Saturday, September 16, 2017

Tribute: Harry Dean Stanton (1926-2017)

Today, America has lost one of its greatest actors: Harry Dean Stanton (1926-2017).  

The star of such films as Paris, Texas (1984), Repo Man (1984), and the TV series Big Love (2006-2011), is beloved, in particular, by sci-fi/horror fans for his turn as Brett in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979).

Stanton had a long and distinguished career; one stretching back to the mid-1950's.  

In terms of genre work, he was a frequent guest star on TV programs, and is remembered for roles in Inner Sanctum (1954), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1960), The Wild, Wild West (1967), and Fairie Tale Theatre (1987).

Mr. Stanton's career in movies was even bigger. 

In addition to playing Brett in Alien, he starred as Brain in John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981), and had roles in several David Lynch films, including Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), and Inland Empire (2006). He also had supporting roles in Red Dawn (1984), and The Green Mile (1999).

Outside the genre, Stanton is remembered for Paris, Texas, a role in Cool Hand Luke (1967), and many other great films.  All these films and TV programs are a reminder of Stanton's versatility, and effectiveness as an actor.  He always seemed absolutely "real," whether in a futuristic setting, an absurdist one, or in a grounded drama.

Mr. Stanton will be missed, but he leaves behind a catalog of work that is astounding in its breadth and depth.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Run Joe Run (1974): "Homecoming"

I’m between Saturday morning TV series right now, and so thought I would use this opportunity to take a look at a long-forgotten (but much beloved) oddity. 

As readers of the blog know, I have written sometimes about a Saturday morning series from the mid-1970’s called Run Joe Run (1974-1976). 

There has still been no official DVD release for this series, but an episode or two has cropped up on YouTube recently, and this may be my only opportunity for a re-visit of the 43 year old series (pending that never-coming official release.)

So today, I am looking at the seventh episode of the first season of Run Joe Run, titled “Homecoming.”

To refresh everybody’s memory about Run Joe Run it is basically The Fugitive (1963-1967)…starring a German shepherd. 

The star of the series is Joe (Heinrich), a military dog who is accused of biting his master, Sgt. Corey (Arch Whiting) during training.

Rather than be executed, Joe escapes custody and flees to the countryside, helping families and friends on his journey to clear his name.

The series ran for two seasons, and aired on NBC at 7:30 am on Saturdays in 1974. Below, you can see a print ad for the series.

In “Homecoming,” Joe is still on the run.

The episode starts with Joe being harassed by a home-owner (for entering his yard). Joe then retrieves a toy for a child in an outdoor playpen, until chased away by the child’s father. This is the life of a loner, and a rejected loner, at that.

Finally, Joe ends up at a farm, where he is taken care of by a girl named Judy (Kristy McNichol). She feeds him and gives him water, but Judy’s dad, Clyde, doesn’t like dogs around his farm animals.

Soon, Joe confronts a coyote in the hen house, but Clyde misinterprets his actions and thinks he was on the attack.

The farmer leashes the whimpering Joe, but Joe soon proves his worth to the entire family when he rescues an injured Judy. For this, he earns the family’s gratitude and respect. 

After army officials tell the farmer and his family that “there’s a warrant out on the dog,” and that he’s a “time bomb,” the family sets Joe free, to continue his journey.

As the preceding summary makes plain, Run Joe Run pretty much follows The Fugitive format to the letter.

The ingenuity of the series comes in the application of that familiar, man-on-the-run format (and tropes) to a canine protagonist. 

Here, intriguingly, there are three slow-motion flashbacks to Joe’s time in the military, and the day of the event that cost him his freedom. 

Yes, these are Joe’s flashbacks I’m talking about. The series not only puts a dog in the role of “The Fugitive,” it gives him flashbacks too. Joe, as is plain, is suffering from PTSD.

The episode soundtrack, by Richard LaSalle, does much of the heavy lifting in “Homecoming,” understandably, since Joe cannot talk, or tell the audience, himself, precisely what he is feeling. 

And yet -- with the music backing it up -- the episode is actually pretty effective, and tragic. Joe is a lonely figure, rejecting by all those he encounters; by those especially, who fear him, and his breed of dog.  His existence is sad, and lonely.

It’s all very heavy for a kid’s show, airing on Saturday mornings, and yet it is a perfect fit for the 1970’s. In a powerful way, Run Joe Run encourages empathy in kids. It’s not just about taking care of a dog, but feeling his pain, as this isolated pack animal walks America alone and despised, doing good, but never being treated as if he is even capable of “good.”

There’s one more episode on YouTube, which I’ll look at here next week.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Bugaloos: "On a Clear Day"

Peter Platter plans a Rock Festival in Tranquility Forest, but refuses to let Benita Bizarre (Martha Raye) perform at it. 

