Space 1999 #21: The Infernal Machine

Alpha comes across a giant, overbearing, sentient ship called Gwent.
WHEN: The episode first aired on Jan.8 1976, 18th in broadcast order; it was 21st in production order.

REVIEW: On a production level, The Infernal Machine comes off really well. The ship has an usual look, the interior sets are massive and filmed to look even more massive (only some of it due to mirrors, but they don't hide it as we can see the characters reflected, adding to the surreal atmosphere), and there are plenty of big explosions (wait, why does the base have laser tanks?). So with all due respect to my Welsh readers, it's kind of a shame this engine of destruction is called "Gwent". (If I'm right, it means The Place, but in any case, there's something absurd and camp about the phrase "Everything is Gwent!, you know?) Leo McKern appears as the ship's "companion" - as it turns out, its inventor, the person its personality is based on, but not really its pilot - and he certainly does a good job, especially as Gwent's voice, flitting between gregariousness, arrogance, melancholy and distress.

Though the plot is very much one of Star Trek's stock ideas - the one about talking a computer to death - this one is well-suited to Space 1999 because Gwent is a mirror of Moonbase Alpha. It too is flying through space, facing loneliness and an uncertain future, especially once its companion dies (leading to a very effective funeral, by the way). This kind of story calls for humanity to teach the villain something, and the lesson is a pointed one about vanity. For the audience, the more interesting lesson is about the personality-warping (or voiding) effects of loneliness, as Gwent realizes it is nothing without its relationship to others. The mechanics of the plot - exploring the monster's weaknesses and so on - are not as strong or believable as its thematic underpinnings, but let's call it mostly a success.

One strange element is the character of Winters, a guy brought into Main Mission, apparently because Paul has injured himself in between episodes (this seems to happen to a lot of Alphans, if only to keep Medlab full at all times). Apparently, Prentis Hancock was in hospital getting rid of a tumor the make-up artists found on the back of his neck, so a guest artist was called in. It's what the production needed. However, his presence creates the impression that he'll become Gwent's replacement companion, the kind of quick solution we often see in this kind of story. I suppose I'm glad it didn't turn out that way(?).

HEY, ISN'T THAT... Leo McKern as both versions of Gwent; he was one of the more memorable Number Twos on The Prisoner.

- A stock plot, but well used, with an interesting moral and lots of spectacle.


snell said...


Siskoid said...

That's all I could think about!


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