CD Collector's Edition

Reviewed by Ceri Laing

Writer / Producer:  Charles Chilton

Starring:  Andrew Faulds, David Kossoff, Guy Kingsley Poynter, Bruce Beeby, David Jacobs


Following the huge success of the first Journey into Space serial, which was later remade as Operation Luna, writer / producer Charles Chilton was commissioned for a second adventure with the crew of Jet, Lemmy, Doc and Mitch.

For twenty weeks between September of 1954 and January 1955 listeners of the BBC’s Light Programme were riveted by the exploits and misadventures that befell the crew in their journey to - and on - The Red Planet

In 1971, six years after events of the crew‘s visit to the Moon, on man’s first flight into space in the experimental rocket-ship, Luna, they set-out on a new mission – to explore Mars. From a purpose-built base on the Moon, the four men have a new ship, the Discovery, which heads a fleet of eight craft, each manned by two crewmen. Their journey is hampered from the start. Two of the fleet’s crewmen are killed when a meteorite hits a section of the moon base before launch. Then, during the long journey to the planet they have to go through a supposed meteorite shower and the behaviour of one crewman, Whitaker, becomes increasingly odd, affecting anyone he comes in contact with. When they finally reach Mars and start the exploration events escalate. The crew realise someone or something doesn’t want them there…

This second series retained many of the original cast members. Jet Morgan, as ever, was played by the African-born Andrew Faulds. Following his radio success in Journey into Space, Faulds had appearances in the film adaptation of The Trollenberg Terror, Cleopatra, The Charge of the Light Brigade and several projects with director Ken Russell. His television work includes episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour, Danger Man and Paul Temple. Returning as Lemmy was David Kossoff, in the role taken by Alfie Bass in the following serial The World in Peril, and the Operation Luna re-make. Kossoff is perhaps best known today for his appearances on variety shows, and  his Bible recitation tours.. His genre work includes appearances in the Cartier / Kneale adaptation of 1984, playing Alf Larkin in the 1950s TV series and 1960 film Inn for Trouble and the Terence Fisher-directed Hammer movie The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll. “Doc” Matthews was, as usual, played by the New York-born Guy Kingsley Poynter, who was best known for his stage work, but later made a notable genre appearance in Michael Powell’s controversial Peeping Tom. Finally, Australian Bruce Beeby played Mitch, having started out in the role for half of the first serial before having to be replaced by fellow Australian Don Sharp. Sharp would play Mitch for The World In Peril before becoming a director. Beeby’s genre work includes the Sharp-directed, The Devil-Ship Pirates, and episodes of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (Could You Recognise The Man Again?) and Timeslip (The Day of the Clone).

The two main supporting actors for the serial were David Jacobs and Anthony Marriott. Sharing Announcer duties for Journey Into Space with Guy Kingsley Poynter, Jacobs was the vocal backbone for the series, and provided most of the other voices heard throughout the serial, such was his brilliant vocal talent. He became so well-liked amongst the cast and production crew that one of his minor roles, the amiable Frank Rogers, became a regular in The World in Peril. Jacobs’ familiar voice can, of course, still be heard today on BBC Radio 2, but he found fame as presenter of Juke Box Jury during the 1960s, and as the first compare of Come Dancing. Anthony Marriott superbly brought the unnerving Whitaker to life, a voice and performance which never leaves you once you’ve heard it. Marriott became best known as writer for both television and the stage, penning amongst other things, episodes of Gerry Anderson’s puppet series and the infamous play No Sex Please, We’re British. He is also held in high regard by many fans of archive television, as the co-creator of the Public Eye series starring Alfred Burke.

Throughout all three 1950s radio serials, the music was written by Van Philips, and fantastic it is too. The Red Planet’s score utilises the cues originally created for the first serial, but complemented with new ones to reflect the new location and darker narrative. The score brilliantly reinforces the drama, and is inseparable from the overall feel. Chilton also used period songs to good effect, giving wonderful depth to the surreal sequences which are prominent throughout this serial. As with the other serials the sound effects are expertly created and work extremely well in adding detail to the drama.

“Orders must be obeyed without question at all times...”


If you don't the history surrounding the recordings of the three Journey into Space serials have a look at the Operation Luna review

As with Operation Luna, when The Red Planet was broadcast it featured lots of timing edits, so the episode could fit the given time slot. When it came to the commercial release the serial was compiled into an omnibus feature, with all the titles and cliff-hangers (beyond the opening titles of the first episode and the closing titles of the final episode) removed. As the cliff-hangers are an essential element of the serial, this meant that a lot of the drama was lost because of this.

