Still magical and just as fresh today as it has ever sounded, nearly 60 years after it was first broadcast on BBC radio, Journey Into Space is surely one of the most engaging productions in radio history. I remember listening to this first series (`Operation Luna') during a repeat run as a small boy in the late 80s and being totally captivated. I have loved it ever since and subsequently bought all three series on cassette as a teenager, though my persnal favourite is still the second series, 'The Red Planet'.
Journey to the Moon (Operation Luna) was penned by BBC producer Charles Chilton and originally broadcast in weekly 30 minute episodes from September 1953 to 1954. Set in 1965 (a pretty good estimate for the first moon landing), it charts the attempt of Captain Jet Morgan (Andrew Faulds, later a Labour MP), Doc (guy Kingsley-Poynter), Stephen `Mitch' Mitchell (Bruce Beeby) and Lemmie Barnett (Alfie Bass) to land a spacecraft on the moon. But what will they find when they get there? And will they be the only ones there? The series was originally 18 episodes long but the first four episodes (which took place on Earth) were not very well received by listeners. Popularity increased when the rocket `Luna' blasts off on its journey in episode 5. The series was re-recorded for broadcast in 1958 when all the original tapes were erased, omitting the first four episodes , giving us the 13 episode series that was to become known as `Operation Luna'.
Part of what makes Operation Luna such a joy to listen to is simply the quality of the storytelling and the strength of its very well-defined characters. Jet Morgan is courageous and strong, Mitch (an engineer) is practical but short-tempered, Doc is calm and intelligent. How radio-operator Lemmy Barnett ever became an astronaut is anybody's guess, but what he lacks in his knowledge of the solar system he makes up for with wit and resourcefulness.
Chilton's script is hugely inventive and filled with plenty of very sound science and philosophy at a time when landing on the moon was still a distant dream. There is also some neat social and environmental commentary provided by a mysterious `voice' first heard by the four crew members in episode 9. There are plenty of dangers for the four men to face during their voyage. In one high point in the story, all power systems aboard the ship have failed and Luna is stuck on the moon for a number of weeks, plunged into darkness and running low on food and oxygen. Jet reads from H.G Wells' classic novel `The First Men in the Moon' to keep their spirits up. It is a superb, imaginative production, rightly regarded as classic radio.
The BBC released this series on CD a number of years ago, but only in a small run and at rather a high price. Thankfully they saw fit to do so again and this new release contains every 30 minute episode in its full glory on 7 discs, and at an attractive price. The quality of the transfer to CD is excellent, given the age of the production. The first disc also contains a PDF file with a 16 page booklet about the series. Also included is a half-hour documentary about the series and the last remaining very brief snippet of recording from the original `Journey to the Moon'.