‘Science Fiction’ is a very broad term when you think about it. If you do a google search for ‘Science Fiction Movies’ it’ll give you everything from Star Wars to Jurassic Park to A Clockwork Orange, all of which are as far apart from each other as you can get.
Really, if you stop and pause to think about it for a moment, why not ask yourself exactly what ‘Science’ has to do with most forms of ‘Science Fiction’. The answer is practically nothing. It’s mainly fantasy.
And that’s ok, even if it is mislabeled.
So when writers come along and attempt to make science fiction actually about science, it can be a bit dull. Look at the season of Doctor Who when Christopher H. Bidmead was in charge; we had to sit through scientifically accurate and yet incredibly dull stories about mathematical computations and such like. *yawn*.
I bring this up because the latest episode of Out of the Unknown that I’m reviewing comes from the mind of one of the foremost Science Fiction authors – in the purest sense – of the 20th Century, Isaac Asimov.
Before watching this episode – Sucker Bait – I was half excited to see an episode from such an esteemed author, but also half filled with a sense of trepidation that it might be boring as sin.
Which half was right?
Out of the Unknown – Sucker Bait Review: What’s This One About?
A scientific expedition – including an annoying, socially awkward but brilliant teenager with a mind like a computer, who is disliked by everyone on board – travel to a former Earth colony planet to investigate why that colony died out.
Thoughts – Science Can Be Interesting, But Not Exciting
As it turns out, I was right to be cautious.
In theory, Sucker Bait is an interesting idea for an episode and is firmly based in what could be described as ‘believable science’, but in execution, it’s neither interesting nor exciting.
Take the resolution to why the previous colony died out; that there was a high level of beryllium in the soil that had slowly poisoned them. That’s a realistic resolution to the mystery, but it’s hardly one that’s going to knock you off your chair with its shock value is it? It’s mundane; it’s real life. And really, where’s the entertainment value in that?
So while Asimov has written a story that is filled to the brim with the sort of scientific principles that may well be of interest to people who like ‘science’ in general, I would say to most it’ll just seem quite flat.
A Story Without Pacing
If you read my review of ‘Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come…?’ you’ll have read me praising it for its expert pacing. Everything builds up from the ground floor and comes to a climax at the end.
Sucker Bait doesn’t manage to do that.
What we’re supposed to see as the main thrust of the story is that the annoying teenager, Mark Annuncio is disliked by everyone on board because he’s different. As a mnemonic – a sort of human computer – he’s unintentionally arrogant and irritating, and this results in him being disliked by the rest of the crew.
But as far as the story goes, that doesn’t really matter in the end, and it just serves to kill time between the key scene at the 16 minute mark – where his ‘handler’ explains to the ship’s captain that as a mnemonic he can remember everything – and the conclusion where he remembers reading in an old book about the side effects of inhaling beryllium. The idea there is that because society has forgotten about beryllium since it’s
never used anymore, they’ve overlooked it as a reason for concern, and only Mark’s total recall of an ancient text he once read saved the day.
Everything that happened between those two points was redundant; it was a smokescreen before the ‘shock twist’ at the end.
But it wasn’t interesting and so it just made the entire episode feel like an overly long and frustrating waste of time.
To quote my brother after he finished watching it, “That went on for too long and was really boring”.
The Old British Actors Checklist
Not too many in this one. The three that stick out are professional tumbler Peter Diamond (The Romans, The Space Museum), Burt ‘Bet In Play, Now’ Kwouk (Four to Doomsday), and noted chum of Jon Pertwee, Tenniel Evans (Carnival of Monsters)
- Though Sucker Bait is the brainchild of Isaac Asimov, it was turned into a screenplay by Meade Roberts. I guess it’s him (or her?) who should shoulder the blame for what can only be described as an inexcusable amount of exposition dialogue, especially in the early parts of the episode. There are lots of examples, but a classic one would be the conversation early on between the scientists about how they are travelling to Troas where 1000 people died on it once in mysterious circumstances. Dialogue like that exists purely for the benefit of the viewer; the scientists having the conversation would know all about it and wouldn’t feel the need to discuss it. If you’ve read my Doctor Who reviews, this falls under the category of “Happy Wedding Day, Sis”.
- The writing isn’t the best in general though. Take the hostility the scientists have towards Annuncio. Though it’s explained in expository terms why he’s disliked, if you’d missed that one line you’d be forgiven for thinking the crew were just asking like dicks to him, and his attitude was a justifiable defence mechanism.
- The Plot Summary listed for this on imdb isn’t accurate in the least. It talks about the crew dying, but that doesn’t happen.
- It won’t come as a surprise for those who’ve seen this that lead actor CliveEndersby (Annuncio) had a very short career in acting. He wasn’t very good.
- The biggest shock I got from watching this is that Peter Diamond is actually bald. I mean…ok, he was clearly wearing a wig in the Space Museum, but I wouldn’t have noticed he was wearing one in The Romans.
- But why Diamond and the rest of the ship’s non scientific crew were even part of this story is something I don’t understand. They contributed absolutely nothing beyond an unnecessary fight scene.
- Maybe my passion for 60s Doctor Who is clouding my judgement here, but I honestly think that stories made around the same time look a lot better than this, in terms of set design and costumes.
- Why do some science fiction writers think that viewers will find boy geniuses likeable? They aren’t. Do you think it’s because they resembled them in their own childhood?
Out of the Unknown – Sucker Bait Review: Final Thoughts
Though there are also many problems relating to characterisation and dialogue, the main issue with Sucker Bait is that it’s from the mind of someone who wants to make science the marquee item in ‘Science Fiction’.
You can’t really hold that against Isaac Asimov as that’s arguably what science fiction should be.
But as is often the case when that happens, it just turns out to be boring.
One to avoid.
Remember to buy my books, focusing on my reviews of Doctor Who from the 1960s through to present day. You can read more about them here
Also, on a completely different note, if you’ve got any friends who post the crappest Facebook status updates in the world every day, you might get a kick out of my piss-take Facebook blog, ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’