In a fit of pique, she decides to hold a competing a Rock Festival at her juke box.  She has trouble, however, getting any rock groups (such as “Blood, Sweat and Soap”) to renege on their arrangements with Platter.

Benita and Funky Rat hatch a plan, however, to ruin the festival. Using her smoggy car, the duo unleashes pollution and smoke into Tranquility Forest, making it unsuitable for a concert.

The Bugaloos discover Benita’s plan, and contact the local fire department to help them suck up the smog, and re-direct it to Benita’s juke box.

“On a Clear Day” is a sort of environmentally-themed episode of Sid and Marty Krofft’s The Bugaloos. 

In this case, Benita attempts to pollute Tranquility Forest to cancel a rock festival. This act would favor her own competing festival. The vehicle for the most is Benita’s car.

The problem is rectified when the local fire department lets the Bugaloos use a smog “sucker” to save the forest and re-route the toxins to Benita’s juke box. 

There are some fun touches in this episode, including the rock band called “Blood Sweat and Soap.”  

One gag that does not work too well, however, is the fortune-telling machine at Benita’s house that asks “Would you believe?” in the manner of a cheap Don Adams imitator.  This machine reappears in future episodes, again with the Don Adams shtick.

I wonder, did The Bugaloos get permission to use his (or Arte Johnsons’?) material on a recurring basis?

Leaving such matters aside, our song for the week is “If You Become a Bugaloo,” and here it is:

Next week: “Today I am a Firefly.”

Friday, September 15, 2017

Breakaway Day 2017: "The Immunity Syndrome"

2310 Days after Leaving Earth Orbit

Moonbase Alpha explores a planet in its “West Quadrant.” The world appears habitable, but Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) places a strict quarantine on the food, water, and minerals found there while Alphans learn more.  The planet also contains at least one mystery: a mysterious structure buried beneath a layer of rock.

While exploring the planet, Security Chief Tony Verdeschi (Tony Anholt) gets in a scuffle with another Alphan, after that Alphan stares a strange, glowing light.  Tony spots the same light, and goes mad as well. He becomes violent and paranoid.

Soon after this, the very planet itself seems to transform, becoming increasingly inhospitable to the Alphans. The metals on the Eagle start to corrode too, making an escape from the planet impossible. 

Tony, meanwhile, is dying from “brain cell expansion” because of the alien light he witnessed.

As the planet transforms into an “ecological disaster,” Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) and Maya (Catherine Schell) mount a daring rescue mission to the surface in a re-entry glider, a vessel with no metal parts to corrode.

When the Alphans are able to activate the solar cells on the mysterious structure, they enter it to find the log recordings of a dead alien race.  

This world was once considered for alien colonization plans, but its nature began to grow altered, killing them as it has now started killing the Alphans.  

The dead aliens warn from their logs that there is “only one way out of this pitiless world….death.”

Koenig, however, finds another way. 

He learns that a strange alien being composed of light is responsible both for Tony’s insanity, and the reshaping of the planet’s biosphere.  He hatches a plan to communicate, but it will be dangerous...

“The Immunity Syndrome?” 

Where have I heard that title before?

Seriously, this is a strong and engaging episode of Space: 1999’s Year Two, but it would have met with better success, perhaps, under its original (Johnny Byrne) title: “The Face of Eden.” The episode should never have been named after a Star Trek episode, especially as the (fascinating) story has at least one element already in common with Star Trek: an alien being composed of light who, inadvertently, causes insanity when humanoids gaze upon it (“Is There in Truth No Beauty?”)  And Freiberger was involved in both episodes.

That commonality aside this is a fascinating episode of the series. Although "The Immunity Syndrome" repeats a narrative plot point from “Space Warp” (aliens who leave behind logs of their destruction, giving the Alphans the clues they need not to make the same mistakes), the episode is intriguing, and well-produced.  

Once more, the special effects are astonishing for their era.  In this case, we see the crash-landing not only of an Eagle, but of the new miniature for the show, the re-entry glider.

Although one might again ask questions about execution here -- particularly regarding Koenig’s silly-looking protective suit in the last act, or the voice acting of the inadvertently destructive alien -- overall the episode plays as effective.  The stakes are high, and the conflict arises not from malicious intent, or evil aliens, but from misunderstanding, paranoia, and a difference in  alien nature.  The alien does not know that its appearance is fatal to the humans, and feels guilt when it learns that this is the case.

The episode also succeeds on a character-basis. Helena and Maya transmit particularly well in this segment, risking their lives to get to the planet and save John and Tony. They don’t waver or hesitate, they act…even though great danger is involved. 

