Space 1999 #3: Black Sun

The moon is approaching a black hole. Professor Bergman is a able to rig up an energy shield around the Moonbase, but Commander Koenig feels this is only a desperate measure and has an Eagle with six personnel dispatched as the rest await certain death.
WHEN: The episode first aired on Nov.6 1975, 10th in broadcast order, though it was 3rd in production order.

OH THE NOSTALGIA! I would have seen this episode in French as "Le soleil noir". I  have a vague memory of the Moon entering the black hole, but I might be confusing it with another trippy episode down the line. Or even with the camera zooming into Maya's eye.

From this point on, there really is no going back to Earth, and all manner of science fantasy can be justified, because the Moon has entered a black hole and popped out on the other side of the universe. And they go there thanks to divine (Bergman calls is a Cosmic Intelligence, but same difference) intervention. That through all this manages to both be an acid trip and still cling to some semblance of procedural hard SF is remarkable. And yet, this is the best episode yet, not because of the science fiction, which even the characters call "insane", but because we finally get some character development. It's all in the background, but it's definitely there, and while the Alphans come out of the experience with an appreciation that Moonbase Alpha is their home now, we the audience come out of it actually knowing who these people are now, and caring about them.

One thing we're seeing that makes perfect sense is Alphans getting closer and forming tighter friendships and even romantic bonds. If you were weeks or months isolated from everyone else you knew, with no hope of ever seeing them again, the 130 or so of Moonbase Alpha would indeed become your only support. And so Sandra had an obvious relationship with the pilot who gets spaghettified by the black hole (or black sun, how retro, but this was still in use in the early 70s, so okay), and we see a closeness between her and Paul which might blossom into something more. Koenig and Helena likewise share an unspoken bond, and she doesn't want to leave when she's offered a place on the life pod. Bergman get to laugh and smirk at his own crazy plans of last resort, and smoke a cigar when all is lost, waxing philosophical about death and what lies beyond, a scientist yes, but a human being as well. He's got an artificial heart that saves him from electrocution, which is a nice futuristic touch. His opposite number is David Kano, the cold pessimist responsible for the computer, and much too reliant on it, whereas Langstrom is a warm humanist who has no patience for this computer-run culture. He's old school, and that seems to bother Kano, much to chief pilot Alan Carter, always in the background reacting to it. Carter bristles when he isn't informed of the life pod plan, and volunteers not for selfish reasons, but because he's the selected survivors' best hope for success. The Alphans decide to spend their last moments at play, and we see them playing cards, or chess, or in Paul's case, a guitar. Suddenly, they feel very much like people, and the episode isn't afraid to let things go quiet, the tension building towards what only seems inevitable, as the windows frost up and the blackness descends.

Because how can you survive a black hole? The plan to make a gravitic force field is almost sound, and probably comes from some scientific concept, but what makes it easier to swallow is that even the characters don't believe it will work. Bergman and Koenig even foolishly test it by standing under it as an Eagle fires its lasers at it, because it's all a media event anyway (notably, the station now has its own "news service" to keep people informed, though at the crew's size, word of mouth must be faster), something to give people a sliver of hope. It's rewarded by some god-like being's intercession (and if the streaky-glittery effects don't make you think of Interstellar's recent black hole trip, you've probably just not seen it), and though the Alphans try to rationalize the experience as a hallucination, they certainly can't explain why the Eagle they sent away materialized in this part of space as well. And if this is God - and at least some of the characters are ready to believe it - She has a female voice. That's pretty progressive. Again, 2001: A Space Odyssey is invoked, trippy effects, the line between science and mysticism blurring, even the aging make-up as time breaks down.

HEY, ISN'T THAT... Paul Jones as the doomed pilot Mike. He had several top 10 hits with the group Manfred Mann before branching out into acting, and in the early 90s starred in a UK sf/fantasy series for kids called Uncle Jack (his last acting credit).

REWATCHABILITY: High - This is where the adventure really begins. Good writing, subtle character building for the entire cast, and trippy effects.



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