Today, the first of my two episode spotlights has been posted there. My piece today is on the episode “Fun and Games,” and looks back at the history of Fredric Brown’s story, Arena and specifically at the ways it has been adapted for television.
Fredric Brown’s short story “Arena” was first published in June of 1944 in Astounding Magazine and the imaginative concept informing it has since become a staple of science fiction television, re-purposed often without attribution for series as diverse as The Outer Limits, Star Trek (1966-1969), Space: 1999 (1975 – 1977), Blake’s 7 (1978-1981) Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981), and later, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994).
Brown’s timeless and highly-influential tale concerns a violent space war between Earthman and “intelligent spider”-like aliens known as “Outsiders.” During a space combat engagement, a human pilot named Carson is spirited from the cockpit of his one-man fighter, called a “scouter,” and transported to the narrative’s titular arena: a world of blue-colored sand and strange, loquacious lizards.
Soon, an omnipotent alien informs Carlson that the galactic conflict will not be settled amongst the stars but in this ring, instead. The human will fight an Outsider — a round, tentacled organism — to the death.
If Carson should lose this brutal contest, mankind will be wiped out of existence as a consequence. Contrarily, if Carson prevails in the fight, the human race inherits control of the universe and the Outsiders shall be destroyed.
In the end, Carson destroys his alien opponent without any lingering reservations, a violent act that is a “moral imperative” according to the tale.
Penned at the height of the World War II era, Fredric Brown’s vignette suggested a unique alternative to the horrors of the times. What if a war could be settled by two individuals — trained warriors from each side — rather than by the huge technological and personnel mobilization of nation-states? Wouldn’t that a better, more reasonable and far less messy way to wage war?
Over the years, the “Arena” template was been modified considerably, and Brown’s Darwinian “survival of the fittest” message was frequently overturned in favor of 1960s anti-war philosophy.
For instance, in Star Trek’s famous “Arena,” adapted by Gene coon, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and a reptilian Gorn commander — like Carson and the Outsider — were transported to a neutral planetoid for one-on-one combat, while omnipotent aliens known as Metrons waited to declare a victor, and destroy the loser’s ship.
But in this case — unlike his literary antecedent — Kirk defied the God-like aliens and refused to kill his alien opponent. The focus of this optimistic TV story was on not fighting in the first place, rather than winning or losing in the person-to-person combat.
Later iterations of Brown’s outline, namely Space: 1999’s “Rules of Luton, Blake’s 7’s “Duel,” and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “The Last Outpost” similarly stressed the “more evolved” moral ideal of resisting an arranged fight; and of punishing or defying instead the God-like aliens who would seek “bread and circus”-styled entertainment from the warring and savagery of other intelligent beings.
Instead of Brown’s Darwinian tale of survival of the fittest, these later programs meditated on the Sun Tzu axiom: “He will triumph who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”
But “Fun and Games,” The Outer Limits’ memorable variation on the “Arena” template – and the first to appear on network television – remains determinedly different from such later retellings of the by-now familiar science fiction tale…”
Don’t forget to visit We Are Controlling Transmission to read the rest of the piece!