And I love the scene in which Bill Fraser (John Hug) risks his life piloting an eagle to get them closer to the best re-entry position. The feeling, as is the case in the best Space:1999 episodes, is of a community working together, loyally, taking risks for one another.

The episode also provides some interesting background information on Tony Verdeschi, a character who was perhaps never developed as fully as fans might have liked. 

We see a data screen or two on Helena’s medical computer in “The Immunity Syndrome” and it reveals that Tony earned a PhD at Cambridge, in 1993, after attending the University of Rome in 1990. We also learn that he was born in Florence, and that his full-name is Anthony Dean Verdeschi.

In addition to this character information, “The Immunity Syndrome” also finds time to give Alan Carter interesting work to do, including excavating and operating the solar panels of the alien structure.  He also has a great moment of danger, when an Eagle control corrodes and snaps off in his hand...while he is in flight.

From exploding commlocks, to eagle crashes, “The Immunity Syndrome” exemplifies the best potential of Space: 1999 Year Two: It features good character interaction, a solid science fiction story, and a ton of well-choreographed action.

Breakaway Day 2017: "Space Warp"

1807 Days after Leaving Earth Orbit

With Maya (Catherine Schell) feverish and sick, and Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) and Tony Verdeschi (Tony Anholt) off-base investigating a derelict ship, the moon is unexpectedly plunged through a space warp. 

In just a matter of seconds, it travels five years through space, stranding the commander and security chief, with little or no hope of returning home.

On Alpha, Alan Carter (Nick Tate) is in command, and sends out a re-fueling Eagle, in case, by some slim-chance, Koenig’s eagle can find the same window in the space warp that Alpha fell through. 

But Carter has other problems to contend with when a delusional, hallucinating Maya breaks free of restraints in Medical Center, and begins to transform into alien monsters (as well as Mentor). Desperate to return to Psychon, the feverish Maya wreaks havoc on Moonbase Alpha.

In faraway space, Koenig and Tony access the logs of the derelict crew, and learn that the vessel became lost from its mother-ship when it went through a space warp. The captain, Duro, and his crew, were working on finding the same window in the warp with a space warp locater, when they died.

Now, Koenig and Tony must use the space warp locator -- and the derelict -- to get home to Alpha, while Alan and Dr. Russell (Barbara Bain), armed with tranquilizer darts, must bring down Maya, both for her safety, and the safety of all of Alpha.

Two stories go to war in “Space Warp,” an episode of Space: 1999 Year Two written by Fred Freiberger (as Charles Woodgrove).  

“Space Warp” features much promise -- and at least one brilliant special effects sequence -- but is badly hampered by a slapdash production, and poor execution.

The fascinating aspect of this tale involves Commander Koenig and Tony’s discovery of the alien derelict, and all its mysteries. 

The alien captain is fascinating in appearance, wearing a very strange helmet that reminded me of Japanese anime, for some reason. 

We learn Duro’s story, and his failed attempt to get back to his people, and it’s both a tragic story and a history that we worry could be repeated with Koenig and Verdeschi.  ''

The design of the alien vessel is amazing, too, and this story generates real excitement and interest.  As is often the case, Space: 1999 is able, with a few imaginative touches, to suggest a whole alien race that feels…well…alien.

This fascinating story of a marooned ship, wrecked on the lip of a space warp, essentially, is balanced out, however, with a pure time-waster "B" story, as a sick Maya “loses molecular control” and transforms into one silly-looking and indestructible alien after another.  

Maya’s best moment in the show comes before the transformation storm, as she warns Helena that nightmares are taking her over, and that she must be put into restraints. Catherine Schell acts this dramatic scene with urgency, and with a deeply-vested concern for Maya’s friends on Alpha.

Once she’s gone, it’s all just mindless action, however. 

What is clearly missing, to contextualize the action, is the connective tissue to Koenig’s story. 

Early on, Helena wonders if Maya’s fever is related to the appearance/proximity of the space warp.  The idea is dropped however, so that the connection is tenuous at best.  It would have been better, for instance, to learn that Psychon psychology is damaged or impacted by close proximity to space warps. This would make Maya a living early-warning system of sorts, for when Alpha encounters them.

Instead, the two stories trot on, mostly with no real connection to one another.

The episode’s visual highlight, however, comes in Maya’s story. 

In attempting to return to Psychon, Maya -- in alien form -- attempts to launch an Eagle while it is still in an underground hangar bay. The ensuing special effects are feature film quality (for 1977), as the Eagle attempts lift-off, then crashes, and fire breaks out.  The moment is nothing less than spectacular. Not only do we get to visit a seldom-seen area of Alpha (and a peek at the docked Eagle fleet), but we get a special effects, pyrotechnic showcase as well.

