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Prisoner of the Machines


A group of rebels are taken prisoner by robots during a war between man and machine; and their commander plans to liberate them from Asteroid Prison One.



Air Dates

  • First Run - January 16, 1980
  • Repeat - May 1, 1980





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19 Responses to Episode 1051

This episode re-introduce my Mother to the World of Radio Drama. She really enjoyed it!

Fred Barry Hetrick Jr.

This is one of the episodes I taped on a cassette tape and listened to over and over again till the tape broke! I am about to sit down and listen to this after many years. lol I have quoted lines from this particular play.

Kristine Hollander

In some future time, a group of soldiers are held prisoner by their enemy and are gaurded by a group of conscience-less robots. Lithgow is great in this interesting story of man versus machine. Genre: Science-Fiction

Mister Rubio

I rate Prisoner of the Machines as one of my top ten favorite CBSRMT episodes of all time. As such, it is one I can enjoy listening to over and over again. Most of this is due to the combination of John Lithgow’s strong performance in such a prominent role as main character and story narrator Major John Gulliver; and Henry Slesar’s descriptively packed original science fiction tale set during humanity’s future war with the slave robots they built (ironically called the ‘Macs’ – in a story broadcast four years prior to Apple’s introduction of their thinking machine with the same name). As I’ve found him in every role throughout his career, John Lithgow is brilliant. He plays an understated, unflappable, and seemingly reluctant military officer who finds himself a POW on a Mac-run penal colony. “The prison uniform came in one size… wrong.” Lithgow provides a diary-like narration which then blends into individual incidents and dialogues that make up the story. A large portion of the story is actually a flashback which makes the listener interested in what has resulted in Lithgow’s helpless current circumstance and how our hero will survive to someday see home again. Also strong are the minor roles of Major Gulliver’s (Lithgow’s) brothers-in-chains such as the nervous Sergeant Zilkowski, the bull-headed Corporal Klybourne, and the solitary-confinement-maddened Lieutenant Lamar Jackson: “Tell the boys to stay out of trouble, Major! Stay out of trouble… stay out of the bubble!” The epilogue is a bit anti-climatic, however, I can see the difficulty in concluding such a dark narrative with a rosy ending. I am stingy with stars but I give Prisoner of the Machines the five-star maximum. - Juror 4

Juror 4

John Lithgow's acting carries this episode where a group of humans are taken as prisoners of war by robots. Ian Martin's robotic voice of one of the Macs (or is it Max) is amusing at times. Lots of Saturn 3-esque mood music helps give it a spacey feel. Will the men escape from Prison Camp One asteroid?


I think the supporting character Lieutenant Lamar Jackson is played by Himan Brown. His money line stays with you “Tell the boys to stay out of trouble, Major! Stay out of trouble… stay out of the bubble!”


this episode was also recorded on to a cassette tape and listened to until it broke. I wish someone would make it into a movie. It would be a block buster movie. update it a bit. Bring back John Lithgow in his starring role. man that would be great.



