The Forsaken

Over the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed listening to the Gerry Anderson Podcast, which discusses the shows Anderson produced along with new books, videos, and products associated with those shows. Anderson’s shows included Space: 1999, Thunderbirds, UFO, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and more – a few of which I’ve mentioned here at the Web Journal. Back in episodes 188 through 190 of the podcast, producer Ben Page interviewed author John Kenneth Muir, who has written books about Space: 1999, Doctor Who, the films of John Carpenter and more. Over the course of the interviews, it was clear that Muir was very knowledgeable about Space: 1999. However, I was especially interested when Muir discussed his two Space: 1999 novels, The Forsaken and The Whispering Sea. One thing that becomes clear if you watch episodes from the two seasons, is that they’re very different in look and tone. Several cast members left and new ones were introduced. In real life this had to do with a change of production staff that came as a result of a perceived need to make the show more action packed for American audiences. However, as a writer, I always find it interesting to explore ways these discrepancies can be explained within the story itself and that’s one of the things John Kenneth Muir set out to do in The Forsaken.

The Forsaken is set after the events of Space: 1999 season 1. In a typical episode setup, Earth’s moon has drifted into a solar system which contains a planet which looks suitable for colonization. The moonbase receives a mysterious signal from the planet, but it doesn’t seem hostile. While crewmembers at the base set out to translate the signal, a reconnaissance team from Moonbase Alpha, led by Command John Koenig, goes to explore. Soon after they land, the team from Alpha is beset by giant spider-like aliens. It soon turns out the spiders are effectively pets belonging to an intelligent, peaceful turtle-like species. Back on Alpha, teams have interpreted the messages and learn that the turtle-like people call themselves the Cryptodira and communicate through song. As the two sides learn to communicate with each other, we find out the Cryptodira might welcome the Alphans to come and settle. This all looks good, except that in the recent past, the Cryptodiran’s planet, Pyxidea, had been decimated by solar storms. In his explorations, Alpha’s chief scientist, Victor Bergman, finds an alien artifact used to communicate with a lifeform off the planet. It soon becomes apparent, this life form was an alien intelligence the Alphans met – and destroyed – in the episode “Space Brain.” What’s more, the alien intelligence helped to protect the Cryptodirans.

One of the things Space: 1999 did well was to explore the ways science, spirituality, and philosophy intersect. The setup of the novel gives plenty of room to explore questions of the alien intelligence’s place in the universe and whether Earth’s moon had been sent on its odyssey through space for some divine purpose. As the story continues to progress, some Alphans decide they should settle on the planet Pyxidea, others decide they should move on. The results of this conflict explain why some familiar faces don’t reappear in the second season of the series. Muir also sets up the beginning of the move from the Main Mission command center of the first season to the Command Center of the second season. Muir also anticipates some of the political dialogue we find ourselves involved in today in the United States.

All in all, The Forsaken was a fine novel that fit well into the Space: 1999 storyline. It was good to spend time with familiar characters and I look forward to reading Muir’s other novel, The Whispering Sea. You can find copies of The Forsaken at the publisher’s website: https://tkundergroundmusic.wixsite.com/powysmedia/the-forsaken

You can listen to the Gerry Anderson Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, just search for it by name. It’s available on YouTube, iTunes, and numerous other platforms.

Of course, you can find my novels at http://www.davidleesummers.com

Stay on This Channel

Terrahawks, Volume 1

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I have a long drive from my home to the observatory where I work. Because of that, I like to listen to audiobooks and audio plays while on the road. This past week, I downloaded and listened to Terrahawks Volume 1 available from Big Finish Productions and the Gerry Anderson Store. The production is directed by Gerry Anderson’s son, Jamie Anderson. I gather Terrahawks was shown in the United States, but it came out when I was starting university, so I never saw it at the time. So what is Terrahawks?

Gerry Anderson was a producer well known for producing memorable science fiction and adventure stories in the United Kingdom. Among his most famous shows were Thunderbirds, which ran from 1964-66 and followed the exploits of International Rescue, an agency equipped with advanced air, sea, and space craft that went to the aid of people in trouble. This was followed by the 1967-68 series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons which imagined a top security organization charged with protecting Earth from space invaders. Both shows were produced for younger audiences and featured marionettes. Anderson would go on to produce live action shows in the 1970s like UFO and Space: 1999. Like Captain Scarlet, UFO also featured a security organization protecting the Earth from aliens.