Alas, other than this amazing hangar sequence, “Space Warp” feels really slipshod.  

Two points on this:

Point One: Koenig and Tony require the MacGuffin of the week -- the space warp locator -- to get home. They search for it, finally find it, and hook it up, hoping they can make it compatible with their ship’s computer.  It’s thus an important aspect of the episode.  

But it is visualized as a futuristic microscope, essentially, and is a familiar prop on the series, not something that looks alien, or even different from Alpha technology. In fact, the “space warp locator” shows up as a sensing/viewing device in episodes such as “Devil’s Planet.”  

It’s a huge disappointment that a familiar prop was just picked up, spray painted silver and made to function as one of the most important elements of this storyline.

Point Two: In the episode-long run-around featuring Helena and Alan chasing Maya-monsters, Carter’s space suit visor flips up for a time, exposing him to the vacuum of space on the lunar surface. 

This is a scene/stunt that should have been re-shot, as it is not part of the intended action.  Instead, it is an unintentional gaffe that is left in the final cut, and is, well, embarrassing. Space suits shouldn't be this flimsy, lest they cause instant death for the wearer.

I realize and understand that Year Two of Space: 1999 was a pressure cooker, with the main cast often divided, shooting different episodes at the same time, but in instances like these I've noted above, the series desperately needed someone to keep an eye on quality, so that the final result would not seem so slapdash or haphazard.  There was not a clear enough eye on detail.

“Space Warp” is action packed, with some good moments on the derelict, and in Alpha’s hangar bay. But most of the time, fight scenes and mindless action substitute for science fiction, and that’s a shame. 

It’s not all a loss, however. 

I do appreciate the fact that at the end of "Space Warp," the Alphans have a derelict spaceship in their hands to examine, cannibalize, and replenish resources from. This is an idea that is necessary to maintain verisimilitude on a "lost in space"-styled series, and I’m glad to see it featured at the end of the episode.

Cloned from a Mutual Zygote: An Alien Message of Danger from the Past

(Image on left: Space: 1999 "Space Warp.")
(Image on right: Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Booby Trap.")

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Breakaway Day 2017: "The AB Chrysalis"

1296 Days after Leaving Earth Orbit

For two weeks, Earth’s errant moon has been approaching a series of cosmic explosions. The detonation recurs every twelve hours, and each time, Alpha is damaged more heavily. The next detonation will destroy the base completely.

The source of the explosions -- a planetary system ahead -- is discovered by Maya (Catherine Schell), and Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) launches a team to investigate.

The first world approached in that system is a small moon, where a series of mechanical stations exist. These stations are the energy-gathering devices for the recurring, man-made explosions. 

Koenig and Alan Carter (Nick Tate) speak with Voice Probe 248, an automaton who informs the Alphans that his makers -- who have not yet been “born” -- live in an inhospitable atmosphere of poisonous chlorine gas.  The explosions occur to protect the race during its chrysalis stage.

Koenig begs for an audience, and is told that “The Guardian,” the last of the race's current iteration, is currently outside the chrysalis stage, and still conscious on the planet.

Koenig and his team travel there, only to learn that the Guardian is senile, and unable to respond to their request to stop the next explosion. Carter accidentally breaks the atmospheric seal/glass on the Guardian’s chamber, threatening the alien’s life, and weakening their case for mercy.

Two of the life-forms -- A (Ina Skriver) and B (Sarah Douglas) -- emerge from chrysalis form, and Koenig must convince them to stop the next detonation, lest Alpha be reduced to rubble.

“The AB Chrysalis” is a weird and a wonderful episode of Space: 1999 (1975-1977), and one that demonstrates the possibilities of the Year Two format. The episode is colorful, suspenseful, and highly-imaginative.

Not only does Alpha encounter a race of immortal, chlorine “perfection seekers,” but also the architecture of their alien culture.  In this case, that includes their defensive system: a ring of high-tech mechanical stations that build up energy, and radiate explosions into space; a kind of galactic “keep away” measure.  

More impressively, the episode reveals the alien “Voice Probes,” a series of spherical machines that travel from interior system to interior system, “jumping” on to transparent rods or poles, to perform different functions.  

It is true that these probes are bouncing balls, filmed in reverse, with footage shown in slow-motion, but the concept is so creative and different from anything else in the sci-fi TV Valhalla that one cannot help but be impressed. When coupled with weird sound-effects, the depiction of the alien culture is remarkable.

In some commendable manner, the episode also closely recalls the more desperate Alphans of the first season of Space: 1999.  

Faced with imminent annihilation, Commander Koenig recognizes “desperation” as his motive, and tries everything -- including a futile show of force (with an Eagle laser) -- to save his people.  

