Space: 1999 Volume One

At the beginning of February I wrote about the fun I had listening to the Big Finish Audio adaptation of “Breakaway,” the first episode of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series, Space: 1999. Big Finish is well known for their Doctor Who audio adventures, which typically feature actors from the series reprising their roles in brand new stories. Many of the Big Finish audio productions are notable for being on par, and in some cases, even better than the televised episodes. Unfortunately, actors such as Martin Landau and Barry Morse are no longer with us, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Big Finish cast all new actors to play the parts in their Space: 1999 adaptation. I was quite impressed with Mark Bonnar as Commander John Koenig, Clive Hayward as Professor Victor Bergman, and especially Maria Teresa Creasey as Dr. Helena Russell. As such, I was really looking forward to this month’s release of Space: 1999, Volume One which featured two original episodes and one remake of a classic episode in audio format.

Space: 1999, Volume One

The recording opens with a story called “The Siren Call.” In the original televised version of “Breakaway,” an important plot point is that Earth and the moon are receiving a signal from aliens on a planet called Meta. We then never hear anything more about Meta. In the Big Finish version of the opening story, the signal from Meta is tied directly to the moon leaving Earth’s orbit. That version of the story ends with the moon approaching Meta. This story resolves the Meta storyline. Aliens from Meta make contact and even seem to welcome the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha. The only problem is that the first ambassador to the Moonbase is a fellow who walks and talks but has no heartbeat. The Alphans need a new home now that they find themselves so far from Earth, but they begin to wonder if Meta will prove as inviting as it first appears.

The second recording is a remake of the classic episode “Death’s Other Dominion.” In this story, Moonbase Alpha encounters a group of human survivors on a distant, frozen world. By all appearances these are the survivors of an expedition to the outer reaches of our solar system who had been lost seventeen years before. The only problem is that someone on the planet is also trying to warn them away. When Koenig, Russell, and Bergman investigate they find the survivors, but discover that somehow they had not only been sent deep into space, but launched far back in time! The probe survivors are over 900 years old. The story ends up being an interesting look at immortality. In the original episode, Brian Blessed gives a wonderful performance as Dr. Chaney Rowland, the leader of the survivors. Chris Jarman takes up the role here and sounds very much like Blessed.

The final episode in this set of stories is called “Goldilocks.” Moonbase Alpha discovers a planet in the so-called Goldilocks Zone of its star. It looks like a good place to settle. Commander Koenig leads a team, which goes down to investigate. They find a very nice planet and pleasant, telepathic people who learn human language very fast. They also find a horde of vicious, reptilian monsters who would be happy to eat humans. If that weren’t bad enough, it seems they awoke an even bigger menace on the planet. Will the Alphans have to run away like Goldilocks did to avoid being eaten?

Overall, these episodes were good fun. They do a great job of capturing the original series’ tone and flavor. If you’re a fan of Space: 1999 this will give you two new episodes to enjoy. What’s more, “Death’s Other Dominion” puts a new spin on the themes covered in the original episode. I only had one disappointment and really that was because “Breakaway” set such a high standard. In the new “Breakaway,” writer Nicholas Briggs came up with a clever, creative way to send the moon on its journey. In this set, I’d hoped the writers would explain why the moon travels from planet to planet so quickly. The moon doesn’t seem to be moving a significant fraction of the speed of light, so one would expect it to take centuries for the moon to move between systems. Instead, it seems like it only takes days or weeks to move between systems. Perhaps it’s now in an open star cluster where stars are closer than they are in the solar neighborhood, or maybe the speed of encountering new planets is a mystery to the Alphans, too. I could imagine some good story potential here, and hope they do explore some of that potential in volume two.

If you’d like to purchase Space: 1999, Volume One, you can find it at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/space-1999-volume-01-2320. Big Finish also has a free 20-minute excerpt from “Death’s Other Dominion” at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/space-1999-death-s-other-dominion-excerpt-2458.

Authors traveling through Time and Space

In several recent posts, I’ve shared my thoughts regarding classic seasons of Doctor Who that have been released on Blu-Ray. One topic that has come up several times in the special features on these disks are the Doctor Who audio adventures produced by Big Finish Productions. These are original stories produced in audio with the actors who played the Doctor and his companions reprising their television roles. For actors like Colin Baker as the sixth Doctor, it’s given fans a peek into a more developed and nuanced character than we saw on television. For actors like Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor, we finally get to see more episodes than his one appearance in the TV movie. There are standalone adventures for several of the Doctor’s more popular companions and there are even standalone episodes for the Master, one of the Doctor’s greatest enemies.

I grew up in an era before home video. Some time in elementary school, I hit upon the idea that I could preserve and enjoy some of my favorite TV shows if I recorded them with an audio tape recorder. In the case of shows like Star Trek, listening to episodes was almost as good as watching them. Part of this was because I’d seen them numerous times on reruns, so I could visualize the episodes. However, part of it was that the writing, sound effects, and acting were so evocative that I didn’t need to visuals to understand what was happening. The Big Finish Doctor Who stories are like that. These are “pure” dramatizations with no narration. You just hear actors delivering their lines with sound effects and music to help you picture the scenes. As it turns out, these are great productions for me to listen to on my long drive from home to Kitt Peak National Observatory, because there’s no visual element to distract me while driving.

