NBC aired this obscure genre pilot in prime time as a so-called “Special Treat” in November of 1975, even as Year One of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series Space:1999 (1975-1977) was being broadcast in syndication around the country.
Today, it’s easy to tag The Day After Tomorrow (or Into Infinity, an alternate title) as an Anderson production circa the mid-1970s. The special effects by Brian Johnson are top-notch for the era, the camera-work (by veteran Frank Watts) is nothing short of stunning, and the script by the late poet Johnny Byrne captures the mystery and awe of outer space (not to mention the human experience...) in a powerful, even lyrical fashion.
However, The Day After Tomorrow also serves as a rather interesting production “bridge” between Year One and Year Two of Space:1999. The hard-hitting, hard-driving musical score is from the late Derek Wadsworth, who contributed the themes for Year Two. And overall the production is a little more colorful and less minimalist in color and costume than 1999’s Year One.
Some props, miniatures and sets also look familiar from Space:1999 Year One. Namely the “bridge”/cockpit of the main ship, Altares, closely resembles like the bridge of the Ultra Probe from the episode entitled “Dragon’s Domain.” Other props -- the colorful computer panels, for instance -- appear to have been utilized extensively during Year Two. Even the sound effects are familiar to those who know 1999 well.
So what we have in the 60-minute pilot The Day After Tomorrow is essentially an Anderson hybrid: a Year One style “awe and mystery of space” narrative, but one conveyed in the more colorful-looking/sounding Year Two fashion, if that makes sense.
The Day After Tomorrow commences in the near future at Space Station Delta (a re-dressed Darian space ark from the 1999 episode “Mission of the Darians.”) Delta serves as a “jumping off point” for destinations beyond Earth’s solar system.
A UN shuttle docks with the station, one carrying the crew of the first “light ship,” Altares to their new berth. The Altares crew consists of Captain Harry Masters (1999’s Nick Tate), chief scientist Tom Bowen (Brian Blessed), and his wife Anna, the ship’s doctor (Joanna Dunham).
Uniquely, Harry’s teenage daughter Jane (Katherine Levy) and the pre-adolescent Bowen boy, David (Martin Lev) are also full-blown crew-members on Altares. This is because of Einstein’s “time dilation” theory.
Since the Altares’ main engine has harnessed the “power of the photon,” it can travel at light speed., meaning that time will pass normally for the crew, even as decades -- nay centuries -- pass for people living back on Earth. In such an environment, parents would be younger than their children on the event of a return trip.
After a pre-launch countdown that includes a check for “human stress factors,” the Altares departs Space Station Delta bound for Alpha Centauri. Despite experiencing incredibly g-force stress during the voyage, the crew survives the acceleration to light speed (while noting such phenomena as meteorite showers and a Doppler shift).
The crew votes to continue forward into the great beyond after reaching Alpha Centauri. Upon re-activation, however, the photon engine breaks down, stranding the Altares in the gravitational pull of a Red Sun that is experiencing “an abnormal expansion rate.” In other words, it’s about to go supernova.
Over Jane’s objections, Harry undertakes a dangerous mission in the reactor room to repair the photon drive. He succeeds just in the nick of time, but soon after there is even more danger. The Altares is pulled into a rotating black hole and hurled into a “new universe.”
I’d like to report that there’s more to the story of the Altares than that, but there isn’t. It sure would have been nice to see a regular TV series pick up where this pilot/TV-movie leaves off, with the crew exploring a new solar system. But alas, this was the last we heard of Captain Masters and his team.
In terms of narrative antecedents, this straight-shooting Gerry Anderson pilot represents a sort of high-tech, science-minded update of the Lost in Space format: a ship lost in the interstellar sea, her crew…a family (or families), trying to survive and stick together. Only here there’s no Dr. Smith or Robot (not even Brian the Brain...) around making trouble.
Even after nearly forty years, The Day After Tomorrow makes for a claustrophobic, action-packed hour, with almost all the action occurring inside the compact quarters of the Altares (think of a 1999 Eagle, basically). All of the incidents encountered by the crew have a solid basis in real science, per the network's demands, because the program was intended to be “educational” and for children. But, in typical Anderson (and typical Byrne...) fashion, matters tend still toward the mind-blowing, the trippy, the amazing.
For instance, the climactic trip through the black hole is a psychedelic, Kubrickian wonder, a montage dominated by double images, slow-motion photography and the use of a creepy distortion lens. Pretty powerful stuff for a kid’s show. As the script notes, “it’s a universe not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.”
That would make a great tag-line for a movie remake, wouldnt it?
The writing voice of humanitarian and historian Johnny Byrne (1935 - 2008) is present here in other ways too. A voice-over narration (provided by UFO’s Ed Bishop), for instance, comments on what future Earth is like:
“They came from a world where natural resources have been squandered, where pollution and the haphazard destruction of the environment has put the future of humanity in jeopardy.”
Yet despite such a trouble-prone world, the characters in The Day After Tomorrow are still very human; and – as is the case in Space:1999 -- there seems to be an underlying aura of Apollo-Age optimism about the future of man and the future of the space program. If you've been following my blog in the last few weeks, you know this period in film/TV history is a fascinating one.
In series' like Space:1999 and The Day After Tomorrow it goes without question that man will create spaceships and voyage to other worlds. Of course there will be trouble and accidents along the way, but the stars are always our destination.
The trained space-men of these productions don’ know what they’ll countenance in space, how to interpret it, or even how they’ll survive it, but they grit their teeth and get through it all without histrionics.
“Nobody knows what it’s like to travel through a black hole…so don’t panic,” barks one astronaut in The Day After Tomorrow.
As a life-long admirer of Space:1999 (not to mention Anderson productions such as UFO and Journey to the Far Side of the Sun), I enjoyed The Day After Tomorrow for what it is: a time-capsule of once state-of-the-art science fiction. The whole production brought me right back to the mid-1970s. That was a time when interplanetary space travel seemed around the next corner.
Like Space:1999, The Day After Tomorrow makes that eventuality seem exciting, a bit scary and very, very believable.
In 1977, Star Wars introduced Wookies, Banthas, droids, laser swords and a swashbuckling, fairy tale sweep to the genre of space adventuring. Focus on science and futurism evaporated and science fiction films and TV series’ went in a new, more fantasy-oriented direction. More action-packed/less mind-blowing. More thrilling/less psychedelic. More imaginative in one sense, perhaps…
…but ultimately less “real.”
As a kid who grew up with Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, Space:1999 and The Day After Tomorrow, I miss this era of intricate miniatures and utilitarian, modular space craft design as well as the trippy sojourns into realms of Inner/Outer Space. We got close to this "feel" again with Sunshine in 2007 and Moon in 2009...