Later, when he realizes he has no cards left to play, Koenig voices his frustration with the aliens, but in an act of defiance and pure humanity, comes to see that “hope is better than despair,” and loyalty (to his people; and they to him) is "better than logic."  It’s a great statement of philosophy, but more than that, a fine example of Koenig’s learning during the episode.  He acts rashly and violently, out of fear, until he realizes, perhaps, that if he and his people are to die, they must do so with their key human qualities -- hope and loyalty -- intact.

When Space: 1999 aired, it was often accused of being the pessimistic yang to Star Trek’s optimistic yin, and it is certainly clear why that was the case. 

But episodes such as “The AB Chrysalis” feature their own unique brand of optimism. That optimism states, simply, that man can find his best -- and be his best -- even in the face of seemingly hopeless odds.  

The Alphans possess no rule-book of principles, no fleet infrastructure, no real resources to fall back. Instead, they must rely on themselves, and each other.  Nowhere in Year Two, one might argue, is that bond more apparent than in this particular installment.

There’s a wonderful moment, here, for example, near the end of the episode, when Koenig must tell Helena he has failed to stop the next detonation. And worse than failing, his Eagle does not even have enough fuel to carry him home to her; so they can die together.  The characters must say their goodbyes, essentially, over Facetime, to use modern lingo.  The characters say very little, but their expressions convey everything. It's a very human moment in a show that was accused of not having enough humanity.

“The AB Chrysalis” succeeds, too, by creating, throughout its hour, all these mini-action sequences or climaxes. 

Maya must transform into a chlorine breather to save Alan from dying of the poison. Alan must pilot the Eagle straight up -- through the equivalent of a rock shaft -- with very little maneuvering room. And Koenig interacts with devices and people that are alien beyond immediate recognition or understanding. 

The story hops from dramatic moment to dramatic moment with aplomb, and shows how an action format, handled well, could have been applied successfully to the series overall.

Not all stories in Year Two manage such a dynamic, successful mix, but “The AB Chrysalis” is smart, imaginative and emotionally engaging, as well as being splendidly-realized, action-packed, and highly creative.  

For my money, it’s one of the very best installments of the series’ second sortie.

Breakaway Day 2017: Space:1999 Golden All-Star Book

Breakaway Day 2017: "All that Glisters"

Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) leads a team to a nearby planet when Main Computer reports that the world possesses the rare and vital mineral called Milganite required for Alpha’s life support system. 

On the team to find and mine the Milganite are Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain), Maya (Catherine Schell), Alan Carter (Nick Tate), Chief Security Officer Verdeschi (Tony Anholt) and geologist David Reilly  (Patrick Mower), an Irishman who fancies himself a Texan cowboy.

Once on the planet surface, the Alphans’ Milganite readings lead them to a strange orange rock in a cave. When Reilly cuts off a sample of it, it bleeds and utters a scream of pain.  Upon the deposit of the rock in the Eagle, the rock flares energy, and apparently kills Tony.

Helena determines, however, that Tony still possesses brain function, a fact which becomes apparent when Tony is “revived” to serve as the arms and legs of the rock sample, retrieving another piece of the glowing rock from the cave.

Koenig and the others soon recognize that the rocks on the planet are alive, and desperate. They require water to survive, and have been enduring a seemingly-unending drought.

But, as Maya points out with worry, there is plenty of water in the human body…

“All that Glisters” is a quite disliked episode by many Space: 1999 (1975-1977) fans, and also, actually, by some of those who participated in the making of it. 

Martin Landau’s displeasure with the script is legendary, and if you watch very closely, you can also see Catherine Schell breaking character and succumbing to fits of giggling, in a scene set on the planet exterior, as the rocks take control over the Eagle. She must turn away from the camera, once her composure fails.

Why the dislike? 

Well, there are a number of reasons, for certain. 

The episode, about a silicon-based life-forms, doesn’t treat the main characters, for the most part, in appealing or intelligent fashion. The guest star, Mower’s Reilly, for instance, is an “Irish Cowboy” and attempts a dreadful Texan accent. 

He is an obnoxious character, with little in terms of human qualities to make the audience like, or even care about him. He hits on Maya in the Eagle, to Tony’s dismay, and then constantly acts counter to Commander Koenig’s orders.  He is obsessed with a living rock.  

So, an Englishman plays an Irish cowboy who is obsessed with rocks.  That’s quite a description!

Commander Koenig, a character I love and admire, also fares poorly in the episode.  

Perhaps because of Landau’s displeasure with the story, Koenig is constantly on the verge of catastrophic rage, shouting and yelling at his subordinates like a maniac.  

Worse, his orders sometimes make no sense.  After Tony is injured by the rock, for instance, Koenig orders that no one go near, look at, or in any way interact with any rocks.  

