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The Captain of the PoleStar


On a treasure-hunting quest in the North Pole, a Captain steers his ship through the thick, icy, waters. When the ship's physician and the rest of the crew overhear a one-sided conversation coming from their skipper's quarters, they begin to doubt his sanity.



Air Dates

  • First Run - October 6, 1978
  • Repeat - April 19, 1979





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17 Responses to Episode 0902

(THIS IS WHAT RADIO THEATRE SHOULD BE) Based on a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle before he started writing Sherlock Holmes books, this tale is told in a narrative by the ship's doctor of the whaling vessel Polestar. Heading north toward the Arctic Circle on a whaling voyage, this story among other things apparently made somewhat famous the island of Spitzbergen (off Norway, I believe), which in the story was visible in the distance. The ship, led by a driven captain who saw a large school of whales, was advancing into a winter storm and was in danger of getting frozen in. However, that wasn't the greatest of the crew's fears. The captain, a strong leader but quirky and somewhat aloof, was suspected of being out of his mind. Worse still, the crew was becoming increasingly worried due to strange crying and wailing noises that seemed to follow the ship since it left Dundee, Scotland. Crewmen claimed to see dancing lights and strange figures (especially at night, by whatever fortunate crewman was standing watch). The ship's doctor even had nightmares of his captain pleading to a moaning woman in the cabin next door to him. My favorite line from this: "Blast you for a blind idiot". (Said by the captain to the doctor who couldn't see SOMETHING on a nearby ice floe the captain seemed to see.) If you've not listened to this, do it tonight if possible. One of the best, IMHO, the RMT ever produced.

A. Canolo

One of the better episodes...a suspenseful, intriguing tale.


The setting of the ship adds an extra spooky element to any tale of the supernatural. The wind sound was used to good effect. This show reminded me of "The Oblong Box" and another story, the title of which eludes me, that involved a crazed captain who killed his entire crew. If I recall right, he had the corpse of his wife in the cabin. I wonder if there are any other episodes of RMT that involve a ship and a ghost or crazy captain. I liked the fact that, if I understood it correctly, the apparition of his wife was apparently a projection of his mind rather than a ghost. A little like Forbidden Planet? RMT managed to turn out a number of high quality episodes. And even when the show recycled plots, it managed to add nice touches which kept the series fresh. A lot of old time radio shows were entertaining; X-Minus One, Escape and Suspense come to mind. But RMT stands a cut above the rest; the fact that it aired in the 70's and 80's helps in that the show still seems modern in a way that radio broadcasts from the 40's and 50's don't.


One of RMT's best ever!!!! This one just exudes atmosphere from the speakers!!!-- the howling wind, the creaking ship, the fear in the voices of the frightened men. Court Benson delivers a first-rate performance! I think he's under-rated. He never fails to hold my attention or create a character I'm curious to hear more about. Paul Hecht is superb as well (as always!). The whole story just draws you in and you can almost feel the chill of the Arctic whipping about you. I love the music bed used when Dr. Ray first recites from his journal aboard the Polestar. That music was also used to great effect in another Hecht episode-- "The Guillotine". This episode is similar (only slightly) to "Death Is A Woman"--in that a woman's portrait is a central "character" and seems to have supernatural powers. I'm curious, has anyone ever read the Arthur Conan Doyle original of this story? How different is it? I know RMT use to take great liberties with such adaptations.A great time of the year to hear this type of tale!

Guillian M.

Interestingly, I think this was Court Benson's best performance (when he was "Captain Cragie" on the RMT. However, you've said Benson had a good voice when he was being a leading man, but his "other voices" left some to be desired. He's also the voice of "Mr. Manson", and it's amusing that around the 25:01 mark he , or rather his voice, almost breaks character when he says "I didn't think I should move him". As "Captain Cragie", at the mark he almost breaks it again at the 13:51 mark when he hoarsely says "You have your orders, Mr. Walker." - Errrrrr, what were the captain and his woman, er, ghost, er, hallucination doing in the captain's cabin?


