Space: 1999: Black Sun   Rewatch 
September 18, 2016 2:46 PM - Season 1, Episode 3 - Subscribe

The Moon is approaching a giant gravitational vortex. Professor Bergman's modification of Moonbase Alpha's gravity generator system to provide a shield may provide a slim hope of survival, but Cdr Koenig has a plan to give some of the Alphans an alternative, if equally risky, escape plan.

If the actual second production episode ('Matter of Life and Death') feels as if it should come rather later in the series, 'Black Sun' feels for the most part as if it perhaps should have come second. Not only does it provide some sort of pseudoscientific rationale for the subsequent new-solar-system-every-week adventures (perhaps the voyage through the Black Sun dropped them into a densely-packed region of space, or one full of further negative space wedgies), but the relationship between John Koenig and Helena Russell feels more distant than it did in 'Matter of Life and Death', and closer to that in 'Breakaway', again suggesting that this episode takes place relatively earlier.

Talking of relationships, we see a lot in this episode: Sandra Benes seems to have been close to doomed Eagle pilot Mike Ryan, but also seems affectionate towards Paul Morrow - as does Tanya. (I don't think her full name is ever stated on screen, but episode guides give it as Tanya Aleksandr). However, the relationships that are most showcased here are John Koenig with Victor Bergman, Victor Bergman with David Kano, and David Kano with the Main Computer, or as he calls it, 'Computer'.

As in 'A Matter of Life and Death', Kano comes across as rather odd. He is again insubordinate, challenging Morrow's perfectly reasonable instructions to evaluate the risks of an asteroid impact. Later, he becomes bizarrely protective of 'Computer' as Alpha's systems are being shut down, almost as if it is a living character he is trying to look after. It's clear that Kano's attitude towards 'Computer' is both a bone of contention and source of amusement for Bergman, who at one point expresses the view that it might be no bad thing to do without 'Computer' for a while.

If this episode is meant to provide some character development for Alan Carter, it does so in a direction that hardly does him any favours. He has a valid point about being kept in the dark regarding the 'lifeboat' Eagle given that he's Alpha's best pilot, but the way he expresses it makes him come across like what he, as an Australian, would probably call a Whinging Pom. Mind you, the way Koenig handles it isn't much better: he has an office with a door, just off Main Mission, and that moment really called for a "Carter - my office, now!"

The term 'Black Hole' was already current at the time this episode was written (physicist John Wheeler had popularised it in the late 1960s) but the writers stuck with 'Black Sun' instead. Perhaps they felt that nobody would believe that anyone could survive a black hole, so gave the phenomenon the Alphans encounter another name.

Bergman does his calculations on a transparent plastic board via a wipe-off marker. Given this was filmed in 1974, can anyone point to an earlier depiction on film or TV of a whiteboard-like writing surface?

We hear a PA broadcast at one point about how Alpha Service Section will issue heavy duty clothing. From what we see, I infer the following conversation had taken place some time before the events of 'Breakaway':

"Hey, boss, our requisition for emergency warm clothing came in on the latest Eagle."
"Good - I take it we've been sent the latest in high-tech, fire-resistant, lightweight synthetic thermal fabric oversuits?"
"Er.... actually it looks like 300 white cableknit polo-neck jumpers, and about the same number of assorted stripey scarves. I think they outsourced the contract to someone's knitting circle."

I'm afraid I rather suspect that having written themselves into a corner the writers invoked Deus ex Machina in a concept that was probably meant to be deep and metaphysical (encountering a cosmic overmind) but ends up as cod-philosophy followed by with-one-bound-they-were free. Also, the HD transfer is not kind to the aged makeup for Martin Landau and Barry Morse. My theory is that the whole scene was a bad trip caused by Bergman's brandy having become contaminated by moondust.

Episode Guides:

The Catacombs
posted by Major Clanger (4 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Everything is everything else."

Dang, this show is nuts. I'm digging it.

Another call back to 2001 with the aging and the cosmic mystery of their predicament, pointing towards an vaguely pantheistic outlook, but one where, for whatever reason, has Koenig and co. involved as central figures. (By extension then I guess the universe somehow needs mankind to follow some determined path, but the show suggests only a handful are destined to do so, which doesn't point to good things for the rest of mankind they left behind really.)

With the continued 2001 reference, I agree it does seem this episode should have been broadcast second. It makes more sense both in plot terms and thematically that way. It's definitely a better episode for building on the initial premise in a way that at least glances at making some sense. At this point the series clearly seems interested in sci-fi's more metaphysical leanings, which likely means they'll be looser with the science as such other than as man's great attempt to understand the universe.

The characters continue to be quite odd, which can sort of also be explained by them serving something closer to a symbolic function rather than a purely quotidian real one of humans struggling physically to keep alive in difficult circumstance. Here, it seems, it'll be as much a philosophical struggle as a physical one, or even moral one in the vein of Star Trek perhaps. It's not really using some imagined future to speak to "today's" problems as such, but appears to be using its setting to explore things outside our day to day existence instead. This may not make the characters seem any more easily relatable, but at least it does seem to fit with the idea of the show so far.

Some interesting effects this episode, which I'm probably glad I didn't see in high def. The moments where we see the moon approaching the black sun looks at first like we should see the moon in front of the corona of light surrounding the black sun, but instead it goes behind it, same thing later with Eagle 1. It's disconcerting, but kinda neat nonetheless. The experience they have going through the black sun is also pretty neat and pretty silly at the same time, but it too works for me because of its very oddness and how the characters are portrayed.

I guess what I like most about the show so far is how singular they've made it. Choosing the direction they have makes it compelling even if just for being so unusual. It's as close, in its way, to The Prisoner as it is Star Trek at this point, though more self serious in tone than either of those.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:26 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's as close, in its way, to The Prisoner as it is Star Trek at this point

Oh my god, you're right.
posted by Mogur at 6:23 AM on September 19, 2016

OMG. How have I not spotted this before. I AM HERE FOR THIS.
posted by tel3path at 3:51 PM on September 21, 2016

I wonder if whatshisname, Christopher Nolan, watched this episode before writing Inception?
posted by valkane at 6:04 PM on September 21, 2016

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