Friday, April 11, 2008

Johnny Byrne Thought of the Day # 5:

"We're living in deep space, there are so many things we don't understand. We don't know what that alien force was, why it came here, or why it selected Anton. But we've got to try to help each other understand."

-Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) speaks the words of Johnny Byrne in the teleplay for "Force of Life," the ninth episode of Space:1999.

This is one of my all-time favorite Space:1999 quotes, because I believe it says a lot about Johnny's philosophy of life. In essence: we may not understand (as human beings) why things happen the way they do. However, what we do have in times of strife is each other.

This reaching out to a person in pain is a beautiful response to the random, chaotic existence we face as living creatures. Sometimes we don't know why our loved ones contract cancer, or why a plane crashes, or why destiny leads us in one direction or another. But what makes such crises bearable is the warm, supportive hand of a friend, a lover, a spouse, a child, a parent. In the dark and mysterious universe we dwell in, our gift as a species is that we help each other. We're all in the same boat. Or on the same moonbase, at least.

Storywise, I appreciate this quote because it denies viewers answers as to the central threat of the episode (an alien force of life taking over a moonbase tech). On The Next Generation, this quote would have read like this: "We discovered the alien life form was attracted to a tertiary domain of subspace on a symbiotic frequency to our primary sensor array. So we modulated the deflector dish, fired a graviton pulse, and now we never have to worry about it ever again. Full speed ahead..."

But that crap would never happen in Johnny's writing. Sorry folks, he seems to tell audiences, no technobabble to explain what you've just seen. Nothing is going to be spoon fed to the TV audience. Instead he wants us...just think about it. What do we think it means? How do we interpret it?

And again, this goes back to a previous thought of Johnny's. On The Next Generation, the answer to an alien problem is always found in what people "have" (future tech like deflector dishes). On Space:1999 the answer - if there is an answer at all - is in us; in our hearts ('we have to try to help each other to understand"). In this fashion - and what people have never understood - Space:1999 is deeply and truly humanist. It might not be feel-good; it might not reinforce some cheery optimism...but it is human in a way that The Next Generation or Voyager just never is.

Again, the Johnny Byrne approach is more artful because it deliberately mirrors our existence, our own "force of life": how often does technology actually satisfactorily explain or resolve the troubling things in our existence? How often can it explain the motivation of another person? Or the reason a disaster occurs? And why it occurs where it does; and to what people?

No, as fallible human beings we just have to accept that our life - like the life of the Alphans - is dependent, to some extent, on the things we don't know and can't control. Good, honest drama should reflect that. Johnny knew that. This is the reason I return to his work, and Space:1999 again and again. The uniforms and hairstyles may age, but the ideas in the show don't. They seem more relevant than ever. And as a developing storyteller, this is the kind of story I must keep striving to create.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:09 PM

    Have you ever seen the original OUTER LIMITS episode "Moonstone"? Aired March 9, 1964; written by William Bast; directed by Robert Florey. In this episode, the denizens of a moonbase must deal with an alien intelligence which exists inside a "Moonstone" which was unearthed accidentally. Watching this episode today, it really comes off like a proto-SPACE: 1999 episode. There's even a female Doctor involved with a romance with the Commander of the moonbase. Some of the special effects shots of the Moonstone hovering over the lunar surface will definitely remind you of SPACE: 1999. For a SPACE: 1999 fan, "Moonstone" is well-worth viewing!