Space: 1999 – Earthbound

The end of February brought us a new Space: 1999 audio adventure from Big Finish Productions. Ostensibly, we are presented with three stories, “Mooncatcher” written by Marc Platt, “Earthbound” written by Iain Meadows, and “Journey’s End” written by Nicholas Briggs. It turns out, “Mooncatcher” is the only completely original tale on this disk. The other two stories are, in fact, a two-part retelling of the classic TV episode “Earthbound” which featured Christopher Lee as the alien space ship captain Zantor. I’ve been looking forward to this release because “Earthbound” was one of the most memorable episodes of the original series and Marc Platt is one of my favorite classic Doctor Who authors. Platt wrote the weird and wonderful twenty-sixth season Doctor Who episode “Ghostlight” along with the novel Lungbarrow, which delved into Time Lord society and the Doctor’s personal history in a really interesting way.

Space: 1999 – Earthbound

Platt’s story didn’t disappoint. As the story opens, the Moon is hurtling toward a strange, spherical object in space. Moonbase Alpha personnel receive strange transmissions from its vicinity and the object is so smooth, it appears to be artificial. Astronaut Alan Carter and Paul Morrow (both played by Glen McCready) take an Eagle spacecraft to go investigate. As they approach, Moonbase personnel figure out the signals they’ve received are a warning. Carter and Morrow are out of range, so Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell go out to try to help. Before they arrive, the sphere opens up and tendrils pull the first Eagle inside. It turns out the object is a life form, like a space-traveling coral reef and this is where the story gets really interesting. The life form begins delving into Carter and Morrow’s memories and pushes them into a dream state. In the original series, Morrow was effectively Koenig’s right-hand man, but we never got to know him well. This audio episode revealed much more about his past in a way that was true to both the classic series and the new audio series. The character came much more to life for me. As one might expect, Carter and Morrow are eventually rescued by Koenig and Russell, though we’re thrown several interesting twists and turns along the way.

The premise of Space: 1999 is that disaster strikes Earth’s moon and it’s sent hurtling out into deep space. Our characters are those people running Moonbase Alpha, a base which both oversees the storage of nuclear material and deep space launches. Although some people clearly follow a military-like rank hierarchy, the implication is that most people on the base are civilian employees. One issue rarely raised in the original series is why should Commander Koenig be the person who makes all the decisions for this group of people stranded far away from Earth. The new version of “Earthbound” addresses that.

In both the TV series and the audio series, Koenig’s boss, Space Commissioner Simmonds is stranded on the base with them. In the new version of “Earthbound,” he steps forward to question Koenig’s decision to look for a new planet for the Alphans to call home and says they’re priority should be to find a way to return to Earth. He makes his case to the Alphans and a vote is called. This early part of the episode has distinct echoes of contemporary populism in both the United States and United Kingdom. The Alphans vote by a narrow margin to return to Earth if possible and Alpha’s command staff is tasked with making the dream a reality. The problem is the dream isn’t a very realistic one and tensions grow between the command staff and the Alphans that voted to go home.

In the midst of this strife, a space ship arrives that looks as though it’s going collide with Alpha. Alan Carter takes an Eagle out to try and stop the collision, but fails. Fortunately, the space ship makes a safe landing near the base. Commander Koenig, Dr. Russell and Professor Victor Bergman board the ship. They find a group of aliens in croygenic suspension. Dr. Russell tries to wake one, but fails, accidentally killing the first alien. The alien ship’s computer wakes another. Distraught, the alien makes telepathic contact with Helena, learns human language, and learns that the death of their crewmember was an accident. In the process, Captain Zantor, leader of the Kaldosians, forms a strong emotional bond with Dr. Russell.

We soon learn the Kaldosians were seeking Earth, and their computer knows how to find it. Commissioner Simmonds sees an opportunity and sets a plot in motion to capture the Kaldosian ship. Dr. Russell struggles to keep this from happening, in part because of her bond with Captain Zantor. Those who know the original series probably remember how the episode ended. However, this isn’t exactly that same story and Nicholas Briggs definitely throws us some twists. I won’t say more than that to avoid spoilers. Barnaby Kay, who plays Zantor, does a fine job taking over a classic Christopher Lee role. Kay doesn’t so much try to imitate Lee but he works hard to play the character with the same combination of power and Zen-like calm Lee gave to the character.

