Space: 1999: Another Time, Another Place   Rewatch 
October 1, 2016 5:59 AM - Season 1, Episode 6 - Subscribe

The Moon encounters another negative space wedgie; as well as transporting it a vast distance, it causes the Alphans to briefly perceive doubles of themselves. Main Mission operative Regina Kesslann is far more seriously affected though; when she awakes in the medlab she seems convinced that she is living on a planet colonised by the Alphans, that she was married to Alan Carter - and that Carter and Commander Koenig are long dead.

An interesting concept explored generally well, although with the odd silly idea thrown in seemingly for gimmick value. (Apparently the line about Regina Kesslann having two actual brains was added to the script, much to the writer's dismay.) The 'Alt-Alphans', as I'll call them, evidently had more adventures before ending up at Earth in that there was time for Regina to marry Alan Carter and for Koenig and Russell to hook up before Alt-Carter and Alt-Koenig died, presumably in the final stages of evacuating Alt-Alpha.

I like the way that it's expressly left ambiguous in Alt-Bergman's dialogue as to whether this is a far-future Earth or an Earth from another timeline. Alt-Bergman refers to there being relics of a past civilisation, so presumably those must have been strange enough that it wasn't clear if they were from a culture that arose in a different parallel Earth or from one so far in Earth's future as to be unrecognisable. In many ways the Earth we see in this episode is reminiscent of the 'Earth' shown in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica episode 'Revelations'; there are many thematic similarities between Space: 1999 and BSG, and of course Ronald D Moore readily admitted that he'd adopted the 'This Episode' opening credits from the former (although they had long been a feature of Gerry Anderson's shows.)

The show continues to experiment with impressionistic production styles. The scenes from Regina Kesslann's perspective when she flees medlab do an excellent job of conveying her panic and confusion, as of course does Judy Geeson's strong performance.

Poor Alan Carter. Not only does he find his own dead body (and, by implication, drag it back to the other Eagle) but he gets to see that in a possible future he has an apparently happy relationship with Regina Kesslann who, in a bitter irony, is the only one of the 'prime' Alphans to die in this episode. Sucks to be him, eh?

On that point, I wonder how much the away team explain about what they found at the Alt-Alphan settlement? ("Paul! Sandra! The alternate future versions of you two have really cute kids, not that you should take that as a hint or anything.")

Prof Bergman has a habit of whistling to himself when he's thinking. I don't recall seeing this before so I suspect that it's something the director suggested to Barry Morse for this episode, particularly as we also see that Alt-Bergman still has the same habit.

There's a very ambitious SFX shot of Koenig, Carter and Russell getting out of a full-size Eagle near the Alt-Alphan settlement. It probably looked really impressive on TV but the HD transfer makes it very obvious that the 'Eagle' is a couple of very large cardboard cut-outs. (Not a criticism of the SFX crew, who worked wonders on Space: 1999, but this is one of those occasions that the Blu-ray remaster from 35mm film shows a bit too much detail.)

I appreciate that the bodies of Alt-Koenig and Alt-Carter had to be recognisable for maximum impact, but I suspect that five years of being in vacuum and monthly temperature extremes would have left them rather less well-preserved ('badly freeze-dried' comes to mind). It's not as if the production team shied away from gruesome bodies, as we'll see in a couple of later episodes (no spoilers!).

The shot of the flowers at the end, after the timelines reconnect, is evidently meant to answer Koenig's question of whether the Alt-Alphans really existed. I would have thought the bodies of Alt-Koenig and Alt-Carter would answer that (unless they took them down to Earth for burial, which would have made for an interesting further strand to the interaction between the two sets of Alphans.)

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The Catacombs
posted by Major Clanger (5 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Man, that's another really strange episode. I'm finding it tough to put a finger on exactly why I enjoy this show so much so far other than it is just so unusual in how it handles its characters in the face of these bizarre crises they run into each episode.

In addition to this show, I'm currently trying to finish off the last season of Star Trek: Voyager, and while the main thrust of the plot is somewhat analogous the handling of the characters couldn't be more different. In Voyager, zooming through the the Delta Quadrant trying to get back to Earth poses some episode to episode conflicts, but the base of the characterization is one of normality, as if circumstances be damned, we can fit in out in this far flung region of space just as we would if we were in familiar surroundings, no sweat. Any dilemmas we face are solvable by simply remaining as we are, strong in our moral and emotional certitude. It's the appeal of the value self belief over environment or event and challenges that are faced are only a threat in the way they might cause us to momentarily doubt our certitude in our own belief sets.