This one had a great atmosphere. The setting is a creaky old ship cruising the lonliest place on earth. It's storming and the crew isn't certain they're going to make it back. Add to that a captain who is driven by seeming hallucinations and madness and it's not hard to discern why the crew is increasingly concerned for their own welfare. I gave it a five! It was a spectacular episode. Court Benson wasn't bad. I can't stand when he tries to do that old man voice. It sound very fake and of all the voices any of them do, that's the worst. Dryden, Raeburn, Shea, and Juster did good voices. But others did just fine with the same voice week after week. Janny, DaSilva, and Gwynne played a large variety of roles without varying their voice.

Pete Mack

I've always respected Lloyd Battista's talent, and I remember an episode ("Search for Eden", I think) where he gave a good if not convincing spanish accent. But, while I hate putting down any actor's work, I've talked here before about his "hoarse Irish cop" accent which he's done several times. When he made that voice he didn't sound as if he was acting, but rather play acting. Also, - The RMT was very good, often, when they were doing episodes taking place on a boat of some sort. "The laughing maiden" and "The great white shark" come to mind. In this case, the sound effects were tremendously done...when Dr. Ray and Mr. Manson see "the Polar bear" you hear two ship's bells, ostensibly chiming one o'clock in the morning (as Dr. Ray said it was in the darkest part of the night). (Then again, they were near the pole so who knows what time of the day it was.) - I loved how Dr. Ray attacked the problem as a true physician would, trying to rule out one cause after another as he would diagnose a disease. - "The captain of the Polestar" was the title of a collection of short stories by Conan Doyle. The man was certainly a gifted writer. - The closest (and only other, frankly) comparable RMT tale to this one was "Sea Fever", which took place on a "blackbirding" slave ship, in warm waters (as I recall), with a captain who didn't give a rat's rear end about his crew. "Captain of the Polestar" (apart from having a possibly deranged captain) was the anti-Sea Fever. Interestingly, with the genuine care he seemed to have for his men, Captain Craigie of the Polestar reminded me of another misunderstood but driven commander of a ship, William Bligh. Good thing no one got flogged on this ship, though.


There were many things I enjoyed about this program. Mainly, the storyline. It was very slow, which I usually don't care for, but most sea-faring tales I can recall seem to take their time in leaving port, so to speak. Conan Doyle creates another mythic landscape with this tale - one I had not been aware of prior. I am so used to the whole Sherlock Holmes settings, that this was in such contrast to Hound of the Baskervilles, and the rest. Among the other things that struck me well with this tale was the consideration of sound editing. I just love when you tap into one of these programs to discover that someone, whether it was H.Brown or someone else, had paid the mind to put special attention on what was going on behind the main characters. In most cases, this tale allowed me the opportunity to feel as though I were on that boat. Wonderful escapism! Lastly, the acting, as is typical, was superb, though the Captain's voice did often make me frown. On the down side, it was again, quite slow moving. I had the patience, so it didn't cause me annoyance or anything, but it was noticeable. The only other thing that got me to "snap" out of my immersion was the sound of the spectral woman. In part because I didn't expect it and in part also because the teaser at the start of the show suggested a polar bear, the effect of the moaning woman struck me peculiar. I wasn't sold on it immediately. Once it was in there, it became elemental; but upon introduction, it sounded odd... out of place.  A very unique episode for sure!


A great one! (And, BOY, with these Polar winds still whipping about it's quite appropriate for the time as well.)


