Original Air Date: February 7, 1963
Writer: Richard Matheson
Director: Don Medford
“Picture of the spaceship E-89, cruising above the 13th planet of star system 51, the year 1997. In a little while, supposedly, the ship will be landed and specimens taken: vegetable, mineral, and if any, animal. These will be brought back to overpopulated Earth, where technicians will evaluate them, and if everything is satisfactory, stamp their findings with the word ‘inhabitable’ and open up yet another planet for colonization. These are the things that are supposed to happen.”
Picture of the crew of the spaceship E-89: Captain Ross, Lieutenant Mason, Lieutenant Carter. Three men who have just reached a place which is as far from home as they will ever be. Three men who in a matter of minutes will be plunged into the darkest nightmare reaches of the Twilight Zone.”
We meet three men aboard the spacecraft E-89 –in the futuristic year of 1997!– as it searches along the surface of an unexplored planet. The men are Captain Ross (Jack Klugman), Lieutenant Mason (Ross Martin), and Lieutenant Carter (Fredrick Beir). Suddenly they spot a flickering light emanating from below, and despite Capt. Ross’s reservations, the crew lands the ship in the hopes of finding life. However, they are shocked to discover another ship much like their own which has apparently crash-landed several hundred yards away. Upon entering the crashed ship, they are horrified to reveal their own deceased bodies laying strewn about inside.
With their minds running wild, Capt. Ross comes to the conclusion that they have entered a time warp and that their deaths are only one possible outcome of an excursion onto this planet. Perhaps they will only die if they take off again from the planet’s surface and then crash. Both Mason and Carter disagree. Faced with the prospect of remaining on this remote planet indefinitely, Carter shuts his eyes and suddenly awakens in a dreamland wherein he sees his wife back on earth mourning his death. Suddenly, his dream terminates at the sound of Capt. Ross’s voice.
Carter believes himself to be already dead, but in the midst of an ensuing argument with Capt. Ross, the two men suddenly notice that Mason has also gone missing. Mason is apparently trapped in a dream of his own with his wife and daughter blissfully enjoying a picnic beside a lake. However, Capt. Ross intrudes and reminds Mason that his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash. After an ensuing fight, Capt. Ross develops a new theory of their predicament –perhaps there are alien lifeforms on this planet who are causing hallucinations. Capt. Ross now decides that they must leave this disturbing planet.
Cautiously, their ship takes off and exits the planet’s atmosphere. When they escape the men breathe a sigh of relief, but Capt. Ross unilaterally decides to return to the surface to prove that the ship containing their own bodies will have vanished, but much to their surprise the ship remains just as it was. Carter and Mason both accept that they have died, while Capt. Ross cannot. He demands to go over the situation again and again until a different outcome is achieved.
Suddenly, at the end all three men are again found back at the beginning scene in which they spot a blinking blip on the surface below. Like the old folkloric ghostly tales of pirate ships that were never able to make port, the spaceship E-89 is forever doomed to encircle a planet harboring a dark secret.
“Picture of a man who will not see anything he does not choose to see, including his own death. A man of such indomitable will that even the two men beneath his command are not allowed to see the truth; which truth is, that they are no longer among the living, that the movements they make and the words they speak have all been made and spoken countless times before, and will be made and spoken countless times again, perhaps even unto eternity. Picture of a latter-day Flying Dutchman, sailing into the Twilight Zone.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- The spacecraft used in this episode was another prop from MGM’s 1956 film Forbidden Planet. It was the same prop used in the Season 1 episodes “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and “Third from the Sun”.
- Interestingly enough, one of the crew member’s shirts from this episode, which was also used in the episode “On Thursday We Leave for Home”, was offered at auction in September 2015 by Profiles in History, a Los Angeles auction house with an estimated value of $1,000 to $1,500. The winning bid of $1,600 by Mathew G. Perrone, a private collector.
- The scene in which Ross Martin is reunited with his wife and daughter was particularly gripping because at the time Martin was estranged from his own wife and daughter.
- Writer Richard Matheson was apparently vocal about his dislike of the hour long format for the fourth season, however it nevertheless gave him a greater chance of adapting some of his longer short stories into episodes.
- Richard Matheson’s original story appeared in the March, 1953 issue of Fantastic Story Magazine.
- The road which can be seen during Carter’s flashback is quite obviously the same road along which Mr. Redfield entered Peaceful Valley in the earlier Season 4 episode “Valley of the Shadow.”
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I know that Death Ship was Jack Klugman’s least favorite out of all the Twilight Zones he appeared in. And I can easily understand why. I expected a better outcome. Good acting though. Especially Ross Martin. I remember reading sometime ago that a film version of this episode was considered and at the time that sounded promising.
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