Space 1999 #12: Guardian of Piri

All Alphans except Koenig fall under the spell of a massive computer on the planet Piri, which has given them eternal happiness.
WHEN: The episode first aired on Nov.13 1975, 11th in broadcast order; it was 8th.

OH THE NOSTALGIA! There are a couple of patented Koenig back-handed slaps in this episode, which is largely what I remember Space 1999 action scenes to be like when I was a kid.

REVIEW: Space 1999 does the Lotus Eaters, or more likely Star Trek's This Side of Paradise, though in a more modern idiom, it could be a drug story. The Alphans all end up blissed up and tuned out on the planet surface, while Koenig is up on the Moon alone taking uppers to stay awake. If it IS a drug story, I'm not sure on what side of the issue it stands. On the issue of weird nonsense, however, it stands resolutely for it. The planet Piri's weird landscape was at least "built" by some lost civilization, the status of which is meant to be a twist, but it's just about the most obvious thing about the script. The Guardian itself is a giant machine that looks like a great big web of spheres, and blows up when somebody makes arguments at it, just like a Star Trek computer­. Well, no, I'm kidding. Koenig's speeches don't really make a dent. It's only when he shoots the Guardian's beautiful messenger - played by a wasted Catherine Schell who doesn't appear nearly enough - in the face (gory even if she is a robot) that it blows itself up. Why exactly? I don't know. I'm still trying to figure out why Koenig is the only Alphan with ANY measure of willpower.

On that count, we might refer back to earlier episodes where Alphans, Koenig included, deferred decisions to the computer. This theme is brought back in this episode, as the computer becomes unreliable, but then so do human brains under the Guardian's influence. The Alphans, even the ones like Alan who railed against over-reliance on the computer, eventually trade one master for another, and let the Guardian make their decisions for them. Obviously, Kano is going to be the one defending the computer the most, and here we discover his bond with technology is tighter than we thought. He was once part of an experiment that allows him to jack into the computer directly. Since he was the experiment's only survivor, he's not eager to try it again. Will this become a recurring element as the series forges ahead? I somehow doubt it. But that's the extent of the character development in Guardian of Piri, because everyone is somewhere between elation and euphoria. Helena is irritatingly giggly, at least until Koenig gives her electroshock therapy (sheesh!). They're not themselves, and soon become a bare-chested mob trying to kill Koenig.

I will still give props to director Charles Crichton for some creepy shots of the empty Moonbase and of the Alphans ignoring a wounded Koenig while they party on, dude. Hopefully, the Guardian healed all those dying people Helena seems to always have hidden away in the medical bay either before or after Koenig was left to rot in orbit. Crichton is less successful with the big storm of soap bubbles, glitter and packing peanuts at the end, but he had to do something with the notion that plant life would thrive as soon as "time resumed". The end note is the lame irony that Piri might have become habitable once the Moon left.

HEY, ISN'T THAT... Catherine Schell is the Pirian girl; she would of course return in Season 2 as a regular cast member, i.e Maya, and was the beautiful-probably Countess in Doctor Who's City of Death. Michael Culver is goofy pilot Pete Irving; he was Captain Needa in The Empire Strikes Back. If the planet Piri looks familiar, it's because it was also seen in Doctor Who's Nightmare of Eden (just like the one in Matter of Life and Death).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - One of those episodes that feels like they just put a few original Star Trek episodes in a blender and pressed purée, then sucked all the juice out of it.


Anonymous said...

I remember watching this as a kid (not this episode so much as the series). I remember the high expectations, that it would be a solid successor to "Star Trek". But more than anything, I remember this show being so damn TALKY: nothing ever much happened, it was like watching "I Clavdivs". But at least "I Clavdivs" sometimes had boobs.

Even as a kid I had a little taste, and I found "Lost in Space" demeaning and insulting. But at least things happened. Yes the "things" that "happened" were as often as not people in vegetable costumes, but at least that was something. It got really, really hard to justify why I would watch "Space: 1999" when I could be doing literally anything else.

In retrospect I can clearly see the problem was "Thunderbirds": Gerry Anderson's training was filming puppets, not people. All of a sudden he's got a show that can/should focus on people, and he's not sure what to do with that.

Anyway, the point is, this is roughly where I soured on "Space: 1999" in its initial run: several episodes in and it didn't seem to be getting any better. People love to criticize the second season for being dreck, and to be sure it it's hardly Shakespeare, but at least it tried to address the problems of the first season. You need go no further than the opening credits: instead of a close-up of Martin Landau standing there as kettle drums try to make it seem majestic, he's spinning around and shooting a thing with his thing. The jacket looks good too.

Eventually we'll get to Season 2, and I know not to expect much in the way of "High" ratings. But when we get there, could you make a tally of all the things Maya turns into? Future historians will thank you.

Siskoid said...

To date, it's definitely a slower-paced show. Each episode clocks in at 52 minutes and could do with a trim. At the modern equivalent of 42 minutes, it would probably be more exciting.

It's also quite uneven, and I find myself giving it a Medium-High right after a Medium-Low. No actual Highs as yet though.

For Maya, since she's my best memory of the program from when I was a kid, sure, I can keep a little list going.


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