Journey Into Space : Operation Luna

Journey into Space was a British Science Fiction radio serial of the nineteen fifties. Starting in 1953 the series charted the adventures of the plucky space adventures Captain Andrew ‘Jet’ Morgan, Stephen ‘Mitch’ Mitchell, Doc (I didn’t quite catch his name and he was generally referred to simply as Doc for the entire series) Matthews and Lemuel ‘Lemmy’ Barnet.

The first adventure was subtitled Journey to the Moon and was set in 1965 when the author Charles Chilton believed that man would first venture into space.

The very first series lasted 18 episodes and it wasn’t until episode 5 that the mission to the moon itself started.

The original series recordings were lost, and it was remade later on for the Transcription Service, cut down to 13 episodes, and retitled Operation Luna, which is the one that is readily available today and the one that I listened to.

The new version removed all of the build up that had proved to be unpopular with the listeners originally and the serial began with the launch of the rocket, Luna and the next 13 episodes dealt with what happened to them on the way to the moon, when they got there, and when they tried to return to the Earth from the Moon etc.

It certainly was an interesting series which was full of intrigue and kept you interested in the story throughout the length of the story. Each episode ended on a cliff-hanger and there were times throughout that you really did wonder if they would get out of it alive, and if they would make it to the moon in the first place, let alone make it back to the Earth in one piece.

This first series was originally broadcast in September 1953 just after The Quatermass Experiment had been shown on television and this was quite similar to that series in that it featured a specially designed rocket to reach the moon, which were both launched from Australia, and both were very British projects, but that was really where the similarities ended between the two shows.

This whole story was all about the journey itself, the actual getting there and how the crew members coped and reacted to what was going on. There was also all the strange things that happened to them but, as no one had ever been into space before, no one really had an idea of what is was going to be like as they didn’t have anything to compare it to, but I guess that they all knew that it would not necessarily be the same as what they were used to.

In fact they spent a hell of a lot more time getting to the moon, and then trying to get back home than they actually did on the moon itself and the will they won’t they survive the trip was often enough for the audience to tune it week after week. It certainly seemed like it was quite cramped in the rocket and that the crew could not help but live in each other’s pockets which meant that tensions could often flare up at any given time which added to the tension of the piece.

The main characters were interesting with Captain Jet Morgan being very much a Dan Dare type figure very popular in the day with the youngsters listening in who was firmly in charge; Mitch was a fiery Australian who was the brains behind the project and was a bit put out that Jet was taking over, a sort of Alf Stewart in space prone to saying ‘strewth’ and calling people a ‘flaming galah’; Lemmy was the cheery cockney radio operator who called everyone mate and the American Doc Matthews was the calm voice of reason who did much of the narration and diarised the whole adventure.

There are plenty of things that can go wrong on this sort of mission and the crew of lunar suffered from more than their fair share of mishaps. First they lose communication with the Earth and then the crew, most notably Lemmy, hear some strange, and alien, music. Then they end of stuck on the surface of the moon when there is a catastrophic power failure in the rocket and then they see flying sources, first one and then more of the same from the dark side of the moon, and then they end of drifting in space with no idea of where they are and then land on a planet that looks similar to the Earth but the Earth of a long, long time ago, where are there more of the same saucers that they first saw on the moon and they meet an alien intelligence who helps them return to the Earth after wiping all of their memories of the events that took place after they landed on the moon, but in the diaries written by Doc their strange and amazing adventures are recorded for posterity.

The alien intelligence that they met on the moon were simply called the time travellers, which was a good name for them as that was exactly what they did. It was also nice that they were not exactly humanoid, as is often the case in a lot sci-fi, which made this quite refreshing and they were rather benign that evil as they didn’t do anything particularly bad apart from sending the rocket back in time millions of years, which is a bit inconvenient it has to be said, but not evil in the wiping-out-entire-species-or-planets kind of way.

Yes, it is very dated, and ends up being very much an example of pulp science fiction, but it keeps the listener interested right up until the very end, and is often very dramatic and exciting, and a very pleasant audial experience.

It does make you wonder how this would have played if it had been a television series instead of a radio series, and, if so, would it have been any good as, as a radio series, it is a superb example of the genre and is an exciting story which keeps you entertained throughout its running time.

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