Space 1999 #25: The Metamorph

The series is more or less rebooted with the first appearances of Tony Verdeschi and the beautiful alien shapeshifter Maya.
WHEN: The episode takes place 342 days after Breakaway (Aug.20 2000) and no, that doesn't make any sense; below. It first aired on Sept.4 1976. Many Season 2 episodes have a specific relative date, i.e. a number of days since Breakaway. I will attempt to watch the episodes as much as I can in that order.

OH THE NOSTALGIA! It's incredible the tricks your mind plays. I somehow remember the show as a conflation of the two seasons, even though they don't have the same cast or opening sequence. So while I remember Tony and Maya, I also though Victor was a member of the cast all the way through. Similarly, while I do vaguely remember the new opening credits, with the subtitles telling the story and the zoom-in on Maya's eye, I would never have thought they'd change the music. Maya, of course, made the biggest impression on my young mind, and I'm sure part of the character's design was to ensure kids would watch. I remember her joining the team, but thought there was more to the story, so it's possible my memory is actually from 1982's Cosmic Princess compilation movie.

REVIEW: So okay, let's talk about what is surely more than redress for the series, because Season 2 is so different in look, cast and possibly even theme, AND because it creates continuity problems, many fans have called this an "alternate reality". Well, Helena does mention the Moon went through a second space warp (the first being the Black Sun, presumably), moving it forward a mere 6 light-years, no casualties, etc. What if that warp had a greater effect than she realizes? What if the Moon that came out of the anomaly is one with a very different history? Changes include a new Main Mission set, new uniforms (more personalization, jackets and badges; and while some of that might have come with prolonged travel as Alpha's society evolved, the addition of I.D. badges doesn't make sense in that context), and an anachronistic date (how can we be 342 days after Breakaway, when the one solid date given in Season 1 was Dragon's Domain, which happened 877 days after Breakaway. But the most damning evidence of a change in history is the absence of Victor Bergman from the inner circle, as well as Paul Morrow and Kano. In their place is Tony, a better romantic hero than any of the losses. We'll see if I end up missing any of them, but I have no grief in my heart right now. Except for the opening credits sequence, which has lost one of my favorite TV themes of all time and replaced with something that's merely okay.

Once you're over the shock of all those changes, The Metamorph is perfectly acceptable action adventure, with explosions, a bigger than life villain, more explosions, a beautiful shapeshifter, and oh yes, exploding volcanoes. The plot doesn't really matter so long as said shapeshifter, Maya, remains innocent of her father's evil deeds, so she can - I'd say spoilers except the opening sequence spoiled it already - join the cast at the end. We're very much in science fantasy here, as the powers Maya exhibits are rather dubious - never mind where she shunts her mass when she's a dove, how does she even know ABOUT doves? - but Space 1999 has always clumsily threaded the line between hard procedural SF and gonzo mysticism. She's an appealing character with super-powers, and that's all the series really needs from her here. Perhaps there lies a certain character arc as she learns to integrate with the humans. Another theme that might see development as Season 2 progresses is the one invoked by Koenig, that we're going to make our own destiny. If this keeps up, it's an important change from what has gone before. Season 1 was really about embracing destiny as the base was spun in various directions based on some greater force's agenda.

I'm perhaps less enthusiastic about the production design and what it means for the future. Yes, it's all much more colorful, which can't be bad, but the Psychons' quarters are rather extreme and cheap-looking. Brian Blessed's Mentor is only a strand of DNA away from his King Yrcanos in Doctor Who, though I get the bird-like feel they tried to give the race. The guards look like embarrassed owls in Flash Gordon drag, and those are pretty pitiful. The Psyche computer is like a bubbling, overweight TARDIS console. The cells look like miniature versions of Ken Adam's sets in early Bond films. The score is more emotional than Season 1's, and particularly cheesy when it has to deal with one captured pilot's fainting/hysterical wife. He returns, she does not. Small mercies.

We've already talked about Brian Blessed and Catherine Schell in this section, as they've appeared on the show in other roles. New regular Tony Anholt (Tony Verdeschi) came to prominence in The Protectors; his most recent genre role was Anchorman Bob in Lexx. Anouska Hempel is Annette Fraser; she was the Australian Girl in the mountain retreat in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (she is actually from New Zealand). John Hug is Bill Fraser; the character would become a semi-regular on the series. Peter Porteous' Petrov would too, appearing three times in total.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The introduction of a new format for Space 1999, and of a couple of pivotal new characters. When you take the shock of the retcon away, you're left with a fairly exciting episode.


Anonymous said...

This was a subject of an early MST3K, back when it was a public access show:


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