Friday, September 13, 2019

Breakaway 2019: The Horror Mythology of Space:1999

"We're a long way from home, and we're going to have to start thinking differently if we're going to come to terms with space."

-Professor Victor Bergman, Space: 1999; "Matter of Life and Death."

One important quality that differentiates Space: 1999 (1975-1977) from virtually any other outer space adventure ever created, even after thirty-five years, is its heavy accent on horror. Unlike Star Trek, wherein planets are joined peacefully across the ocean of space as part of a cosmic, political United Nations, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Space: 1999 presents the universe as a realm of incomprehensible and total, abject terror.

Because the heroes of Space: 1999 (1975 -1977) -- the 311 astronauts and scientists stationed on Moonbase Alpha -- are psychologically and technologically unprepared for their unexpected journey into deepest space (it's the result of an accident on the moon's surface...) even the most wonderful or harmless mechanisms of the cosmos appear frightening, foreboding and unknown to these inexperienced, contemporary travelers. It's a metaphor, perhaps, for the way our cave-men ancestors may have regarded thunder, fire, the sun or the moon -- as inexplicable, fearsome elements of existence.

Given this revolutionary and fascinating aspect of Space: 1999, I thought it might prove interesting today to make note of many of the horror myths, legends and concepts that Space: 1999 re-purposed during its two year, 48-episode run. Virtually all of these conceits, you will note, were given a technological sheen or update for the series, a polish well in keeping with an overarching theme that Science Digest's editor, Arielle Emmett termed "the downfall of 20th century technological man."

1. The Premature Burial: "Earthbound"
In the nineteenth century, one of the great human dreads involved being buried alive.

This fear was so widespread, in fact, that some people saw to it that they had emergency signalling devices installed in their coffins upon internment. Gothic author Edgar Allen Poe exploited this societal fear of being buried alive in The Fall of The House of Usher and his 1844 short story, The Premature Burial.

The horror trope of being buried alive has come to be associated with such concepts as claustrophobia (fear of being trapped in a coffin, in a confined space) and body paralysis, the inability to move or function within that confined space.  The primary setting of premature burial fears, of course, is the casket: the narrow, tight final resting place of the human form.   Modern films have also obsessed on the premature burial, namely Wes Craven's The Serpent and The Rainbow (1989) and The Vanishing (1993).

In Space:1999, an episode entitled "Earthbound" by Anthony Terpiloff culminated with a high-tech, futuristic variation on the premature burial conceit.  Earth's Commissioner Simmonds (Roy Dotrice) becomes entombed in a suspended animation device aboard an alien spaceship for a 75-year journey to Earth.  A bully and an opportunist, Simmonds has resorted to extortion and black mail to get this coveted "slot" on Captain Zantor's (Christopher Lee) ship. He pays for his moral infraction, however, when -- just hours into the trip -- he awakens inside the transparent suspended animation chamber, the futuristic equivalent of a coffin.. 

Simmonds even has an emergency signalling device on his person, an Alphan communicator called a "commlock." He alerts Moonbase Alpha to his mortal plight, but the wandering moon is too far distant to come to his assistance. Simmonds is thus left behind -- alive and conscious -- in the claustrophobic container, without the possibility of help or rescue, a perfect metaphor for the terror inherent in the convention of the premature burial.

2. The Siren: "The Guardian of Piri"
Ancient Greek mythology gave the world the concept of Sirens: seductresses of the not-quite human variety who lured sailors to their isolated island with a tempting song, and then kept them trapped there for all eternity. The Sirens, uniquely, were temptresses of the mind or spirit, not the flesh, and boasted knowledge beyond the confines of linear time. Always depicted as females, the Sirens bore knowledge of both the past and future.

In Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey, sea captain and warrior Odysseus -- on his long journey home -- had himself physically strapped to the mast of his vessel so he could experience the Siren song for himself. Let's just say it drove him to distraction.

In Space: 1999's "The Guardian of Piri," written by Christopher Penfold, the wandering moon (also searching for "home,"much like Odysseus) falls under the tantalizing spell of "The Guardian" on an alien world.

