For thirty years an expedition to the hellish desert planet V9-Gamma was stranded, and the people had no choice but to begin their own small settlement there. The colony's survival was maintained by William Benteen (James Whitmore), a charismatic leader who believes that this strict discipline prevents them from giving up hope in the harsh, unyielding environment. When a rescue mission from Earth finally arrives, Benteen is at first as jubilant as the others, but then he sees his power and influence begin to diminish. When he realizes that the colonists do not want to stay in a group on their return to Earth, he tries to persuade them to stay. Everyone else chooses to return home, but Benteen announces that he will remain behind alone if he must.
On the day the people board the ship, the rescue mission's Colonel Sloane and Benteen's second-in-command, Al Baines, search for Benteen to give him one last chance to change his mind, but he is nowhere to be found. After they give up and leave, Benteen emerges from the top of the cave that had sheltered his people. As the ship prepares for takeoff, Benteen talks to his people as if they are still there. Then, remembering the beauty of Earth, he realizes that he is alone and wants to go home. He rushes out screaming for the ship to come back, but it is too late. He is now stranded on V9-Gamma for the rest of his life, completely alone in the barren, lifeless deserts.
- Accentuate the Negative: Benteen tries to convince the other colonists not to leave by playing up Earth's negative qualities, portraying it as a complete hellhole. In the end, the only person he's able to convince is himself.
- The Aloner: How Benteen ends up.
- Bittersweet Ending: The colonists escape, but Benteen is left all alone, pleading to go back to Earth.
- Control Freak: Benteen became this sometime during the survival.
- Fatal Flaw: Benteen's stubbornness and need for control.
- A God Am I: Sloan sees Benteen as believing this.
- Hero Antagonist: Colonel Sloane.
- His Own Worst Enemy: Benteen. His stubbornness and desire for control is his downfall.
- Sanity Slippage: Benteen starts to lose it after it becomes clear that he's lost control over the colonists. First, he tries to wreck the ship by attacking it with a pipe. Then after everyone else goes to leave, he hides himself away in the caves and talks to the now-absent colonists. He snaps out of it towards the end and realizes that he doesn't actually want to stay behind, but by that point, it was too late.
- Single-Biome Planet: V9-Gamma is a desert planet.
- Tragic Hero: Benteen. His stubbornness kept himself and the colonists alive, and then it marooned him on the planet.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: The Earth ship Pilgrim I containing 113 people landed on the planet V9-Gamma in August 1991. A ship arrives to bring the impoverished survivors back to Earth in 2021.
- Wasteland Elder: Benteen has done all he can to keep the colonists together and keep their hope for rescue alive, but it's Subverted when Sloan arrives and provides an escape from the wasteland and Benteen is less than willing to give up his role as a leader. He'd rather keep them on the desert planet, barely scraping out an existence and forever looking to him for guidance, than go back to Earth where they won't need him.