2000 Plus — “The Rocket and the Skull”

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“Let us send our imaginations forward in time into the years beyond 2000 AD. What strange adventures, what exciting things will we find in the world of tomorrow? 2000 Plus!”

2000 Plus (1950-52) aired “The Rocket and the Skull” on October 10, 1951. Borrowing introductory notes about the show from a previous episode, and for the benefit of newcomers to the show, 2000 Plus ran from March 15, 1950 through January 2, 1952, and was the first adult SF anthology series on radio (as opposed to serials, most of which were juvenile–Buck Rogers and Tom Corbett for instance), beating out Dimension X by less than a month. For those trying to keep a chronology of the important adult SF series’ straight, here’s a breakdown:

2000 Plus — March 15, 1950

Dimension X — April 8, 1950

X Minus One — April 24, 1955

Exploring Tomorrow — December 4, 1957

Created by Sherman Dryer, 2000 Plus featured all original scripts, some of which are considered quite good, leading many OTR historians to proclaim that the show has been underrated when compared to those listed above. This might be due, in part, to the fact that only 16 episodes are now extant, and to evaluate a show’s relative level of expertise on such slim evidence is miselading. While estimates vary wildly as to the number of shows aired during the show’s lifetime (some guess 39 or 52), a consensus puts the number nearer to 90 or even 95. How many were original as opposed to rebroadcasts is the question, and with so many episodes “lost” and historical references incomplete, or somewhat confusing (syndicated stations around the country airing the same show but at different dates), it is doubtful at this juncture if we will ever know. What we do know is that a mere 16 shows have survived, and of these the audio quality is up and down (unless digitally remastered).

“The Rocket and the Skull” is a product of its time–the early 1950s–combining popular science and contemporary politics, namely an interest in rocketry and the possibility of going to the moon, and the red scare of communism and the cold war following World War II, coupled with the paranoia the latter would bring to the country and to SF stories, replacing communists with aliens. Here we have a military test pilot, one colonel Bradbury, as the central character. And yes, the name choice is a nod to Ray Bradbury, for which the script writer has an obvious affection, for, as you will hear, there is also a direct reference to Bradbury’s 1943 story “R is for Rocket” (Famous Fantastic Mysteries, December 1943 issue; later the title and lead story in Bradbury’s 1962 collection). For those not having read, or who may have forgotten “R is for Rocket,” it tells of a young boy who dreams of becoming an astronaut, the day when a helicopter lands at his home and he is selected for astronaut training. The story ends with the boy being selected and going off to eight years of intense training in various disciplines. It would seem that the script writer is now (on his own, for his own enjoyment and with no reference to colonel Bradbury as the young boy from the original story) fulfilling the young boy’s dream by making this colonel Bradbury part of the top secret effort to go to the moon. And the year this episode aired just happens to be 1951–eight years after the close of the original 1943 story and the young boy’s eight years of training. A nice touch.

“The Rocket and the Skull” opens with a top secret experimental test flight where soon something goes awry and communication with colonel Bradbury is lost. The storyline revolves around regaining contact, the mystery of what happened, and how it might affect a moon landing, from which the United States hopes to establish a military base and thus procure the “high ground” in a military conflict if war should become inevitable. But there are hidden forces at work, including extraterrestrial spies who would thwart our effort, and thus hangs this rather serious (but fun in a nostalgic fashion) story.

Play Time: 28:18

{A crisp autumn October day was perfect for the neighborhood gang to gather and head for the corner newsstand to stock up once again on their favorite reading material, especially after listening to this 2000 Plus episode. Imagination (1950-58) saw its first issue the previous year and was beginning to attract new readers. It was a bi-monthly in 1951. Ray Palmer’s Other Worlds (1949-53) was also a relatively new pulp magazine, and was a platform for a number of Richard Shaver’s controversial aliens-living-inside-the-Earth stories, as well as a home for “flying saucer/ufo” tales, Palmer being one of the phenomenon’s earliest believers and proponents. It never really settled on a set publishing schedule for long and 1951 saw 7 issues. A longtime favorite, Startling Stories (1939-55) was always good for colorful adventure fare set in space or on strange planets and easily fed hungry imaginations. Like Imagination, it was a bi-monthly in 1951.}

[Left: Imagination, Nov. 1951 – Center: Other Worlds, Oct. 1951 – Right: Startling Stories, Nov. 1951]


To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.