Space 1999 #6: Matter of Life and Death

Dr. Russell's presumed-dead husband mysteriously reappears on an alien planet.
WHEN: The episode first aired on Nov.27 1975, 13th in broadcast order. It was 2nd in production order; not a good way to watch it because there's some talk of all the strange things they've seen since Breakaway. Watched second - which I started doing before deciding on a different order - it looks like Terra Nova is Mars at first. Alas, the show never had that tight an arc.

OH THE NOSTALGIA! The French translation I would have seen was titled "Question de vie ou de mort", which is close enough, though I probably remember it more as What Are Little Girls Made Of? and Solaris ;-).

REVIEW: Well, this is quite the Star Trek episode mash-up! A medical blond's husband returned as not-human (Little Girls), nonsense anti-matter planet (The Alternative Factor), a planet where fantasies are real (name it). Even the set has a TOS quality, though it's used to more dynamic effect. Helena is revealed to have been married, her husband Lee presumed killed near Jupiter, but actually turned into... something. This really does explain why she's always the voice of caution, and more than a little bit repressed emotionally. Her grief almost killed her, but in the end, numbed her. If you're a fan of Helena and Koenig as a couple, there are again subtle signs that something is happening between them behind the scenes, and her returned husband could spoil that. But it's pretty clear he's not himself, or do must all guest-stars speak very... very... slowly... like... robots? It's rather annoying and makes for dull scenes.

What saves much of the material is Charles Crichton's direction. He keeps things exciting with huge close-ups, interesting transitions, music that's a little more upbeat than usual (drums, and the show's theme used in-story), and hits the action beats HARD. That hurricane on Terra Nova (no doubt named by the scientists analyzing Voyager's data) is incredibly violent, everyone dies a horrible death, and I love that electrical throw when Helena (or her stuntwoman) touches Lee and flies. Speaking of Lee, though he's an emotional stone, there's something very disquieting about the way he just lets himself "die" on Alpha. He just... stops working. Probably because he's in his element, his scene on the planet does allow him feelings, but it's a little late. Other good bits include the restrained excitement the crew feels at the prospect of having found a home, the attention given to just how Alpha plans to evacuate the Moon when the time is right, and how by this point, Koenig is making decisions without the computer's help. He even names Victor as his replacement, just in case, to avoid the chaos that resulted from his incapacitation in Missing Link.

It's unfortunate then that the episode doesn't really surrender any answers. Instead, it jerks the audience around quite a bit, and can't seem to decide WHAT it wants to be. Originally devised as a Solaris-type story where the planet creates a trap, including a person pulled for someone's memories, it suffered too many changes, resulting in an out-of-focus story. So for example, the connection between Helena and Lee, and her survival of his zap, could fit with how she's the sole survivor of a horror show and is, by letting go of Lee, able to reverse time and escape the nightmare. But no, we're shown it all happened - Lee was real and so were these events - we're just not told HOW such things could be possible. Similarly, the parrots on the planet are an odd detail. Could they have been a symbolic clue that this was an "imitation" planet à la Solaris? The technobabble about anti-matter sure doesn't help matters, and in the end, we're left wondering just what Lee had become, how he had become such a thing, and just what Helena is feeling as the Moon flies away from him.

HEY, ISN'T THAT...
Richard Johnson as Lee Russell; he's been in a lot of TV, but I remember him best for a recurring role on Spooks. If that planet looks familiar, it's because the matte shot was also seen in Doctor Who's Nightmare of Eden AND in Kansas' Dust in the Wind video(!).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium
- I can't help but have TOS flashbacks during this one. Reasonably exciting, but victim of a confused plot.

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