Bravo to Murray Burnett who wrote this CBSRMT episode and other adaptations from Arthur Conan Doyle. The music in ACT-1 made the story sound fanciful, then it becomes mystifying in ACT-2, and finally the music in ACT-3 makes this ghastly tale compelling. The best word to describe E.G. Marshall's part as host is "gripping" especially when he does his introduction about ghosts. The sound effects of the high winds and the creaking sounds of the PoleStar ship were dead-on, makes you feel like you're there in the Arctic. The best part of all, was the Cast: Paul Hecht (as Dr. John Ray), Court Benson (as Captain Cragie), Earl Hammond (as Bruce), and Jane Ives (as Flora). Each of them made the characters believable, especially the Doctor & the Captain. They are not lionhearted, nor are they villainous. But both are curious human beings that seek answers on this icy voyage. The Doctor yearns for knowledge and the Captain yearns for affection that only exists in the Arctic. I highly recommend this to everyone because it's both a drama-mystery & a fantasy-mystery. Well done


1. THIS STORY HAD THE MARK OF A GREAT, LEARNED WRITER. I know Wiki isn't always an ideal source for information, but look at the article linked above on Spitsbergen. The pictures (taken apparently during good weather) look like what we heard described in this show. (Again, think of a ship nearly frozen next to a land mass the size of West Virginia (the size of the Swalbard archipelago, of which Spitsbergen is the largest part and the only inhabited one (if you can call a total population of 2,000 in said area "inhabited")). And right now in this winter that's actually frozen schools of fish off the coast of Sweden, you got from the sound effects an idea of the cold, and the danger, these men were in. 2. THIS STORY HAD THAT WONDERFUL RMT/TWZ MUSIC. And especially used here was a music bed with a rolling series of piano slip notes, backed by muted trumpets and muted trombones. It is first played when the doctor says "I'll speak to the captain at once" then notes the coast of Spitsbergen in his diary. This music bed was exclusively used when an RMT story took place on the ocean (it was played heavily in "The raft" (somewhere in the Atlantic in the winter on the way to Brazil) and also in "The great white shark" (off the Australian great barrier reef)) - it was also used briefly in a story about conquistadors invading Mexico from the ocean). LOVE IT. 3. THIS STORY HAD MURRAY BURNETT'S SCRIPT. (With these wonderful phrases like "Blast you for a blind idiot!" and " the captain in full possession of his senses?" I loved the dialogue here.) And finally: 4. IT HAD SOME GREAT RMT ACTORS: Hecht, Benson and Hammond were among the RMT's "A" team. And Jane Ives (who it's hard to find info about, but is a very sweet looking woman from her picture) had (true to her picture) a very soft, pleasant voice for the doctor's fiance, and carried that to the voice of the captain's woman, yet with the emotion of a lady who had been wounded deeply. Five stars from me. Here's my question: the story wasn't called "The captain's woman" or "The ghost of the polestar". Conan Doyle wanted us to focus on the CAPTAIN. It's noteworthy that even though he jeopardized his men the captain (as a good man in his profession is duty-bound to be) was simultaneously concerned for their welfare and prosperity. (i.e. not wanting a man in a would-be foraging party to be lost "in the iceholes".) I'm still not sure who the captain was, but clearly he was and had to be the pivotal character of the story (which also played on the old nautical superstition against having a woman on a ship). RMT greatness.


I really enjoy episodes, like this one, that are well written and have sound effects of winter! One of the most suspenseful of all scenes of Mystery Theater, in my opinion, is the first act of "Silver Medal", another episode set in snowy winter, on an icy cold mountain, on a stuck cable car. You have a feeling of expected doom, and it plays out so well, with great sound effects and acting. There are only about 5 real winter episodes that I know of - these two and "Return to Shadow Lake", "White Wolf", "Death on Skis", there are probably a couple more, but I wish there were so many more because it is really great to have the snow and win as settings, it feels very cozy to be indoors listening to it them. Can anyone recommend any others?


An absloutely great CBSRMT episode! A suggestion to one and all...don't miss this episode! This is "THEATER OF THE MIND" at its finest!!! The salty gruff voice of the captain, the howling wind and the suttle creaking of the ship draw the listener deeper into the story. BRAVO!!!