Well, if they do that, how will they save Tony? How will they understand their environs? It’s a dumb order, and Landau should never have been put in the position of having to issue it.

Dr. Russell also comes across poorly here. She has to say the line “I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker,” which, of course, comes straight from the lexicon of Star Trek (1966-1969) and its notoriously cantankerous physician, Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley). So Helena is a sort of cut-rate “Bones” here, frustratingly.

So why did I give such a favorable review of “All that Glisters” in my book, Exploring Space: 1999 (1997)? And why do I still appreciate it?

There are two reasons, primarily.  

First, I admire the episode’s photography. Much of the episode takes place in a darkened Eagle laboratory pod, as Helena and the others deal with the strange nemesis in their midst.  These shots are beautifully-crafted, with dim illumination, and lights sometimes cast only on eyes, or faces.  

It’s stylish and smart in visual approach, and reminds me of black-and-white horror photography from Hollywood of the 1940s. The familiar technological setting is rendered almost “supernatural” in its creepy nature, and given that so much time is spent there, the episode also boasts a nice, claustrophobic feel.  There’s a real sense here of an inescapable trap.

Secondly, and perhaps more important than the episode’s stylish photography, I appreciate how “All that Glisters” fits into my “horror myth” thesis about Space: 1999 overall.  

Basically, that thesis states that Space: 1999 is actually a horror series, not a science-fiction one, with all the old universal fears translated to the technological space age. We have the horror of the premature burial, in “Earthbound,” for example.  We have the man with the Midas Touch, instantly freezing other humans on contact, in “Force of Life.”  Other stories are about wicked, evil children (“Alpha Child”) or dragons (“Dragon’s Domain.”)

This conceit continued into Year Two. “The Exiles” was “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” at least after a fashion, and this segment, “All that Glisters” is very clearly a technological, space-age update of the traditional zombie story.  

Today, we primarly associate zombies with George A. Romero and The Walking Dead (2010 - ).  They are dead creatures who feast on human flesh and typically transmit a plague to those bitten.  But if you go back in Hollywood history to films such as White Zombie (1932) or I Walked with a Zombie (1943), you can see the interpretation of that monster that “All that Glisters” adopts and re-processes for the space age.  

Basically, zombies, in those situations are shambling, dead (or mostly dead…) servants of sorcerers or other puppet masters.  The fear was of being made dead, and then a drone or slave to some horrible person and his agenda. 

Here, of course, the rocks destroy Tony’s consciousness and make him, operationally, a zombie: a creature without higher thought, but bound to their control.  

Again, there are some very good, atmospheric shots of Tony blank-faced, walking across the alien planet surface. He is lit from below (by the glow of the rocks), so that his vacant life-less face appears menacing and inhuman. 

My grounds for admiring “All that Glisters” come down to, essentially, the horror touches, and the accumulation of their impact. The dark laboratory is a haunted house setting, and quite claustrophobic, thus generating anxiety. And the rocks make zombies of the living, turning them into trudging, mindless automatons, in keeping with the series’ overall horror qualities.

I can see how the episode’s other factors are less than successful. Certainly, the silicon life form has been featured before, and in better shows, such as Trek’s “The Devil in the Dark,” but in fairness, “All that Glisters” also appears to be the influential basis of the ST:TNG episode “Home Soil.”

Finally, I do think it is nice, after all the horror on display in “All that Glisters,” that the Alphans show their humanity and help the rocks to survive.  

Not so much because I want Space: 1999 to emulate Star Trek’s universe of brotherhood and optimism among alien species, but because it’s a different type ending for the series, and therefore it feels fresh.  If the Alphans can help the rocks, it seems natural that they would do so.

Breakaway Day 2017: "The Metamorph"

'In “The Metamorph,” Moonbase Alpha emerges from its second encounter with a space warp, six light years from its previous position. The lunar facility’s life support system needs repair, and requires the ore known as Titanium.

Titanium is pinpointed on the volcanic surface of a nearby planet, but an Eagle reconnaissance flight ends in terror when the ship is abducted by a strange green light.  Soon, Alpha is contacted by an alien from the planet, Mentor (Brian Blessed), who claims that the pilots are safe in his custody.

Mentor and Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) arrange an orbital rendezvous, but the plan is further treachery from Mentor.  He captures Koenig’s eagle and drags it down to the planet, called Psychon. 

There, in a subterranean city, Mentor lives with his daughter, Maya (Catherine Schell) whom he has taught the “priceless art of molecular transformation,” and operates a biological computer called Psyche which he hopes to use to restore the planet surface to its former tranquil self.

To do so, however, he must feed Psyche living minds.

