X Minus One
Air dates: 24 April 1955 – 9 January 1958
Number of episodes: 126
Series type: Anthology
X Minus One was a remake of a previous program, Dimension X. It was born in the age of the atom, when civilization was always minutes away from a fiery end, and everything in the future would have a nuclear reactor for a power source, even roller skates. The show was considered a milestone in science-fiction entertainment for telling diverse, thrilling stories that focused more on speculative concepts over action. The title is derived from the mathematical terminology used when launching rockets (although traditionally the phrase is “t minus,” though other letters are used as well).
Like a lot of sci-fi radio and television shows of the day, many of the episodes were based on short stories appearing in prominent sci-fi and adventure magazines, authored by such legendary figures such as L. Sprague DeCamp, Phillip K. Dick, and Ray Bradbury.
All good retro-pulp radio shows started off with a narrator breathlessly explaining the concept of the show, but XM1 wasn’t content to settle for that. Instead, every episode fittingly began with a countdown, in tense preparation for “blast off.”
It would begin a low, electronic tone, which would quickly shift into a high, near-eardrum piercing pitch. Then, spoken in calm, even tones, we would hear:
“Countdown for blastoff… X minus five, four, three, two, X minus one… Fire!”
Explosion! Blast off! Cymbals clash! Violins trill! A chorus of voices would sing-shout their terror in a drawn-out, harmonious “AaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
Followed by another speaker:
“From the far horizons of the unknown come transcribed tales of new dimensions in time and space. These are stories of the future; adventures in which you’ll live in a million could-be years on a thousand may-be worlds. The National Broadcasting Company, in cooperation with Street & Smith, publishers of Astounding Science Fiction presents… X Minus One.”
Featured this week is episode 40, “The Junkyard,” originally broadcast February 22, 1956, adapted from a story by Clifford Simak. I find this one rather interesting as it is said to be one of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon’s inspirations for Alien (1979). It does an enthralling job of exploring the utterly fantastic through a mundane, somewhat humorous lens, which, in turn, contributes to a quiet sense of dread that slowly builds throughout the episode, climaxing in an unexpected resolution.
Presumably in the far-flung future (which would typically be between the 1990s and the year 2000 in those days), a Galactic Survey Team comes across Planet 9, an unimpressive, lifeless world littered with the discarded junk of alien spaceships. No big deal, really; the planet won’t be of any use to anyone for another epoch or so. Thus, with no reason to stay, the bored and somewhat cranky commander Ira Warren orders takeoff. But there’s one, slight problem that’s keeping them from leaving: No one remembers how to start the engines. In fact, everyone, including Warren, is suddenly, inexplicably beginning to forget a lot of things – vital things.
Thanks to VistaRecordsBoard for hosting the video below on Youtube.
For a transcript of the episode, check out Generic Radio Workshop.