Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Kamchatka Incident; Kraft Suspense Theater; John Forsythe; Roger Perry; Leslie Parrish; Malachi Throne

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #2, Episode #5

The Kamchatka Incident

Original Air Date:  November 12, 1964 

Setting/Time: The present (or some time in "the past few years") in Tokyo and the North Pacific Ocean.


Major Livingston is the pilot of an American military transport that is scheduled to fly from Tokyo to the American West Coast during a typhoon. The flight is complicated by the presence of a flight attendant with whom he has had an affair and a Russian defector among the passengers.  Further complicating the flight are mechanical defects that become apparent after the transport plane is airborne.

The episode begins with a narrative voice-over:

For the past few years, a report has circulated in the Orient about certain events, which occurred while a typhoon named Hazel was spinning itself in the far reaches of the Pacific. The report was originally classified 'Confidential', but word has continued to spread, and more and more people have heard and passed on the story that has come to be known as The Kamchatka Incident.
There are many conflicts in this episode, the biggest of which plays out between the American flight crew and the Russian military plane that attempts to intercept them in midair when they stray into Russian air space.  As Major Livingston and his co-pilot ponder their options for dealing with the Russians just outside their cockpit window, they are informed of the Russian defector among the passengers. The defector will almost certainly be killed if the American plane is captured. This reality creates conflict between the flight crew and the defector's handler from the U.S. government (also a passenger), who demands that the crew refuse to surrender. 

The Russian conflict has pushed to the background the drama between Livinston and the flight attendant.  The two had previously suffered tense moments at the airport and during the early part of the flight when discussing the affair and its end.  
The typhoon provides the added conlfict of "man v. nature." Even though they are beyond the storm's reach, the storm has forced them to fly an unusual flight path, which path, coupled with the plane's mechanical troubles, led them into the outer reaches of Russian air space. 

Livingston and his co-pilot must decide whether to surrender or try to flee in their damaged plane, while considering the safety of all of their passengers, including the Russian defector. The resolution is primarily action based.  The romantic angle does not contribute to the resolution, although the resolution of the primary conflict helps resolve the romantic plot.

It is apparent from the conversation between Livingston and the attendant that the affair was an adulterous one, even though the writing subtly avoids making that point clear (as best I recall).

The Kamchatka Peninsula is controlled by Russia and has been on the front lines of military and political conflict over many decades, especially involving Russia and Japan.  Nineteen years after this episode aired, the Kamchatka Peninsula was near the location where Russian fighter planes shot down Korean Airlines flight 007 in September 1983.  This episode also predated Pueblo by four years and Mayaguez by 11 years. Instead of copying this episode from modern headlines, this episode predated those headlines.

In 1985, Robert KcKinney wrote a novel with the same name as this episode, based loosely on KAL 007 (with substantial changes).  The online descriptions of this book describe very different plots than this KST episode.  It is possible that McKinney had never even seen this episode.

I was pleased by the realism of this episode.  The writers did not complicate the plot with implausible twists and complicated mysteries, such as you might see in modern political thrillers.  The writers presented a basic story with the Russians as the "bad guys."  They did not see the need to create a new "bad guy" that the Americans and Russians would team up to defeat, such as the shadowy groups fighting James Bond or those that appear in such movies as Sum of All Fears.

The Russians in this KST episode appear only on the periphery of the action.  They are the largely unseen enemy that cannot be ignored.  The primary conflict appears more ominous that way as the flight crew and passengers engage in their own conflicts attempting to deal with the problem. 

This episode has much in common with the old western series, Wagon Train, in which traveling groups must contend with various dangers while traveling great distances in the western desert. Wagon Train featured characters with stories in their past that are explored and revealed over the course of the episode while the convoy deals with their primary danger and their isolation.  This type of story idea is well represented here.  (Episode 1.19 was also similar to Wagon Train, without being overly similar to this episode.)


John Forsythe played Major Livingston in the second of his two roles in KST.

Frank Maxwell played the Russian defector's American handler in the second of his three KST roles. 

Star Trek connection

Roger Perry played the co-pilot.  Two years later, he would play Captain Christopher on Star Trek's "Tomorrow is Yesterday."  Perry's career has spanned more than 50 years, with his most recent credit coming in 2010.  Perry starred in two series that lasted only one season.  He has played guest roles on many famous series, including Ironside, Barnaby Jones and Falcon Crest.

Leslie Parrish played the flight attendant with the not-completely-defined romantic link to Major Livingston.  She played Lt. Palamas in Star Trek's "Who Mourns for Adonais?"  Her careen spanned more than 20 years, beginning with uncredited roles in movies in the mid-1950's and continuing with guest roles on shows such as Perry Mason, Big Valley, Adam-12 and Police Story

Malachi Throne played the Russian defector in the third of his three KST appearances.  Little more than two weeks after this episode aired, Throne and the cast of Star Trek would begin filming the pilot episode ("The Cage") of that series.  A more detailed summary of his career appears for episode 1.07.  Throne died at age 85 on March 13, 2013.  Throne is the third actor from "The Cage" to appear in the second season, and one of eight different actors from "The Cage" to appear in KST over both seasons.

In one scene, where the defector came to the cockpit to confer with Major Livingston, the only people in the scene were the three Star Trek actors and John Forsythe.

One of the writers for this episode is Paul Schneider, who wrote episodes "The Squire of Gothos" and "Balance of Terror" from Star Trek, along with "The Terratin Incident" from Star Trek's animated series.


The only vehicles in this episode were the American transport plane and the Russian fighter plane.  I do not know what type of airplanes the producers used.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a huge fan of Suspense Theater but this is one of my least favorite episodes. The opening narration made me suspicious from the git (maybe it was based on a true story,--I dunno) but it felt like the producers knew they had a dog so they'd spice it up a little to make it feel more real.

    Some of the actors were good but overall I found it boring and unimaginative in nearly every department. Maybe what killed th episode most for me was the miscasting of the short, dapper. Ivy League seeming John Forsythe as the pilot. With a stronger, more credible lead player the ep mightn't have been so bad.

    I feel a bit guilty got my first comment here being a negative one, as I really like Suspense Theater as a series, wish it had ruin a few more years. Alas, the stories they told were becoming, increasingly, the stuff of the then new (TV) movies of the week, which would soon kill off the anthology format altogether. Such a pity. I was and am a big fan of anthology shows, now apparently gone forever.