Ted Kendall has again performed restoration, as he did for the Radio 2 broadcasts and the previous releases. As with the Operation Luna CD Collector’s Box Set all the material that appears on the transcription discs is included in this set. The amount of material that was excised before is unbelievable - predominantly the odd music cue, line, or section of Doc’s narrative, but also a complete sequence when the fleet comes into orbit around Mars. These edits would have been part of the revisionist nature of the late 80s and early 90s, when it was often felt necessary to tighten-up archive material for a modern audience. The clean-up is very good, although not as clean as Operation Luna: there are still the odd traces of hiss and print-through passed on from the original master tapes. This is forgivable, especially considering that this is an older recording. However, the vast majority of the faults have been removed, and the fidelity of the recording remains strong. The episodes have never sounded as good as they do in this release.

A nice little interview with Charles Chilton lasting about four and a half minutes is also included in the set, taken from the long running Radio 2 programme Round Midnight, and originally broadcast to coincide with the 1989 airing of Operation Luna. In the interview Chilton talks about the background to the series, the creation of the sound effects and Van Philips’ music, as well the success of the series at the time.

The twenty episodes, each approximately half an hour long, are spread over ten discs, with the interview tagged onto the final disc.

Andrew Pixley has also written the notes featured in the accompanying booklet and again are extremely detailed. They cover the production of the serial, merchandising, audience reaction and broadcast details. Most interesting is coverage of director David Lean exploring the possibility of optioning Journey into Space for a film adaptation! The booklet is again illustrated with clippings from the Radio Times. The information is so detailed - there is so much that I was unaware of – that I’ll repeat what I said in my review of the Operation Luna set – any publishers out there reading this PLEASE give Andrew Pixley a contract to write the definitive book on this series!

 “When it’s night time in Italy it’s Wednesday over here…”


This is yet another stunning package, following in the wake of the equally impressive Operation Luna CD Collector’s Box Set. Again full credit goes to Ted Kendall, Andrew Pixley and the team at BBC Audiobooks for the brilliant restoration of the complete and unedited episodes, the detailed information booklet, and the inclusion of the Round Midnight interview. The set doesn’t feature extras as good as those on the Operation Luna set, or the set containing the final serial (which should include the ninety-minute The Return From Mars play), but The Red Planet is the strongest serial so it balances out.

The packaging is still the cardboard type, which doesn’t afford much protection, but again it is very well presented utilising the Dan Dare-style illustrations of scenes from the serial (some of which are dotted about this review). They do make the set stand out well and a poster of the illustrations is included. Again a lot of care and attention has gone into this set and it does show.

What of the serial itself?

Well, it’s widely regarded as being the best of the three serials and it’s my personal favourite. So, why is it that good? Well…

Operation Luna is a fairly simplistic story, naturally so, as it was the first science-fiction serial Charles Chilton wrote and he was finding his way with the genre. With The Red Planet he takes what he learnt and adds it to his many years’ experience of writing ongoing radio serials and creating strong drama. The serial is superbly written,  and is the high point of the three serials (the follow-up serial, The World in Peril, comes close but doesn’t quite maintain the quality of The Red Planet).

All three serials succeed because of the detail that is put into them that enhances the drama. Twenty weeks of half-hour episodes gives a story chance to develop and evolve at natural pace – but with The Red Planet Chilton maintains the consistency all the way through.

For this second serial the four main characters are well-established, well-played and well-loved by their audience. They’re underpinned by brilliant support characters, such as Frank Rogers and Whitaker. All of which draws the listener into the events effortlessly.

The first half of the serial is given over to the long journey to Mars and all the events that take place to deter the fleet from reaching the planet, and features the superb character of Whitaker. You get wonderful sequences such when the fleet goes through the supposed meteorite shower (created brilliantly through sound effects) and the surreal dream Jet experiences when he’s taken back to the 1920s by Whitaker to visit an exhibition in London underscored by the period song When It’s Night Time In Italy. On Mars you have the great sequences where the crew explore the planet in the land trucks; Lemmy’s own surreal dream where he’s taken back to his childhood and his local Sunday Market; and Mitch getting lost, only to find himself in the Australian outback where his only company is a dingo-scalper. All the way through to the cliff-hanger, which leads into the final serial, Chilton is unrelenting in keeping you wanting to know what happens next.

I first heard this serial back in the early 90s, and it blew me away. Since then I’ve listened to it many times and never tire of hearing it: each time is such a joy. But this is the first time I’ve fully heard it unedited, and it’s fantastic to finally hear it properly. There is so much new material in this release: from Doc’s opening narration to each episode, to the odd lines and music cues peppered throughout.

I cannot recommend this box set highly enough – it’s a perfect piece of radio, a perfect piece of science fiction, a perfect piece of drama.

But when you get to the end you’ll want to know what happens next, and you will: The World in Peril is getting the CD Collector’s Box Set treatment shortly…

Limping home, the remaining eight men of a once twenty-strong fleet struggle to warn Earth of the impending threat that is to befall it…



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