by Issac Asimov
Adapted by Robert Muller
I remember reading Issac Asimov’s SF detective novels as a teenager, so I was particularly interested in how they would adapt this story. Unfortunately, in compressing and simplifying the book’s plot to fit fifty minutes scripter Robert Muller loses much of what made the original so entertaining. The most obvious problem is that our hero Bailey has to make one or two almost magical leaps of deduction that are barely supported by the given evidence. It does not help that The Naked Sun is very much a sequel to The Caves of Steel, previously script edited by Irene Shubik for BBC’s Story Parade back in 1964. So certain aspects like Bailey’s relationship with robot partner R Daneel Olivaw are taken as read. The whole story feels like a continuation, with episode one missing.
New York detective Elijah Bailey is summoned to the planet Solaria to investigate the seemingly impossible murder of respected scientist Rikaine, the first crime on the planet for two centuries. Solaria’s population is a mere two thousand people and virtually all of them live solitary lives on their own estates with an army of robot servants, communicating with others via holograms and monitors. The only possible suspect seems to be Rikaine’s glamorous wife Gladia who was with him on one of her rare conjugal visits, but Bailey suspects she has been framed by someone else. Confined to his own house and suffering from agoraphobia thanks to living in an enclosed city all his life, Bailey and his android partner R Daneel Olivaw must break through the taboos of this neurotic society to uncover the real culprit.
Future Earth is regarded as a backwater in humanity’s galactic empire and its inhabitants regarded as little better than trailer park dwellers by ‘spacers’ and their descendants. So there is an irony in an Earth detective being required to solve a crime. This class distinction runs deeply through the story. Think Columbo where most episodes center on the shabby ‘tec outwitting a rich upper-class murderer. This episode is sadly missing the irony of a member of a despised segment of society investigating and exposing his ‘betters’. Also in the book, Bailey is unfit, agoraphobic and out of his depth in this strange robotised society, surrounded by suspects who physically and mentally superior. Although this element is still in the dialogue, with the detective frequently being dismissed as a “primitive”, casting a handsome and athletic Paul Maxell underminds it. Particularly when most of the Solarians are played by gnarled looking middle-aged men in bizarre wigs.The obvious exception is femme fatal Gladia, played well by actress/singer Trisha Noble, wearing a series of exotic space fashions.
Condensing the plot, Muller concentrates on the crime of passion and the theme of the spacers’ repressed humanity. Nevertheless the murder is part of a larger conspiracy which cannot be ignored entirely. However it comes across unsatisfyingly, dropped in almost at the end with a speech that goes something like. “He was the murderer, and by the way, he had a plan to conquer the universe with a robot army too.”
This time the robots are essentially men with dark glasses and monkish robes in vinyl. Amongst them I glimpsed one of Doctor Who‘s regular monster actors John Scott Martin.
Once again Derek Handley and his Loose Canon friends do a respectable job with reconstructing this lost episode, despite having even fewer photographs to work with and some missing audio too. Probably the biggest problem comes near the start, where due to reusing a single photo, Elijah seems to be grinning continually through the first five minutes or so.
The Naked Sun is a straightforward tale that covers some of the same ground as The Machine Stops with its warnings about over-dependence on technology and the importance of physical contact. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if I could have watched the actual episode but at least this version preserves some evidence of what was the BBC’s most elaborate Asimov adaptation.