In 1983, Gerry Anderson returned with a new television series. Like Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and UFO, it would feature a secret organization protecting Earth from an alien menace. This show also marked a return to a show produced with a children’s audience in mind featuring puppets. This time, the puppets would be “glove” puppets rather than marionettes, but the show would still feature Gerry Anderson’s quality model work and special effects. The show was called Terrahawks. The aliens were led by a witch-like android named Zelda. She was accompanied by her sister, Cy-star, and her son, Yung-star, plus an assortment of colorful minions. They operated from a base on Mars.

The titular Terrahawks were Earth’s defense force, led by Dr. “Tiger” Ninestein. He was one of nine clones and if he ever died, one of the other clones could be brought in to replace him. His second-in-command was Captain Mary Falconer. Working with them were Lieutenants Hawkeye, Hiro, and Kate Kestrel. Kate also worked as a pop musician and her songs were featured in the show. The Terrahawks organization also has a force of spherical robots called Zeroids. Each of the Zeroids have their own unique personality such as the gruff but loveable Sergeant Major and his right-hand, the French-accented Dix Huit. When Terrahawks started, it seemed Gerry Anderson planned to give it the same kind of earnest, serious treatment as he did Captain Scarlet and UFO. However, budget constraints and the type of puppetry, which was new for Anderson, made it hard to take the show as seriously as its predecessors. Many creators would struggle to bring such a show into line with their vision, but Anderson seems to have rolled with it and allowed the show’s more absurdist and humorous elements to come to the fore. What made the show work were the fun scripts and brilliant voice acting. As such, the show translates very well to an audio-only format.

The Terrahawks Volume 1 audio was released in 2015. It contains eight 30 to 40-minute stories plus a making-of feature. The audio opens with “The Price is Right” in which a government inspector arrives to audit the Terrahawks after Zelda has gone on hiatus for several months. Working at the National Observatory in the United States, I’ve seen many of these kind of inspections and the humor was much appreciated. In “Deadly Departed,” it appears Zelda has finally been destroyed, but everyone is surprised to discover that Tiger Ninestein is named as her heir! The episode “101 Seed” was an episode written for the original series by Gerry Anderson, but never filmed.

“A Clone of My Own” was perhaps the most interesting story. Zelda begins killing off Tiger Ninestein’s clones. Lurking in the background is a serious look at the individuals who are Tiger Ninestein’s clones and the ethics of using them as backup models for the Terrahawks’ leader. Another really interesting idea was explored in Chris Dale’s “Timesplit.” In that one, Zelda’s minion Lord Tempo creates two versions of Lieutenant Hawkeye based based on the possible outcomes of an encounter. He would either escape or be captured. In this case, both happen.

Two of the funniest episodes are “Clubbed to Death” in which Zelda starts a payday loan scam on Earth and “No Laughing Matter” in which a comedian is sent to paralyze our heroes by making them laugh to the point that they can’t effectively defend the Earth.

Throughout the stories, the Zeroid robots infuriate the always-serious Dr. Ninestein. In the final story, “Into the Breach,” the good doctor creates a new type of Zeroid called a Cyberzoid that follows orders perfectly and it looks like the Zeroids will be shelved for good in favor of new robots that sound like fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I enjoyed these audio stories a great deal. The story “Deadly Departed” is free to download at the Gerry Anderson Store or from Big Finish Productions if you would like to give the stories a try. Otherwise, you can find the full volume at the links below:

New Captain Scarlet

As a science fiction fan, 2005 stands out for me because it marked the return of Doctor Who. I was a fan of the classic series and watched as many episodes as I could in college and had been grateful when the Albuquerque PBS station began getting new episodes within a year of release. At the 2005 Bubonicon in Albuquerque, they had a special screening and I attended with my daughter and a friend. We were delighted to see our favorite Time Lord back on the screen and portrayed well by Christopher Eccleston.

