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Doomsday Machine

Entry updated 4 April 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (1972; vt Escape from Planet Earth). First Leisure/Cine-Find. Produced by Harry Hope. Directed by Herbert J Leder, Hope and Lee Sholem. Written by Stuart J Byrne from his original story. Special effects partially by David L Hewitt. Cast includes Ruta Lee, Denny Miller, Mala Powers, Lori Scott, unknown, Bobby Van, Henry Wilcoxon and Grant Williams. 83 minutes. Colour.

Project Astra is a two-year Space Flight mission to Venus with a seven-person crew headed by Dr Christopher Perry (Wilcoxon). It emerges that Communist China has constructed the titular doomsday device capable of destroying Earth, and plans to activate it soon for reasons unknown. The Astra mission is put forward with half of the male crew replaced by women, including Major Georgianna Bronski (Powers), a Soviet cosmonaut. Soon after launch the crew see Earth explodes when the Chinese use their device. Evidently they are meant to restart the human race on Venus. En route, an attempted rape results in the deaths of the male astronaut and his intended victim Lt Katie Carlson (Scott) when she accidentally causes both to be ejected through an air-lock during the struggle. As the Spaceship Astra approaches Venus, a malfunction occurs which sends Major Bronski and a US astronaut out to attempt repairs. They discover that their craft has approached very close to a previously-launched Soviet vehicle, and manage to board it, finding the pilot deceased. Before they can dock with the Astra, a disembodied voice informs them that the Astra no longer exists, but that they will be sent to an unspecified destination instead of being killed. This voice is apparently the collective consciousness of an intelligent Venusian race which will not allow "self-destructive" humanity on its world. Presumably the surviving pair of humans are to become, somewhere, a new Adam and Eve.

This unfortunate production appears to be the only film credit for sf author Byrne. It originally began filming in 1967, but the producers ran out of funds. The footage shot with Powers, Williams, and the others was purchased several years later, and completed by Sholem. It is painfully obvious in the concluding scenes that other actors – identities unknown – have replaced the original performers. Much stock footage appears, from NASA, from the films Gorath (1962) and The Wizard of Mars (1965), and from other unidentified sources. The science is also poor – by 1967 Venus was known to be uninhabitable – and the film has been widely derided. [GSt]


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