The Guardian, like the mythical sirens of the Greeks, extends its purview beyond the linear progression of time. In fostering "perfection" in its captive wards it can actually freeze time, holding living life-forms in a permanent stasis. Space:1999's Odysseus surrogate, Commander Koenig (Martin Landau), doesn't tie himself to the mast of Moonbase Alpha to resist the lure, but he is the only man on the installation able to resist the beguiling, female face of the Guardian, played by lovely Catherine Schell. Even Moonbase Alpha's oracle, Victor Bergman falls under the spell, describing, briefly, an "old man's fantasies." Finally, Computer itself is tempted by the Siren song and is "removed" to Piri.

3. The Midas Touch: "Force of Life"
In Greek mythology, there was also a man named King Midas of Phyrgia, a man who was gifted with the power to turn everything he touched to gold.

This frightful power soon became a curse, however, when his food and water turned to gold, and even his beloved daughter was transformed into a gold statue. In the end, King Midas returned his power to the Earth, by spreading into a running river. After doing so, Midas left behind his love of the material world and material wealth. He came to despise the gold he had once coveted.

Johnny Byrne's outstanding Space: 1999 episode "Force of Life" involves an Alphan technician, Anton Zoref (Ian McShane), who, because of an alien "gift," develops the terrifying ability to freeze objects and people on contact. The name Zoref is an anagram for FROZE, and Phyrgia even sounds a bit like Frigid. Likewise, when the tale climaxes, Zoref casts off his earthly life, becoming a power of pure energy. In his new form, Zoref, like Midas in a sense, leaves human concerns behind.

The Midas connection in "Force of Life" is perhaps more obscure than some of the other mythology in Space:1999 and story editor Johnny Byrne once described the episode as one in which a life-form "rises above human form." He told me. "The majesty of the creature (though unfortunate for Zoref) was that it was one step closer to attaining the next stage of existence."

4. The Midwich Cuckoos: "Alpha Child"
Our literary, cinematic and TV tradition is filled with examples of sinister, even demonic "changeling" children. John Wyndham's 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos (made as the 1960 film Village of the Damned) featured otherworldy but human-appearing children who pursued an evil alien agenda against mankind.

The 1950s also gave the world sociopath Rhoda Penmark, The Bad Seed of novelist William March: a child without the empathy and innocence we associate with children. By the disco-decade of the 1970s, we were introduced to the demonically possessed Regan in The Exorcist (1973) and little Damien, The Anti-Christ, in The Omen (1976).

Christopher Penfold's "Alpha Child" presents the tale of the first Alphan born in space, little Jackie Crawford, and the alien changeling (Jarak) who steals his place, possesses his body and accelerates his growth. This terrifying episode is dominated by unforgettable horrific imagery, including that of a child psychically torturing his mother, and a grown child trapped within the too-small confines of a baby incubator. That last visual is a sign of "horror" overcoming technology, an important idea in Space:1999.

5. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: "The Full Circle" 

The dual, split-personality nature of the human being was observed and charted in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There, the crux of the story involved the separation of the "sinful" from "the moral" into two distinct beings, the savage Mr. Hyde and the civilized Dr. Jekyll.

Space:1999 also dramatizes a variation of this story, in Jesse Lasky Jr., and Pat Silver's "The Full Circle." Here, the Alphans explore a planet called Retha and soon encounter a tribe of primitive stone-age cavemen. Later, it is learned that the Alphans themselves were the cave-men, having passed through a strange, misty time-warp and regressed to a less-advanced state. This time-warp is beautifully realized as a kind of waterfall of mist in a primeval jungle.

Uniquely, this premise is explored in didactic terms: the Alphans have been separated not into sinful and moral versions of themselves like Jekyll/Hyde, but "primitive" and "technological" versions. And, ironically, it is the technological, modern model (personified by Alan Carter and Sandra Benes) who resort to physical violence.