New Captain Scarlet

What I didn’t know was that another series of a similar vintage would also be resurrected the same year. In all fairness, I wasn’t all that familiar with Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons from 1966. In fact, the only “Supermarionation” show I knew at the time was Thunderbirds. What’s more, Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet didn’t have quite as auspicious a debut in the UK as Doctor Who did. My impression is that many original Captain Scarlet fans wouldn’t learn about the new show until after it first aired. It turns out, New Captain Scarlet originally aired as part of a kids variety show called Ministry of Mayhem. The clips I’ve seen remind me of Nickelodeon or Disney Channel variety shows of the same era.

Like Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was a science fiction series filmed using marionettes as the performers. As with many Gerry Anderson shows, this show featured fantastic ground and air vehicles and even a flying base for the heroes reminiscent of the Hellicarrier from Marvel’s Avengers comics. The heroes belong to an organization called Spectrum which was formed to defend Earth against alien invasion. Spectrum agents have color-themed code names, hence the titular Captain Scarlet. The original series was rather progressive for 1966 in that Spectrum’s executive officer, Lieutenant Green, was a black man and the fighter pilots were all women.

New Captain Scarlet is, essentially, a remake of the original. Instead of using marionettes, the characters are animated with computer graphics. The series opens as Captain Scarlet and his friend, Captain Black, are sent to Mars to investigate some mysterious alien signals. They arrive on the scene and find an empty crater. Then the signals resume and soon the city of the Mysterons appears. A small probe is launched and heads toward the Spectrum vehicle. Fearing an attack, Captain Black fires at the probe. This sets off a chain reaction which destroys the city. A moment later, the city rebuilds itself. Captain Black and Captain Scarlet run away, only to be killed by the Mysterons. Captain Scarlet is resurrected right away as an agent of the Mysterons. Scarlet returns to Earth with Black’s body and Scarlet then attempts to destroy Sky Base and Spectrum. He’s knocked through an energy beam and wakes awhile later. This time, he’s free of Mysteron control, but he’s also virtually indestructible because he exists in a Mysteron-built body. The Mysterons then resurrect Captain Black to lead the assault.

Most episodes feature Spectrum battling some new Mysteron plot. In the new series, Lieutenant Green is not only black, but a woman. We also get some women agents, such as Captain Ocher, who appears in a few episodes. The fighter pilots are still women, though we do have one episode where a man is a candidate. Unfortunately, he falls victim to the Mysterons early in the episode where he appears.

I couldn’t help but think that Spectrum brought on this conflict themselves when Captain Black destroyed the Mysteron city. However, when I rewatched the episode, I realized the probe he destroyed made an awfully big explosion to be a simple probe. It would seem the Mysterons were out to wreak havoc from the beginning.

One of my favorite episodes of the series is set in New Mexico when Captain Ocher must contend with a biker gang called the Grey Skulls. The gang has existed since the 1947 Roswell crash and they believe they exist to fight against alien invasion. It was fun to see Captain Ocher convince them they’re on the same side and the Mysterons are the new threat. It was also fun to see the animators portray saguaro cacti growing around Roswell! That slight inaccuracy noted, the CG animation in the series did improve over the series’ run.

As you might imagine, New Captain Scarlet has a somewhat dark tone. It’s hard to imagine it fitting in well with the silly Ministry of Mayhem format, which involved the hosts getting involved in pie fights and being placed in dunking tanks. I also suspect that few fans of the original would have known to seek out the remake in such a variety show. Fortunately, New Captain Scarlet is much easier to find today. It’s available on a multi-region Blu-ray disk from the Gerry Anderson store at https://shop.gerryanderson.com/products/new-captain-scarlet-blu-ray-the-complete-series

Speaking of remakes, be sure to tune in on Tuesday, when I will unveil the revised edition of Heirs of the New Earth. This is the final thrill-and-surprise-packed final novel in my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. Laura Givens has delivered an outstanding cover and I’ll be showing it off then and letting you know how you can get a copy for yourself.

Space Precinct Audio Books

Stories about the police tend to make good television shows. There’s the potential for action, a good mystery, and real, interpersonal drama. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed several of these shows, including Barney Miller, Columbo, and Hill Street Blues. This drama also translates well into the past as we’ve seen in shows like Gunsmoke or any number of British historical mysteries. That said, police in the future seem less common. They do exist. Notable examples include Constable Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Mr. Garibaldi in Babylon 5, but aside from the occasional episode, the police work is rarely the focus. Some of that is no doubt the fact that science fiction shows tend to focus on frontiers beyond the purview of law enforcement, but what might a science fictional police show look like? As it turns out, Gerry Anderson, creator of Space: 1999 and Thunderbirds, actually did produce a police show set on an alien world called Space Precinct.

