Jack Warden and Jean Marsh star in the sad tale of Jack Corey and Alicia. Corey is a convicted felon, although he claims that he killed in self-defense. He’s a decent enough guy, from what we see of him in thirty minutes, that you tend to believe him about that. But he’s been sentenced to solitary confinement on an asteroid which, Rod Serling’s narration tells us, is “nine million miles from Earth.”
Suspension of disbelief factor here — there are no asteroids regularly that close to Earth. 9 Million miles is a little less than a tenth of an AU, or a tenth of Earth’s average distance from the sun. When an asteroid (1999 FN53) came within 6 Million miles a few years ago, it was a pretty big deal, since the asteroid belt is more than 2 AUs away from our orbit. The dimensions given for Corey’s asteroid are enormous—6,000 miles being its longest axis. Earth’s diameter is not quite 2,000 miles larger. And the asteroid has an atmosphere. So it’s not really an atmosphere at all, it’s a planet. And one that has no business being that close to the earth. Venus, about the same size as Earth, looks to have a closest approach to us about three times that given the asteroid in “The Lonely.”
Okay, so author Rod Serling wasn’t really up on his astronomy. But it’s an intensely moving story. Corey is alone for 50 years, with his only human contact being a visit every day by a supply ship, with a crew of three usually led by Captain Allenby (John Dehner, veteran character actor on the Gunsmoke radio show, as well as the radio version of Have Gun, Will Travel, in which he played Paladin.) Allenby is sympathetic to Corey’s plight, and brings him a female robot named Alicia (Marsh.) At first, Corey is resentful of Alicia, but, when he realizes that she, too, feels loneliness, the two become at least friends.
I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s overall a sad and moving story, beautifully underscored by Bernard Herrmann’s trademark mood-setting music. It shows that, even 50 years ago, writers of speculative fiction were aware that artificial intelligence was becoming more sophisticated every day, and that our mechanical creations were going to someday take on feelings like our own.
That remains one of my favorite TZ episodes of all time.