At the end of the story, a bewildered Koenig notes that there no aliens on the planet to contend with...just flawed human nature. "Because we couldn't speak to each other, couldn't communicate, we misunderstood," Koenig notes. "Yet it was only us there..."

6. Faust: "End of Eternity"
As early as the 1500s, Germany presented the legend of a learned mortal, Johann Fausten, or Dr. Faust, who was willing to trade his immortal soul for knowledge beyond human ken. His partner-in -trade was no one less than Satan, the Devil.

A dissatisfied intellectual, Faust had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and understanding, and went into the devil's bargain with his eyes wide open. Again, it's important: he was a man of science, a doctor.

In Space: 1999's chilling "End of Eternity" by Johnny Byrne, the Alphans free a man called Balor (think Baal), from his own personal Hell: an inescapable asteroid prison cell. Balor,like Faust, is a scientist who has discovered the secret to eternal life; the spontaneous regeneration of human tissue. But, this alien devil with the secret of immortality demands a high price of the Alphans if they are to share in his information wealth: eternal submission to his sadistic, violent, Devilish ways. At least one Alphan, a grounded pilot named Baxter, makes a Faustian deal with this alien Lucifer. Koenig, however, refuses to cooperate and in a David & Goliath-like conclusion (that pre-dates Ridley Scott's Alien [1979]) sends Balor hurtling out an airlock. 

7. The Ghost: "The Troubled Spirit"

Space: 1999's Johnny Byrne here sought to "mix two things," and was stimulated by the idea of "combining horror and science fiction."

"The Troubled Spirit" is an out-and-out, up-front horror story, one involving a ghost that haunts the spirit of a living man, technician Dan Mateo. In fact, the ghost is Dan Mateo himself...a spirit from the future haunting his present, mortal self.

The Alphans, led by their oracle, Victor, must "exorcise" the murderous ghost, but in doing so, end up killing Dan Mateo and scarring him in the exact same fashion as his ghostly specter.

"The Troubled Spirit" also showcases one of the most lyrical, brilliantly-staged opening sequences in all of television history, as a supernatural "wind" blows through the high-tech, white-on-white halls of Moonbase Alpha. Another example of the supernatural or horrific over-powering the auspices of technology and science.

8. St. George vs. The Dragon: "Dragon's Domain"

Saint George was a Christian martyr who saved a king's daughter from being killed by a plague-bearing, giant dragon. George committed this act, however, only after a guarantee that the king's land would soon be converted to Christianity.

Christopher Penfold's outstanding Space: 1999 "Dragon's Domain" actually references the tale of St. George vs. The Dragon in its text.

Here, the paradigm has been updated: it's astronaut Tony Cellini (Gianno Giarko) versus a tentacled cyclops which haunts a spaceship graveyard. Tony is not able to slay this dragon (that act is left to Koenig, armed with a hatchet), and Tony never forces a conversion to Christianity.

However, Tony does aggressively push the Alphans, especially Helena Russell, to embrace, let's say, the philosophy of "extreme possibilities" and not cling to earthbound belief systems. "I want you all to throw out the criteria by which you judge what's real....You must believe!" He insists, when faced with disbelievers.

At the end of the story, Koenig, Victor and Helena flee the spaceship graveyard (and the dead monster), essentially converted to Cellini's way of thinking. They have witnessed the impossible with their own eyes: a mesmeric alien creature which does not register on their instruments, and which devours human life forms. Helena brings up the example of Saint George and the Dragon, and suggests that Tony and the Monster will be a part of the new Alphan society's long-term mythology.

9. The Picture of Dorian Gray: "The Exiles"
Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray involved a handsome young man, Dorian Gray, who was beautiful, immoral and also a criminal. While he undertook his reign of terror, Gray's portrait -- in secret -- became aged and horrible, reflecting his morality, his vanity, and his sins.

As for Gray, he himself showed no physical or biological signs of his perversions and presented the appearance of remaining forever young.

