reduce speed at exactly 19.10 – the time that Lee would be forced to leave the ship.

At last the girl begins to grasp the hopelessness of her situation: either she dies alone in the icy vacuum of space, or she takes seven other people with her. Martin reveals to her that, since the Stardust is now out of reach and the next nearest cruiser is over 40 light-years away, no one is in a position to help her.

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Captain Barton tries to comfort Lee as she comes to terms with her fate

Quietly, Lee confides that, when she boarded the ship, she had no idea what she was getting herself into. She knows now that what she did was stupid, but all she ever wanted was to see her brother. Only an hour earlier, she’d been safe on the Stardust, which was now continuing on its journey to Mimir, whilst she’s left with nothing but the blunt realisation that she’ll never see her family again.

Martin does his best to comfort the girl. The frontier, he says, is huge and scattered, and that the 16 men on Woden have an entire world to themselves. Gerry had recounted such stories to her many times; tales of exploration groups and survey parties – all of them fighting alien environments.

“And did he tell you that those environments fight back?” Barton asks, mournfully. Out in space, there was no room for mistakes. It was the responsibility of people like Martin Barton and Gerry Cross to make it safe for new settlers.

Lee tearfully surveys her surroundings, and remarks on the size of the cruiser they’re travelling in – commenting that it appeared to have more than enough room for its two passengers. She hadn’t given a thought to the fuel, since her only consideration had been for her brother.

When once there seemed to be so much time, the stark realisation that she only has 25 minutes of her life remaining suddenly hits home. As if in a vain attempt to take her mind off her impending fate, she turns to Captain Barton and enquires about the ships controls; pointing to various dials and switches on the console and asking what functions they performed. Yet, before he’s able to respond, her thoughts turn to her parents, and she asks if it might be possible for her to write a letter to them. Barton nods, but then suggests that there might be a possibility to make contact with Gerry on Wotan.

After several discouraging attempts, Barton finally manages to reach the Research Unit and at once asks to speak with Gerry Cross. Frustratingly, however, he’s informed that Cross is out in the field, but is expected back any moment. An assurance is given that a return call will be made the minute he gets back, and so an expectant Lee begins to write the letter to her parents.

Tearfully, the girl tells Barton how desperately she needs to hear her brother’s voice one last time. She admits that she’s afraid, and that she feels herself to be a coward. Directly, Martin determines that cowardice and fear are two separate things, and that she’s most certainly not a coward.

As she finishes her letter, she asks Barton – if her brother were to make a mistake out there in space, would he have to die for it? The Pilot says that, regrettably, life is like that along the Frontier. The Girl admits that she’d always thought of danger as fun, like it’d been when she watched a film at her local 3D cinema. But now it was for real, there was no going home after the show ended.

Worriedly, Barton tells her that Gerry would need to contact them soon, given the fact that they’d shortly be out of communications range. Even then, there’d be scant time for them to talk – briefer even than the time she had left. In that case, Lee laments, the moment the call ends, she wished to leave the craft. After all, what would be the point in her waiting around?

At that very second, Barton receives the long-anticipated response from Woden. Initially, Gerry is reluctant to believe that his sister could be on-board the EDS; the fact that the connection between the Research Station and the cruiser is so poor, doesn’t help. When finally Cross accepts that he is in fact speaking with his sister, he’s shocked to learn of her status as a Stowaway, given his understanding with interstellar law.

Gerry asks if he might speak with the Pilot, who gives the Researcher his coordinates and fuel status. Barton tells Cross that it would be impossible for him to turn back, but assures him that he’s done everything in his power to help the girl.

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Captain Barton prepares to eject Lee out through the escape hatch

As the signal to the Cruiser inevitably fades, Barton urges Lee to say a final goodbye before it’s too late. When the link between them finally breaks, Lee begins her silent trudge towards the air lock. Once inside, she turns to face Barton and nods as if to say “I’m ready”. Without any further exchange, the Pilot reaches for the leaver that sends the girl out into the freezing reaches of space.

Slowly and despondently, Captain Barton Returns to the pilot’s chair, where he presses the transmitter button that raises the Stardust. Calmly he reports that at 19.09 hours, Lee Cross was jettisoned from the ship: “Details of stowaway previously recorded”.

*All the episodes of the series were wiped, apart from one – ‘The Little Robot’.

Fascinating Facts About Cold Equations

In Tom Godwin’s original story, The Cold Equations, the stowaway was called Marilyn.

It has been suggested that Godwin took his story from an earlier tale penned by Al Feldstein, which appeared in the comic book Weird Science in 1952. Feldstein narrative, A Weighty Decision, also featured a female stowaway who had to be jettisoned.

An even earlier story, Precedent by E.C. Tubb, which was published in 1949, again saw a stowaway being ejected into space due of a lack of fuel.

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(Above): A contemporary cutting from the TV Times


The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/

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