The Alphans provide him a ready supply, though Koenig refuses to cooperate. Koenig hopes to convince Maya -- who doesn’t know of Psyche’s brain draining power -- that he needs her help.  But to do so, she must turn on her own father.

The first episode of Space: 1999 Year Two is colorful and bold, crisp and exciting. It also introduces a great regular character to the series: Maya of Psychon, played by Catherine Schell. 

I won’t mince words about Maya or her presence on the series.  I love her. 

I believe Maya is a great character, in part because she is allowed to be emotional as well as competent and brilliant.  After Mr. Spock, all resident aliens had to be stoic, it seems, but not Maya.  She was more like an imp, a good-humored, playful, highly emotional alien.

Like all her people, Maya is incredibly intelligent, with a mind that can run circles around the most high-powered computer. As a Psychon, she is, we are told in "Seed of Destruction," "hyper sensitive to all forms of living matter." Maya is also a pacifist, deploring the violence of the planet Earth when told of it in "Rules of Luton.”

"You mean, people killed people, just because they were different. That's disgusting!"

But Maya is also one tough cookie. She regularly transforms into frightening outer space creatures to stop the monster of the week in episodes such as "The Beta Cloud" and "The Bringers of Wonder." She stands up to the Commander when she believes he is wrong ("Seed of Destruction" again), and is just as comfortable flying an Eagle or running the science station in Command Center as she is in a party dress (“One Moment of Humanity.”)  

In just one season on Space: 1999, Maya did things that the other females in cult-TV history have regularly been denied the opportunity to do.  She piloted spaceships, engaged in fisticuffs, provided the analytical answer to the scientific challenge of the day, and also served as the mouth-piece for the “social gadfly” commentary about the human race. 

To many, she became a role model.

Consider, by 1991 and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s fourth season (and episodes such as “Q-Pid”) – and long after 1999 was canceled -- women characters were still locked in caretaker roles (Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi), and still knocking enemies out by smashing crockery over their heads. Unlike Maya, they rarely piloted space craft, or engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat.  Data got the science talk, and Data and Worf were the outsider commenters, leaving Troi to “sense” danger, and Crusher to mend broken bones.

"I never thought of Maya as a role model," Ms. Schell told me during our 1994 interview, "perhaps because in my life I have never been held back from doing something just because I am a woman. I'm thrilled that she is seen by many as I role model, but I didn't intend it that way. Perhaps because Maya was an alien, she was allowed to do more than 'human' women were at the time." 

Whatever the reasons for Maya’s full integration into the action, I remain grateful for it. I miss Barry Morse’s Victor and Prentis Hancock’s Paul Morrow in Space:1999 Year Two, but Maya’s presence adds so much to the season.

And as all fans of the series realize, there are some big differences visually, character-wise, and conceptually between Year One and Year Two.  Year One is awe-inspiring, scary and often wondrous.  By comparison, Year Two tends to be colorful, and action-packed, with more humor. Year One is lugubrious and ponderous, in a remarkable way.  Year Two is fast-paced and giddy.

I know fans divide on the issue of “which year is better.”  I prefer Year One, but I also enjoy Year Two, and feel that Maya, in particular, is a great addition to the series, in large part because of Catherine Schell’s portrayal.

And of all the Year Two style episodes - big on action, movement, and color – “The Metamorph” may just be the best.  It is big, brash, exciting, and pacey…all good qualities for a season premiere, no doubt.

Writer Johnny Byrne once told me, in an interview, how the change in formats occurred:

“During the interregnum between seasons, I wrote for Gerry Anderson.  I kept busy, but people involved with the production of Space: 1999 were very twitchy.  Everybody knew that the new producer, Freddie [Frieberger], was coming.  He sent over a tape of comments about the series, and after hearing his remarks, I understood a second season would be a whole new ball game.  I had been told I would be the story editor for the second year, but it was just a verbal agreement, and I understood it was no longer going to happen. I would continue to write episodes, but it was a very different situation.”

The shift in formats boils down to, at least in creative terms, the fact the Alphans become much more aggressive and in control over their destiny in Year Two.  This shift is apparent in “The Metamorph” from the fact that the base now has laser cannons positioned around its lunar perimeter, the equivalent of phaser banks.

Similarly, the Alphans have developed “Directive 4,” a coded order which means that a dangerous planet (in this case, Psychon) is to be destroyed.  In Year One, Alpha did possess nuclear charges and space mines (which it utilized in stories such as “Space Brain” and “Collision Course”) but the Alphans did not have the potential for Death Star-level destruction.

What does this shift mean, in terms of storytelling? 