In the second season Space: 1999 episode, "The Exiles," Moonbase Alpha encounters two apparently benign alien teenagers, Cantar (Peter Duncan) and Zova (Stacy Dorning). In fact, these innocent-seeming (and physically beautiful) youngsters are alien insurrectionists. They are centuries-old, but protected by a physical membrane that prevent physical degeneration and aging. At story's end, Helena scratches Cantar's protective membrane, and, like Dorian Gray in Wilde's novel, the weight of the decades lands upon the vain villain in seconds: he super-ages and dies in horrible, gruesome fashion.

10. The Zombie: "All That Glisters "

Before George Romero's stellar re-interpretation of the Zombie mythology in Night of the Living Dead (1968), zombies were often simply mindless human beings; laborers working at the behest of an evil master. They were, in essence, unthinking henchmen in the White Zombie (1932) sense.

 episode "All That Glisters" resurrects this older interpretation of the zombie on a distant planet inhabited by sentient, silicon life-forms. These alien rocks murder Security Chief (Tony Verdeschi) and then re-animate him as a zombie, essentially, to serve as their arms and legs. The horror-overtones of this episode are also quite dramatic. Director Ray Austin deploys some tight-framing, dark-lighting and claustrophobic settings to express the horror of the situation.

Other episodes of Space: 1999 also dealt explicitly in horror tropes. "Mission of the Darians" concerned the taboo of cannibalism (a concept we see in literature such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). "Brian the Brain" was a Frankenstein story, with a renegade, technological monster (a murderous robot) murdering his creator/father, Captain Michael (Bernard Cribbins).

"Seed of Destruction" was a variation of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" only with Koenig confronting an alien doppelganger, rather than a wizardly ancestor of identical physical characteristics. "Death's Other Dominion also involved scientific hubris and super-aging in its unforgettable climax, and "The Testament of Arkadia" highlighted a valley of death - a necropolis of sorts -- on an alien world, as well as ghostly force influencing the Alphans.

Of course, a relevant question is this: why create a technology-based, outer space series utilizing so many instances of horror in mythology, literature and even the movies. The answer lies in Penfold's and Byrne's unique concept of the series. 

Specifically, Johnny Byrne once informed me that Space: 1999 "is a modern day (near future) origin story of a people. The Celts, the Aztecs and the Hebrews all have origin stories. But Space: 1999 took place in real time, not pre-history. It was a futuristic rendering of that old story: of people cast out from their home with no plan, no direction, and no control. There are elements of faith, magic and religion in the series, and nobody seems to understand and accept that. In Space: 1999, we are witnessing the foundation of a culture."

Now imagine that culture established, some two hundred years after the events of Space: 1999. The stories those "future" citizens might tell would involve terrifying tales of their founding: of the premature burial, of the encounter with sirens, of St. George and the Dragon, and so forth.

It is this mythic (and horrific) perspective, truly, which makes Space:1999 so unique a science fiction drama. The series repeatedly pinpoints high-tech corollaries for the ideas that have scared us throughout human history and then takes its characters on a mythic journey through that macabre realm of the unknown. Thrillingly, the series also includes amazing guest performances by horror icons including Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Richard Johnson

Breakaway Week 2019: Visualizing 1999

"Space: 1999" had a style, a feel, a look of its own." - Martin Landau (Lee Goldberg. Starlog: "Martin Landau Space-Age Hero." July 1986, page 45).

"...Space:1999 is like Star Trek shot full of methedrine.  It is the most flashy, gorgeous sci-fi trip ever to appear on TV.  Watching it each week is very close to being under the influence of a consciousness altering drug. - Benjamin Stein. The Wall Street Journal: "Sailing Along on a Moon-Base Way."

Though TV reviewers were often quick to criticize the storylines on Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Space: 1999, most nonetheless agreed that the visualizations of this classic series were unimpeachable. 

For example, TV/Radio columnist Charlie Hanna termed the sci-fi program a "visual feast," and The New York Times critic John J. O'Connor noted that the "visual lavishness is apparent from the dazzling array of electronic gadgets and hardware to the "moon city" costumes designed by Rudi Gerneich."