Eric Templeton

I loved watching Care 54 Where Are You! On Nick @ Nite in the 80s. He was quoted as saying: "Voice work is the kindest thing that can happen to an old actor." (Though wasn't he a judge in "My cousin Vinny", long after the last RMT episode - think it was Mr. Gwynne's final role before he passed.)


I rate this episode ★★★☆☆ for AVERAGE. I’ll review what I enjoyed the most first and then finish off what I disliked. First, I enjoyed the cast: Kevin McCarthy (as William Gillette/Sherlock Holmes), Jada Rowland (as Pamela Watson), Russell Horton (as Jim Watson), and Carol Teitel (as the Tour Guide and Mrs. Hudson). Carol Teitel was terrific in her 2 roles. Jada Rowland is my favorite actress in the CBSRMT series and having her partner up with Russell Horton again, like many episodes before, was delightful. And Kevin McCarthy was entertaining, just like his performance as Sherlock Holmes in previous episodes before this one. Next up, music and sound effects. Dozens of dramatic tunes were used, but no suspenseful or chilling tracks were used to match the feel of being trapped in a castle. Sound effects of car engine running, tires screech, footsteps, tourists murmuring, sliding doors, cat meowing, howling wind, gong, lamp breaking, doors, cane hitting clothing, gun shot, tapping of the phone, drawing the curtains, carriage rolling up, pouring of drinking glasses, and doorbell were very supportive in this tale. Next is our Host and his narrations. E.G. Marshall’s Prologue focused on castles and our story takes place at a castle in New England. In ACT-1, meet Jim & Pamela Watson where one of them is a Sherlock Holmes buff. In ACT-2, knowing so little about William Gillette’s career and we get a sense that some actors like him can go too far to create an illusion of reality. In ACT-3, after the strange turn of events, our Host’s only explanation to the Climax is to mention a quote from a playwright about the 6th sense of the Imagination. In his Epilogue, he recommends CBSRMT listeners to take a tour of the Gillette Castle itself in Connecticut. Good recommendation, but no Resolution explained on what happened to our characters afterwards. And so, it comes down to the final segment: the Script. Elizabeth Pennell has written decent drama mysteries and even did the adaptations of #0605-JANE EYRE and #0643-WUTHERING HEIGHTS. But this story was Fair. So-so, I should say. I was expecting it to be a haunting mystery about a haunted castle with the Sherlock Holmes references. But instead, this story’s turn of events created massive questions to think about. Like, how did the Jim & Pamela Watson hear about this castle? Was Mrs. Hudson going through nightmare problems? Was William Gillette really dead? Was he putting on a show for his guest just so he can play Sherlock Holmes for fun? Did these 2 tourists actually travel back in time? Was the castle actually haunted? Was it really a nightmare? Was anything resolved after Jim & Pamela Watson escaped from the castle? There are so many fill-in-the-blanks in this, the episode’s title should be changed and call it “A Bad Case Of The Jitters” or “Elementary, My Dear Guests.” Tune in to this, if you like. There are better castle stories in the CBSRMT vault. SPECIAL BONUS: This episode has commercials of AMEX travelers checks, Bob Armstrong’s Diamond Center, “The Ritual” novel, CBS-News, First Federal of Gary, Radio Advertising Bureau, Jewel’s Discount Grocery Store, CBS-Sports News in Chicago, CBS-News on Election 1980, Susan Anton for Serta Sleeper Mattresses, and Smokey Bear Program. Until next time…pleasant dreams.