Dr Jim ScD

I rate this episode ★★★★★ for EXCELLENT. This is, hands down, one of the greatest Sci-Fi episodes in CBSRMT history! Henry Slesar’s character development between the humans and the machines was absorbing, like it was an Art-of-Conversation-Showdown. Best of all, Henry Slesar’s choice of words for the main character who narrated about the area of Asteroid Prison One, the prison outfits, the variety of prisoners and their occupations, the plan to escape, and how he felt living inside an orbital satellite, just like the others, for 3 months. This story should’ve been made into a film or even a stage play. Perfect title for this story. Another way to call this episode would be “Prisoner In Orbit” or “Man vs. Maks.” In our Host’s Prologue, E.G. Marshall starts it off by pointing out that this tale is a war of the future. In ACT-1, we’re introduced to our main character, living in 2085, and how to deal with machines that turn against us. In ACT-2, through many ups and downs, the area of Asteroid Prison One is escape proof. More importantly, E.G. Marshall give us an important lesson: “Never underestimate the ingenuity of desperate men or the perversity of machines.” In ACT-3, many of the prisoners have died while some were sent to live in the Prison Bubble. But in the end, our main character, and the remaining survivors, earned a Climatic ending, along with a questionable Resolution on handling machines. In his Epilogue, E.G. Marshall speaks the words of Elbert Green Hubbard who said, “One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.” Perfect quote to end a perfect episode. Sound effects of explosions, laser gun blasts, transports soaring, metal doors, humans murmuring, alarms going off, radio static, Morse code, computer beeps, and master computer going haywire were extremely supportive. The music was thrilling on a sci-fi level. Meaning, CBSRMT used a variety of dark melodies that articulated themes of imprisonment, solitude, and dramatic conflict to fight and to survive. And the grand finale, our all-male cast: John Lithgow (as Major John Gulliver), Ian Martin (as Private Morley), Earl Hammond (as Captain 174-B), Ray Owens (as Sergeant Ziolkowski and Colonel/Android Drummond), and Himan Brown (as Corporal Ronald Clayborn and Lieutenant Lamar Jackson). Surprisingly, Himan Brown has a bigger role in this episode, 2 roles in fact, and he was outstanding. Ian Martin & Ray Owens were terrific as always. Earl Hammond, as the villainous and emotionless android, played the part to a T. As for John Lithgow, he deserved both an applause and standing ovation for his protagonist role. This is one of his greatest and remarkable performances on CBSRMT. Sci-Fi tale + John Lithgow = phenomenal entertainment that's highly recommend. Until next time…pleasant dreams. =^D


Juror #4 is right—Hi Brown has a much larger role than usual as Lt. Lamar Jackson, who survived solitary confinement in "the bubble."


Did any of you listen via crystal radio at night and lay awake listening riveted to an earphone listening to each story each night so the parents couldn't hear. I'd listen but the satellite keying up then I knew the them was next. Those were great times for radio.


I agree with you Steve! A wonderful time for radio and a wonderful time for America. Besides a few of the episodes that stayed in my memory for decades until I found (like 'End of the Rainbow' and the great 'Murder Preferred'), what I remember most about being a 13-year-old listening to CBS Radio Mystery Theater on the 50,000-Watt flagship WHAM out of Rochester NY was staring at the warm orange of the glowing numbers on my General Electric flip-clock radio and waiting for the 10-o-clock news to end. E.G. made his appearance at 10:07 on the dot ("flip!"). My bedroom was in the attic so I never worried about my parents hearing it. I would usually make it all the way to 11:00! No wonder I was so tired getting up for school in the morning!!

Juror #4

I still remember this episode when it was first broadcasted. I loved it when a sci-fi episodes were aired on cbsrmt and this one stands out for me. This ep is a like a story from X-Minus-One. I never knew that John Lithgow was the star of this episode until I read it here. I have enjoyed listening to this ep as much as I did when I first heard it many years ago.


Most of the Sci Fi episodes on CBSRMT are rather weak, and often unbelievable, or they are just campy because they seem out of date and campy because they are too old fashioned or unrealistic. However, this episode is really chilling and very well done. One of the best of the Sci Fi genre. The solitary confinement is very disturbing, partly because I can imagine this really happening in the future. Anyone who has had a computer can relate to the possibility of stubborn machines that don't listen to humans. This episode could have easily turned into a comedy but the writer, and the actors, managed to keep it very compelling, without letting it become silly and dated. This is timeless fiction, but very skillfully done.


This was a great episode. Also, it was realistic enough to be scary. I'm not usually a fan of the sci-fi dramas they did on CBSRMT, (because they usually come across as quite dated and unrealistic), but this one was really well-acted, well-written, and worth listening to.


Henry Slesar was one of my favorite CBSRMT writers.


This is one of my faves...with John Lithgow!


That news report before hand is amazing.


Not a fan of science fiction, but after reading so many positive comments on this one I decided to give it a go. Really did enjoy it and really liked the ending. Surprised myself with this one!


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