Space: 1999 Volume 02: Earthbound is available at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/space-1999-volume-02-earthbound-2505


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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.

Space: 1999 Redux

Saturday’s post about Space: 1999 didn’t come out of a vacuum. On Christmas day, when I went to the Big Finish Productions website to download some Doctor Who audio, I discovered they had produced an audio re-imagining of the Space: 1999 pilot episode, “Breakaway.” This is the episode where a nuclear stockpile on the Moon explodes, blasting it out of Earth orbit and sending it on a journey through space. This appealed to the part of me that really enjoys writing retrofuturistic stories. After all, 1999 is now in the past and the series is now a look at “what could have been” more than “what will be.” Big Finish didn’t just create a new version, they expanded it into a two-hour movie-length version with more details. I recently downloaded it and gave it a listen and I’ll share my thoughts. Before I do, I thought it would be fun to go back and read the original novelization of “Breakaway” released when the series was on the air. Novelizations often give a chance to explain more about the characters and the story than you see on screen, so I thought that might give me a little more background. It turns out that my neighborhood used bookstore had four copies of the novelization in their science fiction section.

As it turns out, Breakaway by E.C. Tubb is not simply a novelization of the first episode. It attempts to weave four episodes from the series into a single narrative arc. With a mere 141 pages, Tubb doesn’t spend a lot of time delving into backstory or character. What we get are effectively novelettes of the episodes “Breakaway” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” The two episodes “Ring Around the Moon” and “Black Sun” are combined into a third novelette. We don’t really learn anything from these stories that we didn’t learn from watching the episodes. Tubb does work to develop the romance between Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell. He also provides a more direct narrative link between the resolution of “Ring Around the Moon” and the events of “Black Sun.” It was interesting to see that Tubb killed off Commissioner Simmonds, an annoying politician from “Breakaway” even though the character would actually meet a far more interesting end later in the series.

The Big Finish production of “Breakaway” proved much more ambitious. Writer Nicholas Briggs, who has written many of the Big Finish Doctor Who stories teamed up with Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the original Space: 1999 producers, to re-imagine the series. The plot is effectively the same as the original plot, Commander John Koenig has been dispatched to Moonbase Alpha to launch a mission to the distant planet Meta. The mission is in danger because the crew of the probe has started to succumb to a mysterious illness.

Solving the mystery is the primary impetus of the original pilot. In the new version, Koenig learns that his predecessor has been ordered to cover up that the illness is even happening and Dr. Russell is trying desperately not only to learn what’s happening but trying to keep the mission from getting launched until they are sure the people going to Meta won’t get sick. In effect, this new version takes a dramatic situation that already existed and ratchets it up so that it becomes much more engaging. What’s more, Briggs and Anderson developed a clever new way to get the Moon to break away from Earth orbit. I won’t say too much about how it’s done, because that ends up being something of a spoiler for the end of the episode. However, where the original meant packing an implausible amount of explosives on the moon, this one gives us an explanation that makes me think it could happen. Certainly, I’m much more willing to suspend my disbelief for the new explanation than the original one.

Briggs left us with something of a cliffhanger at the end of his version of Breakaway. Fortunately, new episodes of Big Finish’s Space: 1999 are due this month. I’ve already reserved my copies to find out what happens! You can get details about the Big Finish version of Space: 1999 at: https://www.bigfinish.com/hubs/v/space-1999

One of the things I love about this re-imagining of Space: 1999 is how it improves on something that was good albeit flawed. This was one of the things I tried to do when I created my new edition of The Pirates of Sufiro. I worked to keep the parts of the novel that were good, the characters people responded to, but I also tried to take a good hard look at parts of the book that didn’t work so well for readers and revise them and make sure I created good, solid explanations for why things happened. You can learn about The Pirates of Sufiro at: http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html