Space 1999 #20: War Games

Warships pretty much destroy Moonbase Alpha, so what are the chances the planet below will want to help the refugees?
WHEN: The episode first aired on Sept.25 1975, only 4th in broadcast order, though 17th in publication order.

The French title "Ruses de guerre" doesn't give the "game" away; it translates as "War Stratagems".

A good two thirds of War Games would have made a bleak, exciting and memorable series finale. Even as just another episode in a sequence, it has a powerful end-of-days feeling. That's ruined by two things. One is that it originally aired 4th, which would have been too early for any doubt to exist in the audience's mind. The other, which remains even when watched out of order, is that its title puts you in a frame of mind where you're just waiting for everything to be revealed to be a hoax, especially once Dr. Mathias is killed. He's just low enough on the totem pole that you could believe he could die, but still enough of a mainstay that any doubt at all makes the sequence of events unravel.

That said, the first half of the episode is pretty great, with lots of violent explosions, battling models, and sets falling apart. The very real consequences of such a disaster are explored, from the bunker mentality to the worries about food, and the impressive number of casualties. Victor has a wonderfully poignant speech when he thinks they're all leaving Alpha forever, filled with pathos. And as the worst case scenario progresses, we've even got Alpha's greatest heroes spinning in the depths of space unable to do anything but run out of air. Of course, there IS a question about whether the set-up makes sense. Whether it's early or late in the journey doesn't matter, it's very hard to believe Koenig would attack FIRST when confronted with Earth ships (especially such cool ships!). It really doesn't ring true, and so the whole situation feels manufactured.

Down on the planet that seems so set on destroying them, we get some more aliens who talk in robotic tones (it's been a while; I didn't miss it), and who chastise us for feeling fear. Whatever, dudes. There's a lot of nonsense talk about their civilization being a brain, and they try to teach Helena some meditation skills, or something. Nothing like boring aliens to make me tune out of the plot. Trapped in a glass box, she gets rather theatrical, and eventually, I'm skipping ahead here, everything blows up and it's all an imaginary story and the characters make a different choice the second time and the ships disappear and everyone is saved. It's always hard to care about an episode that unhappens, y'know?

The Star Destroyer shot that opens Star Wars? Well yes, young padawan, you have a good eye. Apparently, George Lucas came for a visit when they were shooting the models, and he admired the show, so that's probably no coincidence. Also, there's Isla Blair as the female alien; she was Isabella in Doctor Who's The King's Demons, and played Julian Glover's wife in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (because she was his actual wife), plus lots of other roles in genre TV.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Hugely exciting model work and violent disaster, and a real sense that all is lost. Then it's all undone both literally and figuratively by boring bubble-headed aliens.


LondonKdS said...

I'm reading this, not commenting because I never watched this series and, from your reviews, don't particularly want to.

But just saying that one of the things that can personally irritate me most about an episode of a TV series is where events happen that are so premise-destroying that you know immediately that it has to be a "hoax, dream, or imaginary story", and the episode is certain to be completely pointless. I blame it on early childrens' TV watching, with Ulysses 31 and the 1980s Dungeons and Dragons TV cartoon series. And it's why I tend to fall so hard for series like Angel, Babylon 5, Farscape, and Torchwood, which do those kinds of things and then deal with them.

Siskoid said...

Well, thanks for reading anyway.

Even in modern TV, the premise busting tends to happen at the end of any given season, or perhaps at the mid-point, so it has its own predictability, in a sense. Although there are definitely counter examples (your mention of Angel is on point).


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