Space Precinct tells the story of Lieutenant Patrick Brogan and his partner Officer Jack Haldane who transfer from the New York City Police Department to the Demeter City Police Department on the planet Altor. The planet is a colony world settled predominantly by humans, Creons, and Tarns. A big focus of the show is Brogan’s family life with his wife Sally and two children. Overall, the stories featured a nice blend of action, humor, science fiction, and family drama. It could be a little campy at times, but that was part of the show’s charm. Sadly, the show is not currently available on region 1 DVD or region A Blu-Ray, though you can find some episodes on YouTube. Fortunately, Richard James, who played a Creon police officer named Orrin in the series, has penned two sets of stories set in the world of Space Precinct. Both of these are available as audio books, which you can pick up from Big Finish Productions at: https://www.bigfinish.com/hubs/v/space-precinct

The first of the audio books is based on the unfilmed introductory episode of the series. In the audio book called Demeter City, we meet Lieutenant Brogan while he’s still in New York City. Brogan and Officer Haldane are on the trail of some gun smugglers who seem to be operating from the planet Altor. In the meantime, Brogan’s family see advertisements encouraging visits to the same planet. Tired of life in their small apartment, they try to persuade the Lieutenant to at least take a vacation and visit the planet. Brogan decides to apply for a police exchange program to Altor both to pursue the criminal gun runners and satisfy his family. While on Altor, Brogan and Haldane begin to unravel a criminal network that seems to have its grip on the planet while Brogan’s family do their best to make a life in an orbital habitat. As the investigation continues, Brogan and Haldane discover the biggest threat to their investigation may be within the department itself. All in all, it was a solid story and well narrated by Richard James. However, having watched a few episodes of the series, I found it pretty easy to guess one of the villains. One thing I did like in this story was that it clarified that the 2040 you see on the badge in the opening credits is Lieutenant Brogan’s badge number and not necessarily the year the story is set.

The other Space Precinct audio book at Big Finish is a collection of short stories called Space Precinct: Revisited. There are four stories in this audio book. “Kernel Panic” is told from the point of view of the station’s robot, Slomo, and how he helps the officers thwart a notorious gangster who threatens the 88th Precinct. In “Everything Must Go,” hundreds of people gather for the grand opening of a new orbiting shopping mall – only to find themselves held hostage by a gang of Human Future activists. “Point Blank” tells the story of a politician gunned down. When the weapon is found, there’s no sign of fingerprints or DNA evidence. I really liked that Officers Orrin and Beezle who normally serve as comic relief had a major role in solving this case. Finally, following a routine drugs bust, Officer Castle starts to behave very strangely. After placing Officer Took in extreme danger, questions are asked concerning her conduct.

Each of these audio books have a run time of a little over two hours and I had fun listening to them and learning more about the world of Space Precinct.

Neutrinos and the Day After Tomorrow

In Episode 178 of the Gerry Anderson Podcast, Chris Dale featured the film The Day After Tomorrow on his Randomizer segment. This is not the 2004 film about climate change. Instead, it was a 1975 segment of an American after school series called Special Treat, which offered educational programming aimed at teenagers. It appeared soon afterward on the BBC. The show was produced by Gerry Anderson and starred Nick Tate, Joanna Dunham, and Brian Blessed. The show was produced between seasons one and two of Space: 1999 and it shares models and props with the television show. One of the show’s goals was to introduce kids to Einstein’s theory of special relativity. Anderson apparently had the notion that he might turn this into a series, so wrote it in such a way that more episodes could follow the special.