I can add my own testimony to this effusive praise.  When I initially watched Space:1999 back in 1975, I was certain that this was indeed what the future would look like.  It just seemed right and appropriate that by the year 1999 we'd all be able to communicate across mini-tv screens thanks to devices such as the useful commlock.  And, of course, furniture and interior decoration would be immaculate, minimalist, and stream-lined by the eve of the 21st century, right?

Okay. It didn't quite turn out that way, but you can't convince me that it shouldn't have turned out that way. The sets  for Space: 1999 were created by production designer Keith Wilson, and the exterior miniatures by special effects director Brian Johnson. In both cases, these gentlemen did extraordinary work.  In short, they accomplished three critical things:

First, they created believable technology with one foot in the future and one in the present. 

In Space:1999, for instance, you'll see control rooms, nuclear generating plants, and high-tech medical units, but at the same time, you can note characters reading books, adjusting thermostats in their crew quarters, and even tanning themselves in a solarium ("Force of Life.") 

In practice, this is quite an extraordinary combination.  Despite the clean, minimal lines of Moonbase Alpha construction, crew quarters boast a sense of individuality and recognizable humanity ("Matter of Life and Death."), Areas of heavy use such as laboratories, as seen in "Breakaway" and "Voyager's Return," are cluttered and over-crowded.  In other words -- despite the immaculate white conception of Moonbase Alpha -- man will be man, even in the future. He will use the "space" on the Moon in just the way he does here on Earth; and that way isn't always clean and austere...or even neat.  Victor Bergman's laboratory is another example of this design approach.

Secondly, the designers of Space:1999 didn't skimp on a sense of scope.

This means that the vistas and views of Moonbase Alpha appeared more legitimately cinematic and impressive than virtually any other sci-fi series sets in history up to 1978 including Star Trek, wherein the Enterprise bridge famously did not include a ceiling.  

The control center of Moonbase Alpha, Main Mission, is a perfect example of this aesthetic.  It is a vast, two-story affair replete with a ledge and observation area, as well as a kind of mission control pit where analysts toil on a regular basis.  Attached to Main Mission -- with a wall as a huge sliding door -- is the Commander's office.  For privacy, Commander Koenig can shut the door to Main Mission.  In cases of emergency, he can open the door, and his desk overlooks the Big Screen and his workers.  

What must be noted about this is that both Main Mission and the Commander's office are vast.   The two (joined) sets present the appearance of a real life, sprawling complex.

Scope is sometimes achieved other ways on the series as well.  Miniatures do the trick to convey passage on the useful Travel Tube, and in rare instances, Space:1999 joins live-action footage with rear-projection footage of Eagles and their hangar bay.  Again, there's a powerful aura of a fully-operational Moonbase here.

Third, and equally important, the amazing technology and design of Alpha and the Eagles were merely the starting point of this adventure.

Week after week, our impressive views of Earth's high-tech turn-of-the-century moonbase were one-upped, essentially, by mind-blowing alien landscapes and worlds,  as featured in episodes such as "Guardian of Piri," "Missing Link," "War Games," "The Last Enemy" and so on. 

After many of those trippy adventures, the high-tech environs of Moonbase Alpha felt not like a dazzling vision of a future age, but rather like "home," even fostering a sense of security. By creating alien worlds of such blazing distinction and originality, the makers of Space:1999 actually made their "future" Earth technology seem all the more believable (and desirable).

It would be impossible to write this post without commenting just a little on the Eagle, one of the most beloved spaceship designs of cult-televisions. These craft are perfectly in keeping with Moonbase Alpha: as remarkable embodiment of "near future" technology. No flying saucers or stream-lined nacelles in this world.  Rather, the utilitarian Eagles consist of interconnected modules, retro-rockets, landing pads and nose-cones.  All these facets are recognizable as dramatic extrapolations from the then-current Apollo program.  Again, Space:1999 had one foot in the future, and one in the present.

