Space 1999 #9: Alpha Child

The Alphans' joy turns to horror when the first child born on Alpha matures into a five year old in a matter of hours, prelude to the arrival of formless alien fugitives who want their bodies.
WHEN: The episode first aired on Oct.16th 1975, 7th in broadcast order, though it was 10th in production order. Taking it as a given that the space program didn't let a pregnant woman go work on Moonbase Alpha, the episode cannot take place any earlier than May or June 2000.

OH THE NOSTALGIA! In French, this was "L'enfant d'Alpha", "The Child of Alpha", which drains all the word play out of it.

REVIEW: While I have little patience for the old SF chestnut of the baby who grows to maturity in a matter of days because he's possessed by some space Jesus (see ST TNG's The Child), Space 1999 at least introduces the idea with a shocking crammed incubator shot and follows it up with an equal measure of charming and sinister before falling apart completely in the second half. But let's take things one at a time. What this show does best, and not altogether often enough, is present credible psychological consequences to SF events. With the birth of a baby comes joy, but also melancholy. Sandra obviously wants children some day, but the precarious balance on Alpha means she probably won't get to (and it's why more babies aren't born all the time on the series). Amusingly, Koenig doesn't get it, Landau as usual filling in the blanks in the script with body language to show this. Though the baby's mother is in extreme post-partem shock and rejects the child, the rest of Alpha are more than happy to play with him, show him how the station works, and ruffle his hair. I know "Jackie" is supposed to be your typical creepy kid, but everyone's tenderness and enthusiasm just makes you want to like him too. And perhaps the direction and action doesn't quite sell this as The Omen in space. We understand Koenig's apprehension - fast growth isn't normal - but want to share in the rest of the crew's feelings.

Of course, when alien ships show up, we're a little quicker to see the connection than the characters (they don't know they're in a TV show), and it all gets back on a predictable track. Well, not entirely predictable. Because who could have predicted THIS train wreck after a perfectly charming first half? Wow. Some incredible missteps in there. For one thing, not only does Jackie's next growth spurt turn him into Julian Glover (fine), but it also creates alien clothes for him. We're led to believe he's from a non-humanoid race, so they don't really dress like silver Romans do they?! Being a Space 1999 alien, he must, of course, speak... very... slowly... and... robotically... which makes me think this was in the series bible or something - Anderson's notion of how everyone in the universe speaks English because they're reading it badly from a teleprompter perhaps. Ugh. A waste of good actors. You've got Julian Glover, and this is what you do with him?!

But wait, it gets worse. Let's ignore everything that happened in the first half; the warm bond between Jackie and the Alphans meant nothing. He's going to go around and use his psionic powers to make people choke each other out. He's cold and cruel and a different being entirely. Running from the forces of orthodoxy, he and his people just want to "become" humans and hide out on Moonbase, but they have to possess the Alphans at the moment of birth or death (how they managed to figure this out doesn't bear thinking about). As a demonstration, and this is where it goes REALLY wrong, he kills his birth mother so she can be taken over by his lover. What. The. Hell. No. No. Don't. Don't do that. But before they can kill any more people or, you know, commit incest, there's a great big deus ex machina and the forces of orthodoxy arrive in a very different looking ship (still, both alien designs are some of the best we've yet seen on the show), destroy all the other aliens, and more or less force Jackie/Jarak and his mom/girlfriend to surrender their bodies. So there's a reset button, the mom and baby magically restored to life and youth, but I suppose it's not as bad as it could have been. There's still a baby who will one day look like Julian Glover growing up on Alpha all through the series (let us never mention this again, I bet). Bit of a fake-out at the end, when Koenig finds Dr. Mathias sobbing... from relief. Ah. I still like to think he might've been crying from how awful the episode turned out.

HEY, ISN'T THAT... Julian Glover as Jarak; he's been a Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Doctor Who, and he's plied his villainy in Space 1999 too. Rula Lenska as Joan Conway; she was the hard-nosed commander Styles in Doctor Who's Resurrection of the Daleks.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High (first half), Low (second half) -
A better-than-average interpretation of the alien child trope takes a ghastly turn into Stupid with a capital S.


Anonymous said...

"Being a Space 1999 alien, he must, of course, speak... very... slowly... and... robotically... which makes me think this was in the series bible or something - Anderson's notion of how everyone in the universe speaks English because they're reading it badly from a teleprompter perhaps."

Just imagine Gerry Anderson meeting the 11th Doctor ... for Gerry it would be absolutely traumatic.

Siskoid said...

Any of the modern Doctors, really. And several classic ones.


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