I rate this episode ★★★★★ for EXCELLENT. I'd think that Robert Barr would have been pleased of the adaptation of this by James Agate, Jr. It has intricate clues, it has peculiar motives, and it has a surprising twist in the end. And above all, it has a great detective in this: Eugène Valmont. Robert Barr’s character ranks up with Jacques Futrelle’s Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Another way to title this story would be “A Case Of Interest” or even “The Parisian Detective.” In our Host’s Prologue, E.G. Marshall starts it off by comparing one of the characters as a “Scrooge.” In ACT-1, the bloodline of the James Dudley Hills on their fortunes. As the plot thickens, we realize that not all clues were divulged in the first Act alone. In ACT-2, questions pop up. More importantly, they see the evidence clearly, but not recognize it. In ACT-3, quoting Sir Francis Bacon about suspicions and our main detective plays a waiting game. In the end, after discovering where the loot was hiding all along and discovering who else was related to the family, we learned a private post-mortem joke that money would bring out the worst in those with the least character. In his Epilogue, E.G. Marshall finishes it off with the comparison of the Midas myth - great wealth does not equal great happiness. Outstanding narrations. Sound effects of bells, footsteps, background noise at the police station, phone receiving line, seals, patrons murmuring, paper note, newspapers, doors, dog wincing, phone ringing, paper bills, intercom buzzer, emergency sirens, pulling off wallpaper were terrific. As for the music, great selection of dramatic tunes that moved the story forward. And let us not forget our amazing cast: Norman Rose (as Eugène Valmont), Russell Horton (as James Dudley Hill III and Inspector Graves), and Robert Dryden (as James Dudley Hill, Jr. and Elijah Browning). These 3 worked well together. Norman Rose, performing with a French accent, was very entertaining. This is one mystery story that CBSRMT fans should not pass up on. Until next time…pleasant dreams.


I rate this episode ★★★★☆ for GOOD. I admire Murray Burnett’s work, particularly his adaptions of the Sherlock Holmes stories. But the story originally from Edith Wharton was better. The novelist’s ghost story had a Narrator without a name. In Murray Burnett’s version, we got a fashion designer that’s interested in the castle while the other male characters act persuasive and vulnerable. I was more interested in the mystery of the dogs and hope that they would play a bigger part to this tale. Other ways to title this would be “Dogs Of Kerfol” or “Strange Vendetta.” In our Host’s Prologue, that I had to find on other OTR websites, E.G. Marshall’s topic is about castles with ghosts. In ACT-1, meet our main character who’s interested in buying a castle. After digging into the story within the story, our Host points out the lifestyle differences of adultery from 2 different time periods. Our main character must’ve seen dogs or ghost dogs. After too many conflicts about pets getting killed in this story, E.G. Marshall mentions ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Was E.G. Marshall trying to advertise this non-profit organization into the episode? In ACT-3, he understands the reaction that our main character felt when reading the history book. When the story was over, E.G. Marshall stated that when he talked about this story to a psychiatrist and what was his take on this? Was E.G. Marshall talking about his personal life on this? Or was this something that Murray Burnett wrote for him? What’s even weirder, is the Epilogue. E.G. Marshall tells the world’s shortest horror story ever. It’s a classic, but it’s irrelevant to this particular story. E.G. Marshall wasn’t off topic with his narrations, but he could’ve saved the ASPCA mentioning, the psychiatrist moment, and the shortest horror story for other episodes. The music was OK, but the tunes for the chilling moments kept on repeating in every Act. Sound effects of birds chirping, bell ring, iron gate squeaking, footsteps, car tires screech, jewelry case, door knocking, howling wind, violin music, and unbolting the door were good. And of course, the sounds of dogs barking were helpful. And finally, our cast: Mercedes McCambridge (as Paula Randall and Anne de Cornault), William Redfield (as Herve de Lanrivain and Andre de Lanrivain), Ian Martin (as Baron Yves de Cornault), and Guy Sorel (as the Judge and the Gypsy). I like this choice of cast members. In fact, this was my favorite part of the episode. All of the actors were great. But it was Mercedes McCambridge, our leading lady, who was superb. Her performance in this reminds me of her performance in Ep. #0318-CARMILLA where she played 2 roles: The Narrator and the Woman who dealt with death. Fans of her would enjoy this episode. Check this one out, but also check out Edith Wharton’s original ghost story. Until next time…pleasant dreams.


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