Back several days later than expected (sorry - blame World of Warcraft), and submitted for your approval…
6. Will the real Martian please stand up? (Season 2, 1961)
‘A wintry February night - the present. Order of events: a phone call from a frightened woman notating the arrival of an unidentified flying object, and the check-out you’ve just witnessed with two state troopers verifying the event, but with nothing more enlightening to add beyond evidence of some tracks leading across the highway to a diner. You’ve heard of trying to find a needle in a haystack? Well, stay with us now and you’ll be a part of an investigating team whose mission is not to find that proverbial needle - no, their task is even harder. They’ve got to find a Martian in a diner, and in just a moment you’ll search with them, because you’ve just landed in the Twilight Zone.’
A snowstorm forces six bus passengers to make a stop at a diner. But when the police arrive seven people are present - which one’s the Martian?
Zone stories about people searching their own ranks for an outsider are nothing new. Season One’s rather harrowing The Monsters are due on Maple Street gave us a chilling snapshot of a small community falling apart when the folk suspect one of their own of being an alien. The twist of course is that they’re all 100% human, but the idea of a danger from within undermines them entirely. Will the real Martian please stand up? is wittier and less dark than that, but it adheres to the same basic premise. A diner contains seven passengers from a bus that has had to make its unscheduled stop due to a bridge being declared out of use during a snowstorm, yet there should only be six of them. One is a doppelgänger, a Martian in disguise. It’s up to the investigating troopers to discover the alien’s identity before the road is considered passable once again.
Having watched this episode on a number of occasions, I’m still hugely entertained by it. Partly this is due to the fact that none of the passengers really give anything away. It would be easy to label the bad-tempered businessman, the obvious baddie, as the Martian, but having also read and seen an endless number of murder mysteries over the years I have to consider that it’s very nearly always the one you least expect who is actually to blame. This episode isn’t a whodunnit. Not until its climax does the yarn give the merest clue over the Martian’s identity. It’s tempting to point the finger at wily Avery (Jack Elam) thanks to his bulging eyes and the fact he seems to take none of it seriously. But just as cuilpable is the beautiful Ethel (Jean Willes), or one member from within the two innocent couples. Everyone is a potential suspect. At one point, a girl accuses her boyfriend of missing a mole that she was sure he once had, and he doesn’t even turn out to be the alien!
Will the real Martian please stand up? is a great episode because it plays on the national paranoia of the era. With America engaged in Cold War antics against the Soviet Union, people were afraid of an unknowable foe, an enemy of untold might that could seek to undermine the good guys of the West in all kinds of ways, not least by infiltrating society at all levels. The alien doesn’t provoke any of the susipcion within the party of trapped passengers. It plays the part of an innocent traveller to perfection, being as human as everyone else as the collective finger is pointed at one of the group, and then another, and another. The unravelling of the party is such that the story doesn’t even need the occasional aural effect to take place. A jukebox starts playing a record all by itself. The lights flicker on and off. Sugar pots are violently spilled over. Yet you get the impression that everyone is spooked enough; this just adds to the creepy ambience, suggesting that the people are indeed being played by a presence more powerful than themselves.
If the episode has a weak spot, it comes with the conclusion. We get not one but two twists for our money, the second a bit on the unnecessary side as it was probably enough just to know the identity of the Martian. It’s good fun all the same, and the yarn features a very fine turn from classic movie villain, John Hoyt, who manages to be both irritated and composed as the denouement plays out all around him.