Tuesday, November 05, 2019

The Evil Touch: "Campaign '20"

In this episode of The Evil Touch (1973-1974), it is the year 2020 and the Presidential Election in America is in full swing. David Arlington Zack (James Daly) is the pro-science candidate, a "scientific genius" who promises an era of "unprecedented prosperity."

Alas, Zack is falling behind in the race for the presidency to an insurgent, surprise candidate, Peter Day. Along with his campaign manager, Mr. Roberts, Zack constructs a diabolical plan to win the election.

He decides to send back a "humanoid" called Tom Leeds, whom all human women find irresistible, using a time machine, to the year 1972. That was the year when Day's mother and father met, and fell in love. Altering time, Leeds will make Day's mother fall in love with him instead, thus erasing Day -- and the threat to Zack's political ambitions -- from history.

Leeds travels back in time to 1972 but, strangely, falls in love with the wrong woman.  Instead of falling for Day's mother, he falls for Zack's mother.  He does change time, as planned, but not in the way Zack intended.  Zack is erased from history, leaving his campaign manager to seek the Presidency, which was Roberts' plan all along...

When I first watched The Evil Touch back in the year 1999 -- while I was writing the book Terror Television -- there was one episode that really stood out, not because of its quality, necessarily, but because it was so different from all the other episodes.

That installment, of course, is "Campaign '20," a "far future" episode of The Evil Touch, and the only one in a different time period (other than 1972-1973, in other words).

The production is pretty spare, which even Anthony Quayle acknowledges in his opening narration, which he describes the "space furniture," and "basic white outfits" of the setting.  The episode, penned by Linda Stewart, also imagines a "perfect future through science" in terms of technological achievement in the year 2020, but a world in which a "touch of evil" still plagues human beings.  David Arlington Zack believes he is superior to all others, and that he deserves to be president because of his genius.  He is an arrogant ass, and, as the episode points out "his evil was his own undoing."

To execute his plan, Zack, uses advanced, sci-fi technology. He uses a "humanoid," which today we would recognize as an android, and a time machine too.  Obviously, the episode guesses wrong about 2020, then. We don't yet have those technologies, though we do possess beloved movies about sending androids to the past, via time travel, to erase the future of our enemies (see: The Terminator [1984]).

Here, however, the android does not use violent means to undertake his scheme of time alteration.  Instead, all human women are susceptible to Tom Leed's charms, and he is the world's greatest lover.  Therefore, he uses human emotions against humans, to bring about the "dark fate" his masters which to see enacted.

"Campaign '20" is intriguing and fun, in part because campaign 2020 is upon us. Alas, we don't have a pro science candidate promising new technologies, or an era of unprecedented prosperity.  That would be nice, indeed.

Instead, we are still bogged down in the same issues that riled us in the 1970's: civil rights, the size of  our government, religious differences, and impeachment.

The more things change, the more things stay the same, I suppose.  Zack is like our current president in at least one way: he is a raging egotist more concerned with his own self-glorification than in helping the people achieve the American dream.

In terms of plausibility, the craziest thing about "Campaign '20" isn't the time machine, the android, or even the plot line, but the idea that both David Alexander Zack and Peter Day's existence comes down to one day, and one street corner, in one town, and one encounter.  Leeds the android "misses" Peter Day's mother, and saves that candidate's future. He falls for Zack's mother, and erases David's future instead.  The path of the 2020 campaign presidential election thus all comes down to 1972, two women, and which baby is born.

"Campaign '20" is imaginative, weird and fun. It may not make the most sense, or be vetted in a particularly believable way, but it is one of The Evil Touch's strangest and most unforgettable stories.

And you can watch it now on YouTube.

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