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January 8 in Twilight Zone History: Celebrating the 1960 premiere of 'Third From the Sun'

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Jan 8, 2018

Today, January 8th, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the 1960 premiere of "Third From the Sun."

Fritz Weaver, Joe Maross and Edward Andrews (all of whom would return in future TZ episodes) star as citizens on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. Weaver plays nuclear engineer William Sturka, a family man with a wife (Lori March) and a daughter (Denise Alexander) who's secretly planning an escape to another planet safe from annihilation. His co-conspirator is Jerry Riden (Maross), who will pilot the ship. Complicating the plan is snooping company executive Carling (Andrews), who's in charge of keeping his employees bound to the company – even if they're soon blown to bits.

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Fritz Weaver as William Sturka, a family man facing the threat of nuclear annihilation in "Third From the Sun."

As early as the first season, Rod Serling was keen on stories about the threat of nuclear war, so he was naturally drawn to this Richard Matheson short story, which he adapted. This was a major topic for Hollywood in the late 1950s. There is no doubt that Serling saw all the latest movies (he screened them in his home for a group of friends) and he had just seen Stanley Kramer's stunning anti-nuke film On the Beach when The Twilight Zone debuted that fall of 1959.

"Third From the Sun" builds its tension very slowly, focusing on what appears to be a normal American family – but the stakes are very high, and this excellent episode builds to a classic Twilight Zone twist.

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Snooping Carling (Edward Andrews, center) wonders what fellow employees William Sturka (Fritz Weaver, left) and Jerry Riden (Joe Maross, right) are up to in "Third From the Sun."

So as we once again face threats of nuclear war, let us toast one of the classic TZ episodes that brought it vividly to our attention that there are no winners in such a conflagration and that the only form of escape is to move to another planet, whether in real life or The Twilight Zone.