Well, in Year Two the Alphans operate not from a place of not-knowing about outer space, but from a position of being able to defend themselves, and hold their own against all comers.  One can argue for the dramatic validity of such a change, and indeed, in some senses it is logical.  The Alphans would be more prepared and defensive over time, given the nature of their odyssey.  But by the same token, these changes are not explained in “The Metamorph,” or phased in “in universe.  Year Two begins, and everything just seems different. 

That jarring change may actually be the reason so many fans have difficulty with Year Two as opposed to Year One. It’s not that the changes are wrong-headed, so much, as they are aren’t accounted for gradually, or in terms of the characters’ actual experiences or history. 

“It comes down to this,” Byrne told me. “The things that people to do prevent disaster are invariably what lead them to disaster.  That’s the essence of Greek tragedy.  We’ve all heard that man proposes and God disposes.  That’s the theme of many Year One stories. That was lost to some extent in Year Two, although I know we both think it was also a valuable season.”

Byrne also pinpointed for me another concern, one much more having to do with a production crunch than any shift in concept.  “The problem was that in Year Two our scripts were no longer consecutive, feeding into each other naturally, one after the next. Instead, there was broad commissioning of about twenty at once, and I think that led to a feeling of reduced momentum.  But without Freddie, there would not have been an additional season of Space: 1999.  I think I need to be clear about that.  It was valuable to have those twenty-four additional shows, even if I would have preferred a different direction.”

I agree with Byrne completely on this subject.  I am grateful to have Space:1999 Year Two and feel that many episodes, especially those at the start (“The Metamorph,” “The Exiles,” “Journey to Where”) and at the finish  (“The Séance Spectre,” “The Immunity Syndrome,” and “The Dorcons”) were good shows. 

“The Metamorph” remains tops in the revised format, though, and I remember watching it with Johnny at the Main Mission Convention in New York in 2000.  We saw there, much in terms of  both virtue and potential.

“I wrote the premiere episode, “The Metamorph,” and it introduced the character of Maya, the shape-shifter played by Catherine Schell,” he told me in our interview.  “She wasn’t in my original script, which was called “The Biological Soul” and then “The Biological Computer.”  But I saw the episode just recently in New York, and it looked absolutely wonderful.  It was fast-paced, smart, interesting and I liked what was left of my main character, Mentor…that idea of flawed genius.

Byrne tallied up so many good points there. Indeed “The Metamorph” moves with such confidence and purpose, that watching it, one feels like the series revamp could have been a remarkable thing.  The same atmosphere carries over to “The Exiles,” in my opinion.  After that, however, the feeling of quality starts to slip, and the production rush takes over, producing some slipshod episodes.  It’s not that the writing in particular gets worse in Year Two, it’s that there’s the feeling that corners are being cut, and the series creator are constantly battling not to fall behind, instead of battling to produce great new stories in this format, of which “The Metamorph” is absolutely one.

What makes it so good?  

For one thing, the Alphans reach out in "The Metamorph." 

Despite the fact that they have been betrayed and disappointed by aliens in the past, Koenig reaches to Maya, and makes a friend in the process.  

And Maya, to her credit, realizes in "The Metamorph" that there are some virtues greater, even, than family.  When she discovers the truth of Mentor's sadism and evil, she doesn't rally loyally (and mindlessly) to her father.  Instead, she attempts to redress a wrong he has committed.  It's not an easy choice for her, yet Maya does what is right, not what is easy.  This makes her a hero.

The episode's closing scene in the Eagle, with Koenig telling Maya that "we are all aliens, until we get to know each other," is an indicator that the Alphans are still human, still willing to extend a hand of friendship. Koenig and Helena want to help Maya, despite the fact that Mentor has been their enemy.  They don't let her former allegiance color their perception of her, and on the contrary, realize how much she has given up for them.

The episode also works in terms of Koenig's character, showcasing the isolation of his position.  He is forced to make a terrible choice in "The Metamorph:" give up his people on Psychon, or watch Alpha be obliterated.  

He attempts to turn the tables on Mentor, but for a time, his people, including Carter (Nick Tate) believe he is a coward.  He silently carries that shame, rather than expose his plan to stop Mentor.

"The Metamorph" is also very exciting, from the sequence with Koenig's eagle experiencing terrible G-forces in flight, to the final confrontation in which Maya goes crazy, transforming from animal to another animal in a desperate bid to save her father from a fire.  

Most importantly, "The Metamorph" sets the stage for Maya's place on Alpha.  She begins the episode asking her father, Mentor, if she would make a good Alphan.  She ends the story with Koenig and Helena re-assuring her that there's a place for her there.

Although fans will always have their preferences regarding Year One and Year Two, I would nonetheless declare that Maya and Catherine Schell helped to make Space:1999 Year Two exciting and memorable,  "The Metamorph" is an example of a success story in Year Two, and a demonstration of the revised format's potential.