I was intrigued by Dale’s discussion of the show on the podcast, so decided to seek it out. The episode is available on the DVD The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson, along with several other one-shot gems produced by Anderson. The Day After Tomorrow reminded me of what Lost in Space might have been like without the Robot or Dr. Smith. Two families travel in a near light-speed craft to Alpha Centauri and beyond. Of course, this becomes our “vehicle” for discussing the effects of special relativity. Nick Tate, best known as Alan Carter in Space: 1999, is the captain and he travels with his daughter. Brian Blessed and Joanna Dunham play a husband and wife scientist team with a son. Like the Robinson kids in the early episodes of Lost in Space, these kids are smart, but manage to avoid crossing over into the annoying territory that kids in science fiction shows have been known to do. Since this is 1975 and well before Brian Blessed became known for “Gordon’s Alive!” in Flash Gordon, he delivers a subdued and believable performance as a scientist.

While I was prepared to see the cast to discuss the wonders of Einstein’s theories, there was a moment that truly surprised me about two-thirds of the way into the show. Joanna Dunham’s character, Dr. Anna Bowen, is observing a red giant star when she warns that she’s detecting “massive neutrino emissions from the red sun.” A moment later, the sun explodes into a supernova! As it turns out, the notion that a supernova would be preceded by a neutrino burst is a theory proposed by my graduate advisor, Dr. Stirling Colgate, in a 1966 paper. This theory would finally be demonstrated in 1987 when a neutrino burst was detected just before Supernova 1987A was observed.

Stirling Colgate at the Digitized Astronomy Observatory after the detection of neutrinos from Supernova 1987A

It’s hard to look at the special and say that it was full of groundbreaking or mind-blowing science. Mostly it seemed like a fun, action adventure show that tossed in some tidbits about special relativity. Still, writer Johnny Byrne had done some homework in astronomy to know that it had been theorized that a neutrino burst would precede a supernova explosion. As a science fiction writer, I know story and character come first, but I really do appreciate a moment like this when I see a writer going the extra mile to understand his subject matter.

The Magnificent Five

As I’ve noted in earlier blog posts, I’ve been listening to the Gerry Anderson Podcast, which distributes new episodes to various podcast platforms on Mondays. Recently, they introduced an audio book and novel by co-host Richard James called Five Star Five: John Lovell and the Zargon Threat. The audio book is available from Big Finish Productions and I downloaded it so the family could listen while taking my youngest child back to college a couple of weeks ago. Five Star Five was the name of a movie project Gerry Anderson was developing after Space: 1999 and I’ve often heard it called his answer to Star Wars. A script had been completed, studio space had been secured, and work on pre-production began when the project was abruptly halted because one of the major investors pulled out of the project. Unfortunately, the project was never finished.

That’s where Richard James comes in. He took the script and turned it into a novel this year, so the rest of us could finally learn more about Five Star Five. The premise is that the evil Zargon Empire plans to take over the peaceful planet Kestra. On Kestra, Colonel Zana seeks a champion to help save them from the threat. So far, this does sound a bit like Star Wars. The person she hopes to recruit is John Lovell, a freelance freighter pilot who reminded me a little of Han Solo, right down to his hirsute co-pilot Clarence. As it turns out, Clarence is a talking chimpanzee. At first I thought the character would put me off, but it turned out elements of the character hearkened back to both Planet of the Apes and Rocket Racoon from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Once Lovell is maneuvered into helping the Kestrans, the story becomes less Star Wars and more The Magnificent Seven as Lovell goes out to recruit a team to help him defeat the Zargon invaders. His team includes a powerful, but sensitive robot, a mystic, and a kid who communicates telepathically with his robot dog.

Unlike other Big Finish productions I’ve listened to, this one is an audio book with Robbie Stevens serving as the sole narrator. Music and sound effects are provided by Benji Clifford. Stevens’ narration is so well done and his voices for the characters so well thought out, I almost felt like I was listening to a full-cast audio drama. I do highly recommend the audio edition. The total runtime of the audio is 5 hours and 19 minutes, so it does feel more in-depth than a movie, but the action never slows down.

John Lovell and the Zargon Threat also felt very much like a first adventure in a series. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gerry Anderson would have produced more movies in the series if the first had proven a success. I suspect the movie Gerry Anderson would have produced circa 1979 would have have rivaled both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises in effects quality. What’s more, I thought this was a more engaging take on the idea of “The Magnificent Seven in Space” than 1980’s Battle Beyond the Stars. It would be fun if the folks at Anderson Entertainment decided to give us more Five Star Five adventures.