Space 1999 #22: Another Time, Another Place

Alpha encounters a future self in orbit around a dead Earth.
WHEN: The episode first aired on Dec.18 1975, 16th in broadcast order, though 6th in production order.

REVIEW: A time travel/parallel universe episode that gets a little too metaphysical for its own good, this one starts with the Moon encountering a space-time anomaly and getting split in two. Soon, Alpha finds itself heading for its old orbit around the Earth! But there's something wrong, as a character we've never met, Regina (that's with a hard "g", which I find quite strange), is given a lot of reaction shots that call attention to themselves. She gets different special effects from everyone else, and starts acting strangely, believing herself on a planet, grieving for her dead husband, Alan Carter. Well, that's news to Alan! In the grip of a physical bond with another self, Regina blisters as if from sunburn, and eventually winds up dead. (Better to gloss over the bit where they say she has two brains in her skull; those are called HEMISPHERES, Doctor.)

The other Alphans - and the Moon itself - are also duplicated; they're just in their own realities. What we see on this blasted Earth (far past? far future?) is a possible future for Alpha, one where the crew has dispersed to better ration scarce resources, where Sandra and Paul have children, and where an older Helena misses Koenig deeply. Impossibly slow reveals aside, this is an enchanting sequence, where hope and melancholy are mixed in a scenario that could believably be what awaits the Alphans whatever planet they eventually settle on. It just stops working after the two Helenas meet and the older one dies from meeting herself. Or from a broken heart? That would have almost been more acceptable. Once again, Space 1999 gets metaphysical and things happen because they must, or perhaps because of some New Age impetus only 70s writers would have understood (I remember struggling with it in Doctor Who as well).

I sometimes wonder what Space 1999's message is, because so much of it is about passively accepting what is happening. That's not a dig at the suspension of disbelief required, by the way. In this episode, for example, the "fix" is to let the two Moons crash into each other, which somehow magically dispels the anomalous reality, with the Moon finding itself in yet another part of space. This is not unlike Collision Course, in which the Moon had to touch a planet for disaster to be averted. Counter-intuitive, to say the least. But when you think about it, the premise itself is about accepting you have no control over life's journey, while simultaneously showing Alphans make big decisions and not leave it all up to Computer. Is that supposed to be Zen or something? Only be accepting you have no control can you take control of the things that really matter, which is how you deal with the loss of control? I don't know, but perhaps framing the narrative in that way salvages it somewhat..?

HEY, ISN'T THAT... Judy Geeson as Regina; she was the British neighbor across the hall from the Buchmans on Mad About You, and Sandrine, the holographic owner of a bar in Marseille on a couple episodes of Star Trek Voyager.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - If it had gotten to Earth sooner, and explored the Alphan society there a little more... but no, it's entirely too concerned with a character we've never met yet are expected to care about, then resolving everything with some major hand-waving.


Jeremy Patrick said...

"But there's something wrong, as a character we've never met, Regina (that's with a hard "g", which I find quite strange)"

This blows my mind too. The only explanation I can think of is that, in the alternate future you describe, mankind has evolved past the primitive need for soft "g's"

Siskoid said...

Possibly, she's not meant to be ethnically Anglo, but the actress doesn't exhibit non-British accent, so who knows.

Anonymous said...

I get the feeling that a lot of the problem with "Space: 1999" is, the genre of science fiction simply hadn't matured enough by the 1970s to have a sense of what works and what doesn't. Yes, science fiction had been around for some time, but the 1970s is about when a mainstream interest started to manifest. And with mainstream interest comes a different set of criteria for good storytelling.

I'm going to take "Firefly" as an example. There was a time when, if you were into science fiction (and you chafed at the term "sci-fi" as being too cutesy), a novel about space rebels traveling around and worrying about technical stuff was adequate, because it's science fiction. But put that before a mainstream audience and they'll want more: engaging characters, comic timing, interpersonal drama. That's a new set of criteria that previous generations of science fiction writers were maybe not so versed at. A new influx of expectations makes the genre stronger, but it means an uncomfortable transition period where the science fiction hasn't caught up yet.

I think you see where I'm going with this, in terms of "Space: 1999". The show didn't have a sense of what works and what doesn't, and just sort of barreled through obliviously in the first season. Come the second season we're going to see them recognize and try to address some of the first season problems, but ye gods it will be one step forward and two steps back. I just did a quick Youtube pass-thru on "Brian the Brain", and it's ten times worse than I'd remembered.

If there were to be a series epitaph for "Space: 1999", I think it would be: "Let us learn from our mistakes".

As reCAPTCHA might say, bound and gagged and forced to watch the series as one long marathon: "hrycturr rmlytuf".

Siskoid said...

Definitely. Older SF is much more concerned with plot mechanics than it is character development, sometimes too much.


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