Because these are so good to listen to while driving and because we’d been hearing about them on the Doctor Who Blu-ray sets, my wife bought me a gift card with the idea that I would spend it on audio episodes at Big Finish. Two of the episodes I bought were “The Lovecraft Invasion” featuring Colin Baker and “The Silver Turk” featuring Paul McGann.

Both of these audio adventures feature the Doctor having an adventure with a famous author. Over the course of Doctor Who’s run, there have been several episodes where the Doctor has encountered authors. The second doctor encountered Cyrano de Bergerac. The sixth Doctor took H.G. Wells on a journey through time. The ninth Doctor met Charles Dickens. The tenth Doctor had adventures with William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie.

In “The Lovecraft Invasion,” the Doctor joins forces with 51st-century bounty hunter, Calypso Jonze, to hunt down the Somnifax: a weaponized mind-parasite capable of turning its host’s nightmares into physical reality. Chasing it through the time vortex to Providence, Rhode Island in 1937, they arrive too late to stop it from latching onto a local author of weird fiction, none other than Howard Phillips Lovecraft. The episode was interesting in that its author clearly demonstrated admiration for Lovecraft’s world and creations while showing contempt for his racist worldview. It was well performed and a ripping good story that also let me ponder questions of admiring a writer’s work while noting their problematic views. I appreciated that the episode didn’t retreat to the safety of considering Lovecraft a man of his time. They did this by giving the Doctor a companion from roughly Lovecraft’s time who didn’t appreciate his views any more than the Doctor did.

“The Silver Turk” took a different tack. In this case, the Doctor actually has a famous author as a traveling companion. In this case, the famous author is none other than Mary Shelley. He takes her to the Viennese exposition of 1872 where they find an amazing automaton who can play piano and beat all comers at chess and checkers. It turns out, the automaton is actually a Cyberman. Like Star Trek’s Borg, Cybermen are a mix of organic and machine parts without emotion but with a strong desire to capture others and make more of their kind. Of course, this brings Shelley into contact with reanimated dead bodies. There’s even a scene where a Cyberman gains more power using a lightning rod. The real joy of this episode is hearing how much the Doctor enjoys traveling with an author he admires. Julie Cox did a wonderful job as Shelley, though I have to admit, I kept visualizing Elsa Lanchester’s Shelley from the beginning of Bride of Frankenstein.

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, I highly recommend browsing Big Finish’s titles and finding a story to enjoy. Their audio adventures range from about $2.00 to $30.00 and they even have some first episodes you can download for free. The more I look through their catalog, the more I want to listen. They’ve even expanded their offerings to audio adventures besides Doctor Who, such as Dark Shadows and Space: 1999. You can learn more about them and listen to their offerings at https://www.bigfinish.com.

Rathbone and Price Read Poe

A few weeks ago, my wife and I bought The Edgar Allan Poe Audio Collection featuring vintage recordings of a selection of Poe’s short stories and poems by Basil Rathbone and Vincent Price. We listened to the complete collection on our trip to San Diego for Gaslight Gathering last weekend.

eap-audio-collection Included in the collection were such classics as “The Fall of the House of the Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Raven.” It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to delve into Poe and reacquaint myself with the classic stories. The readings by Rathbone and Price were first rate and it was delightful to hear Poe’s wonderfully rendered words spoken by such masters. I have to admit, I’ve never been a great fan of “The Bells”—it always felt like Poe had imbibed a bit much absinthe before writing that one—but it was fun to hear Rathbone play with the words and capture all the different kinds of bells which sing in the poem.

In the set, three of the discs are readings by Rathbone and two are by Price. Most of Rathbone’s readings were a parade of Poe’s greatest hits. Price read stories that were less familiar, at least to me. This was the first time I savored Poe’s stories “Ligeia” and “The Imp of the Perverse.” The collection concludes with Price’s reading of “The Gold Bug.” This story of pirates’ buried treasure made a nice note to end on and was near and dear to my heart.

The one problem with this collection is that it was mastered with a very low volume. I found it helped to import the collection into iTunes where I could adjust the playback volume. You can do that by going to each track, selecting “Get Info” then selecting the “Options” tab. Once there, you can use the “Volume adjust” slider bar so iTunes plays the file at a higher volume than the other files.

If you’re looking for a way to get into the spirit of the Halloween season, it’s hard to beat listening to a good reading of Poe’s short stories. If you have a favorite audio book of spooky stories you’d like to share, let me know in the comments. I have a drive to Phoenix this coming weekend and will be looking for something spooky to listen to.

Speaking of that drive, I’ll be at Phoenix Fan Fest being held at the Phoenix Convention Center on October 22 and 23. I’ll be helping out at the Dark Art Komics Table in the dealer’s room. Daniel Thomas of Dark Art Komics has kindly offered to let me put out my books in exchange for my help, so I hope I’ll see you there!