Time in Advance


by William Tenn
Adapted by Peter Erickson

Some stories can only be told in the science fiction genre. Then there are stories like this one, which could be just as easily be told as a western or a crime thriller. Not only would it only take some simple rewriting to turn this episode into a film noir, it might have been preferable.

In the far future, there is excitement amongst Earth’s media when a prison ship returns from the outer frontier carrying Crandall and Henck, the first two men to have survived seven years and earned a licence to murder. They are pre-criminals, men who have confessed to their crimes ahead of committing them. They can earn the right to commit their crime by serving a sentence working on harsh alien planets preparing them for colonisation. Moving into a luxury hotel, the two comrades begin to plan their murders, only to discover that much can change in seven years and what they believed was the truth is often not.

There are several problems with this episode. For a start the whole pre-crime idea is a bit daft and it’s hard to understand how such an odd judicial system started up. There’s a debate between a judge and a journalist near the start but it is a bit of strawman affair. “Would you prefer to go back to a time when men were tortured and killed as punishment?” intones the Examiner, played by the gaunt Peter Madden. Are they the only options then? Medieval punishment or a penal suicide mission where its hoped the criminal will change his mind or die in the attempt? It later transpires that normal prisons also exist in this future, making the existence of pre-crime even more confusing.

Then there is Crandall, supposedly a man so determined, ruthless and angry with his ex-business partner that he is prepared to spend seven hellish years to get a chance to kill him. Yet Edward Judd plays him in such an avuncular, reasonable manner that it is hard to believe. Crandall is so sensible and considerate towards others throughout the episode, that surely he would have rationalised away his bitterness. He might carry a grudge, but embark on such an extreme revenge? Maybe he was a different man seven years ago but we are given no evidence of that.

Mike Pratt makes a better job of the angry, slightly pathetic Henck, still wound up with resentment towards the woman who trapped him in a loveless cuckolded marriage. His journey is the sub-plot but it actually sounds the more interesting as he tells it in the hotel bar. His imagined perfect dramatic revenge is quickly thwarted by a series of mundane events that leave him feeling cheated and confused.

Padding is another bugbear of this episode, with several stretches of nothing much happening except Crandall living in the future, using various gadgets. I was amused to see that the hotel television seems to be showing out-takes from the Sixties Doctor Who ‘howlaround’ experiments. There is also a return of the show’s curious obsession with blonde wigs, undoubtedly the same ones used a few weeks ago in The Counterfeit Man. Whilst early model shots of the spacecraft landing must be viewed charitably, the shot of the futuristic city skyline combined with live footage taken in a park is excellent.

Where the episode works best is in its moments of black comedy. The camp but sadistic prison guard (Oliver MacGreevy) who hopes his ‘boys’ have a happy time back on Earth. The oily religious man (Ken Parry) who implores Crandall to forgive and forget, then suggests he profit from his licence by killing a businessman of his acquaintance. The fact that Crandall’s ex-wife Polly (Wendy Gifford) is convinced he wants to kill her and is slightly put out when she discovers he never has.

After a sense of lofty ambitions of the first part of the season, Time in Advance feels altogether more pulpish. Melodrama has always been a part of SF magazines output. It is not outrageously bad, it just feels a bit corny. Perhaps it should have been about two men who escape from prison after seven years, having been double-crossed and out for revenge? And half an hour long?

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Return to the Unknown | The Phantom Frame

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