This is how Brian Johnson described the creation of the Eagles, in an interview with me almost a decade ago (on the advent of Space:1999's release on DVD):

"I was in my "modular" design mode in those days. I reasoned that it made sense to make Pods that were interchangeable. The command pod could serve as a lifeboat, Eagles could be "chained" together, etc...My basic ideas came from looking at dragonflies and insects of all sorts. I copied nature to some degree - I think it made the Eagle believable."

Believability, scope, and then imagination. These are the sturdy foundations of Space:1999's set and model designs.   Below is a brief gallery showcasing Moonbase Alpha as it appeared in Year One.  Finally, I should add that these sets, models and designs look even more remarkable on Blu Ray.

Looking up to the Commander's office.

Minimalism meets clutter: a fully functioning machine laboratory.

A Room with a view.  Note the globe of Earth cast in gray and black to match the rest of the set.

Clock, communicator and more: The comm-post.

Against a backdrop of stars: a repair-man with a tool kit.

Remote control flying an Eagle.

The well-lit travel tube interior track.

The Solarium

Behind our heroes, a hanger bay filled with Eagles.

An Eagle spacecraft, with special module (from "Breakaway.")

Moonbase Alpha

Breakaway 2019: A Golden All-Star Book

Breakaway 2019: "Demon Star"

This story is titled "Demon Star," written by Nicola Cuti and drawn by John Byrne.  The story presented in Charlton’s issue # 4 sees Earth’s errant moon approaching a planet in the binary star system of Algol. 

The unusual inhabitants of the planet are called "Jandians" and look like giant frogs. They ruthlessly attack the Alphans without provocation and kidnap Dr. Russell. But when Commander John Koenig leads a team to the surface to rescue her, the Jandians, led by Paceus in the City of Emera, are totally and completely peaceful. 

Koenig is at a loss to understand this change in character until Dr. Russell realizes the Alphans are seeing a "Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome on a planetary scale," one caused by the so-called "winking demon" of Jandian religion: the binary star of Algol. 

It seems that when one star is in the sky (the red one), the aliens are peaceful, but add the other (the blue one...) and the combination causes a "metabolic imbalance," one generating hostility and violence. 

What's really interesting is that the Jandians have built their culture around the notion of "denying" their dark halves. They pretend it doesn't exist, and have done so well with this emotional denial that they've convinced themselves of it. 

Visiting the ancient monuments and temples of the planet, Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell face the ascent of the blue star, and fight a pitched battle with the now hostile Jandians.

I appreciate this (admittedly kind-of-silly) story because it deals with the idea of schizophrenia on a global scale; and on a personal side shows that everybody has "two faces," even if it's a truth we'd rather suppress.

"Demon Star" also demonstrates with gusto the fact that the comic-book format can accomplish things that TV shows can’t. At the time it aired in 1976, Space:1999 was the most expensive TV production of all time, but even so, the TV series could not often create such gigantic space and sky battles like those featured in this issue. Koenig and Helena fly together in a kind of space car, their stun-guns blazing, and it’s a sprawling, awesome comic-book moment.

Of course, all is not sunshine and roses. Although there is a strong theme to this tale (schizophrenia/Jekyll and Hyde) "Demon Star" also forecasts the unfortunate Year Two changes by featuring hideous monsters and lots of action over deep philosophical ideas. Year One of Space:1999 was much more sophisticated, and this tale again proves that the comic-book was being marketed to kids, not grown-ups who grooved on the show.

The comic-book also features some notable mistakes. Dr. Russell’s name is misspelled consistently as "Dr. Russel" ). And Moonbase Alpha is equipped with Mark IX Hawk battle cruisers - ships the Alphans didn’t possess on the series. Hawks appeared as illusions in only one episode from Year One, "War Games."

It sure would be nice to have 'em, though...

All that said, I loved this well-illustrated, if somewhat simplistic book as a kid, and it was a treat to see new adventures for Koenig, Moonbase Alpha, the great Eagle spaceships and the like, especially as I waited for new episodes between seasons.

Breakaway 2019: Computer Piggy Bank (Burvel; 1976)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Breakaway 2019: "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 2019: "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.

Breakaway 2019: "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.

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