Dumb Martian

1962 | United Kingdom

Duncan Weaver (William Lucas), a space pilot, has reached 35, the age limit for flying. Duncan has consistently gambled away his pay, so he accepts a job as an officer on the space station Jupiter IV/II. The prospect of two years alone on the most airless "pebble," less than 40 miles across, seems interminable. Even a microfilmed library and a huge collection of taped music would not compensate for only one ship a month calling to refuel. So, to offset the loneliness, and to help with the chores, Duncan buys Lellie (Hilda Schroder), a Martian girl.

At first the "Mart's" lisping speech seems cute to Duncan. But as the novelty wears thin Duncan's boorishness emerges. To him Marts are little better than dumb animals. He pushes Lellie around, treating her like a fool.

Dumb Martian

A rare visitor is Dr. Alan Whint, a geologist. In this role is Ray Barrett, better known at the time as Dr. Don Nolan in the popular medical drama series Emergency-Ward 10. Whint is the opposite of Duncan. He's a thinking man and he doesn't underrate the Marts. He treats Lellie the way she should be treated and teaches her the true meaning of freedom. Lellie, naturally becomes the sparking point of conflict between the two men, which results in Duncan arranging for Alan to have an ‘accident’ on a routine flight. When Lellie doesn’t mention Alan’s disappearance Duncan thinks he has got away with murder and that she is too dumb to realise what has happened, but it is Lellie who produces the final surprise.

Hilda Schroder had to wear a blank expression all through this play, adapted from John Wyndham's story, as all the inhabitants of Mars were described as having expressionless faces.*

The story was directed by Charles Jarrott and designed by James Goddard. Leonard White was the producer.

This was the first time ITV had dramatised a story by British science fiction novelist John Wyndham, famous as author of such thrillers as The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos (adapted for the cinema as Village of the Damned) and The Kraken Wakes.

Dumb Martian

The adaptation of Dumb Martian was commissioned by ABC story editor Irene Shubik for the company's new science fiction series Out of This World and then taken for Armchair Theatre by Sydney Newman. The 60-minute play was broadcast on 23 June as a Sunday night introduction to the type of entertainment ABC would be offering on Saturday nights from the start of the summer schedules (30 June until 22 September). 

Despite the fact that Dumb Martian is remembered by classic television fans as something of a...well...classic (possibly due to the fact that no telerecording of it exists any more), the television critic in the Aberdeen Evening Express, dated Monday 25 June 1962, was summarily unimpressed, writing: “Grampian's space shot "Dumb Martian" could scarcely be described "out of this world." It didn't qualify for the "heavenly" category anyway. Apart from one of the worst science-fiction plots ever to be screened, the set and make-up was almost laughable. H.G. Wells did it so much better.”

Dumb Martian

The Leicester Chronicle was a little more forgiving, although its critic, a self-confessed Wyndham fan who enthusiastically compared JW to HG, didn't show a great deal of enthusiasm: “On Sunday ITV gave us a dramatisation of one of Wyndham's short stories published in one volume under the title The Seeds of Time. This was Dumb Martian, which has 29 pages in the original.

In the story, when the Martian girl wants to look up a word, she consults an ordinary book. In the TV play she reads the wording of a projected image. True, certain gadgets appropriate to an era of advanced space communication are mentioned in the story, but they are never obtrusive. On TV the gadgetry was assertive.

And this is where the quality of Wyndham's writing was completely lost. When the story makes reference to magnetic boots, it makes such footwear seem commonplace. It is against this "everyday" background that Wyndham's skill makes the Martian "yith" (for "yes") seem almost as unusual as the Midwich children's golden eyes. In the TV show it was merely a ludicrous lisp.

Dumb Martian

Dramatising Wyndham may be compared with attempts to bring Alice in Wonderland to life. The result is literal. Wyndham (and Lewis Carroll) whet the imagination. A film or play of their work may pander excessively to the eye.”

Despite the critical dislike or indifference to the broadcast, Dumb Martian still managed to land a respectable 10th in the TAM (independent audience research) ratings for that week.

*TV Times (1962)

Published on November 6th, 2019. Plot of TV version adapted from original TV Times article (1962).