I love radio serials. I used to listen to them on Springbok Radio in another land, far, far away, but I don’t remember any sci-fi. Radio 4 Extra (the badly renamed Radio 7) used to have a whole hour of sci-fi every evening at six, but has cut it down to half an hour. I wrote to them once to complain and they replied that they had run out of stuff to broadcast. Which might explain endless repeats. But if it’s JOURNEY INTO SPACE they’re repeating, then I’m in sci-fi heaven.
1950’s radio serials don’t get better than this. Set in the far off future of, um, the 1970’s, the four main characters – Jet Morgan (the captain), Doc (who narrates), Mitch (the Australian) and Lemmy (the radio operator) – get to go to the moon, to Mars and then on to save the world. The action is quite slow but the immense cliff-hangers at the end of every single episode ensures that you have to come back for more.
This is intelligent, thoughtful sci-fi with some deliciously strange ideas – just what you want from a radio serial. Amazingly, it hasn’t dated at all with some of the issues more pertinent today than in the fifties. Some of it is whacky but it still works. I still laugh at the idea of giant rhubarb in the Martian canals – but then so do the characters. This being radio, you really need to be able to tell the difference between the actors (something often lost in modern productions) and you always know who’s talking here, despite the fact that one of the supporting actors played 22 different roles! There are times when you know who’s talking before the characters do.
Terrific story, characters you love – and sound effects good enough to transport you whether they’re blasting off, drifting through space or walking down a corridor. You can see everything in the mind’s eye and often it’s way more interesting than TV productions. Imagination is always going to be more effective than cardboard sets or an over-reliance on CGI. Take-offs and landings, travelling through space, inner and outer doors opening, hypnotic alien music, voices miked from inside a space suit……it’s all there to enhance the visuals. It’s easy to imagine the trek across space to Mars, to see the Martian buildings and later the installations on the asteroids. Doc’s narration provides mood and atmosphere as well as visual information.
The science might not be wildly accurate and the characters slightly improbable but I can’t say that I take any notice. I’m too busy chomping my fingernails as our intrepid explorers hurl themselves into yet more danger. Charles Chilton, the brilliant author of Journey into Space, also transcribed the series into books but I would go for the CDs. If you wait long enough, though, Operation Luna will come around again on Four Extra, followed by The Red Planet and then World in Peril. With 20 episodes in the 2nd and 3rd series, that’s four weeks of listening. Radio bliss.