Wednesday, October 9, 2013

1980's Science Fiction Inspired Mars Post- 'The Martian Chronicles' Darren McGavin And Rock Hudson For Stars Without Number

File:The Martian Chronicles (TV miniseries).jpg
Back when I was a kid I remember watching it and my cousins being bored out of their skulls. Recently I re looked into this miniseries from 1980. I remember that a lot of our OD&D games took place on Mars the week that this premiered but after it aired not so much.
According to wiki :

The Martian Chronicles is a television miniseries based on Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and dealing with the exploration of Mars and the inhabitants there. The series starred Rock HudsonDarren McGavinBernadette PetersRoddy McDowallBarry Morse, and Maria Schell. It was aired on NBC in January 1980 in three episodes with a total running time of just over four hours (nearly five hours on the DVD version).
Wow this might be the series that got me to read the book but this one is really odd and very much in the vein of the late 70's and early 80's science fiction television tradition. 
My advice is to read the classic Ray Bradbury book before viewing.
Wiki has an overview of this very more then slightly depressing mini series. That being said there is actually a lot to mine here for science fictional gaming. 

Here's wiki's overview of the first episode : 
The first episode starts at the scene of a presumably NASA unmanned probe landing on the surface of the planet Mars in July 1976. A narrator is explaining what is happening and explains that the purpose of the probe is to determine whether or not Mars is inhabited. As the narrator is speaking, the viewer becomes aware that there are two viewpoints at NASA among the scientists who launched the probe: One group obviously believes Mars is uninhabited, the other is open to the possibility of indigenous life on the planet. Each has their convincing arguments, but ultimately the probe indicates that Mars does not harbor life. At the close of the scene the camera pans back to show a larger view of the probe's landing area, with what appears to be indigenous Martian settlements in the surrounding terrain, all the while the narrator indicating that, "If the probe had landed just a few miles further on, things might have been different." Afterwards the opening credits roll.
The next scene places the viewer at the Kennedy Space Center in January 1999 when the first "Zeus I" manned spacecraft to Mars is carried into orbit by a Saturn V rocket. The Zeus project represents the beginning of a major effort by NASA and NATO to explore and eventually colonize the outer planets.
On Mars, Ylla (a Martian woman trapped in an unromantic marriage) dreams of the coming astronauts through telepathy. Her husband, though he pretends to deny the reality of the dreams, becomes bitterly jealous, sensing his wife's inchoate romantic feelings for one of the astronauts. He kills the two-man expedition, astronauts Nathaniel York and Bert Conover, as soon as they arrive. Mission control on Earth does not know the fate of the crew, and one of the senior astronauts Jeff Spender urges the project director Col. John Wilder to abandon the Zeus project because of concerns that Mars may already harbor life. Wilder (who has shepherded the project for ten years) refuses, among other things because he believes mankind might escape environmental pollution and war on Earth by colonizing Mars instead.

A second mission is launched and the "Zeus II" crew lands on Mars in April 2000. To their amazement the crew (astronauts Arthur Black, Sam Hinkston and David Lustig) discover that they have landed in a town that looks exactly like Green Bluff, Illinois. circa 1979. They are warmly greeted by close relatives and loved ones who all died years ago. In fact, the Martians use the memories of the astronauts to lure them into their old homes, where they are killed in the middle of the night by the Martians.

A third mission, "Zeus III", lands on Mars in June 2001. It is commanded by Col. Wilder himself with five other astronauts (Spender, Parkhill, Briggs, Cook, McClure) as subordinates. The crew discovers five ancient cities in the vicinity of the spacecraft, one of which apparently was inhabited only a few weeks ago. The scientists find that all of the Martians have died of chickenpox accidentally brought from Earth by the first two Zeus crews. The men, except for the archaeologist Spender and Colonel Wilder, become more boisterous. Spender loses his temper when Briggs starts dropping empty wine bottles into a clear blue canal. He knocks him into the canal. He leaves the rest of the landing party to explore Martian ruins. Spender (who always has had deep misgivings about the mission) then goes on a killing spree to avenge the destroyed Martian civilization and manages to shoot all astronauts except Parkhill and Wilder, who shoots Spender in the chest before he has the opportunity to kill them as well.

Mining 'The Martian Chronicles' Miniseries For Your OId School Martian campaign 
Alright I actually enjoyed this production even if it was really a bit on the slow side. The production was by the same folks who did the Spiderman television series.  This was supposed be a science fiction fan's dream. Ray Bradbury property, Richard Matheson writing the screen play, Darren McGavin, Roddy McDowell, Nicholas Hammond (TV's Spider-Man), Barry Morse, Bernie Casey, Jon Finch, Michael Anderson Jr (Doc from Logan's Run) and the series was tied together by the character Col. John Wilder, played by Rock Hudson.
The look of the production is really out there and the ruins are pretty awesome. The matt painting could be looted for exploration of an alternative mars or perhaps the players are actually the follow up mission opening up the way for the settlers. 
Yet I can't help wondering about the Martians as an actual race?
Perhaps there are more out in the universe.
So lets do a quick work up for Stars Without Number. 

Bradbury Martians

Appearance and Biology 
The martians are a light skinned and desert dwelling ancient race that originated on Mars. This ancient race had colonies throughout the cosmos but declined about 20,000 years ago. The race are delicate, light skinned, highly psionic and quite logical. Many stood under six foot, and are of roughly human genetic stock there is speculation of ancient astronaut seeding but this is only myth and rumor.
These are a gentle people with some warriors among them. Their biology is cross compatible with humankind and this is one of the factors that led to their downfall. Disease from expeditions from Earth wiped many of this once great race out by plague. There are many examples of their relics and sonic books throughout the cosmos and from time to time occasional survivor sub species.


Despite the similarity to mankind this is still an alien species. We may understand the motives and principles of these ancient peoples but they were a very different slightly dangerous peoples. They grow into a steady decline by the time of the outward expansion of the human race.
There is speculation among xenobiologists that this race granted colonial Mars to Earth. This is mere rumor and speculation though.
Almost every member of the race has some low level telepathic abilities and there are a number of powerful psychics among the survivor races that have been encountered.
This is a race with a technology rating of three bordering on four and into the five level when dealing with their unique psi technology.

This is a race in strong decline and with an arrogance stretching back to the time when mankind was crawling out of the trees. They are also a race of explorers, scholars, and rationalists whose higher calling bordered into the realms of logic and art.
They are some warriors among them but more often experts and psychics are seeded throughout their societies.

Pride, Pacifism, Tradition, Despair,Vengeance 


  1. Thanks for the flashback. I too saw this when it first aired on TV, in the same year that I chanced to read "R is for Rocket" in my elementary school library. That was a one-two punch that permanently shaped my idea of what science fiction was, and why I should continue to explore it.

  2. Bradbury is perhaps the single greatest science fiction writer in my mind when I think of elementary school. Science fiction and horror always seemed to always come in cycles.
    Watching the 'The Martian Chronicles' mini-series is like taking a step back into time for me. There were so many writers that shaped what classic and modern science fiction is to me. But that is a blog entry for another time. Thanks for the wonderful comments there's more coming up folks.


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