Battlestar Galattica, in contrast, pitted the frailty of human spirit against the drive of competing conviction. But each episode seemed to also place the dilemma predominantly as something like a battle of inner awareness or self knowledge, but where extremes of perspective were at the fore as the show pushed for a more "realistic" tone in character interaction and development. With emotions pitched at their higher register, plot development came through characters adopting ever changing justifications for their actions, sometimes seeming to shift beliefs from one episode to the next even as each character of course had some core value that served as a base for their characters that was used to mark boundaries or explore different alliances from week to week.

Space 1999 is so removed from character that is manages to evoke something of the strangeness of situation or event consonant with the show's themes, even though it doesn't really read as "real" in any sort of conventional sense. The dialogue and plotting of episode regularly elides information and actions we'd normally expect to find as the centerpiece of a drama, the emotional and logical reasoning behind events and how the characters are responding to them as they do. The expectation is for the process to explain itself so we can sit back from it and see it as a moral dilemma, judge it accordingly, and enjoy the show for the way each character handles their representative viewpoint. With this show though we don't get that. The characters maintain some semblance of coherent unity from episode to episode, but their thought processes are largely played down or outright ignored for simple displays of action, which often don't seem to make much intellectual sense. (I don't mean due to space woo so typical of pop sci-fi, I mean just what we might expect as reasonable behavior given their circumstance based on our projection and convention.)

It's all just a bit unnerving as it doesn't give us much to really hold on to characterwise. So, for example, when Carter has one of his seemingly frequent freak outs at Koenig over staying or going, with Carter seeming to always be pushing leaving Alpha for his own possible safety first, it goes against the convention and our view of his character being the typical heroic pilot fighter guy. Yet he also upholds that view most episodes as well by actually going out and performing his job well. So the show both denies and maintains expectation in different ways but without going into any detail over why Carter does one thing one moment, and then something that doesn't seem to fit the next.

In this episode, for one more example, the confrontation near the end of the show, with alt-Paul and alt-Bergman confronting Koenig about coming down to the planet defies the kind of rationality so inherent in these sorts of sci-fi dramas, and especially as represented by their commanders. Koenig's desire to bring people down to the planet despite knowing that they can't in fact inhabit the same space just isn't a conventional commander decision and it isn't really a rational one in the way most shows would have it, where the logic involved in the decision is not just displayed but the centerpiece of the show. In this way, shows like Voyager or other Treks act kinda like detective stories, where all events lead up to the solving of the crime where the logic of the whole story is revealed. Space 1999 doesn't do that, there is no end answer, no clear logic displayed for the audience to understand, at best we just get another question. It's strange and kinda nifty.

As to the nuts and bolts of this episode, I'm still enjoying their special effect choices, as much because they are often such simple camera tricks instead of anything more elaborate. The lighting for the show is really a huge plus in that department.

Nice to see Judy Geeson in a guest spot. They do enjoy having people run through Alpha in the nuttiest fashion and the stunt work always amuses. It's surely done as much to spike their "This Episode" openings and any commercial interest than for the actual sense of the episode itself, but it does fill a little time and provides some amusement anyway.

There's some other really fun stuff this episode too, but i don't have time to mention any more of it right now.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:28 AM on October 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think it's a running gag among Space: 1999 fans to see how many 'This Episode' clips don't actually feature in the actual episode.

The show's approach to characterisation is, as you say, very distinctive to say the least. The next major sf series to come out of the UK, Blake's Seven, was very character-driven, with the ongoing plot (Blake's mostly futile efforts to undermine the Federation) being subordinate to the drama, which mostly arose from the fundamental clash of personalities and goals between Blake and Avon. There was little if anything in the way of metaphysics; the universe of Blake's Seven held no real wonder, and it was fitting that the action took place on planets that tended to resemble 20th century power stations and industrial plants.

In the other shows with vaguely a broadly analogous premise, such as Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek: Voyager, the enemy or threat of the week is just that. In Space: 1999 the weekly crisis feels more like a manifestation of an uncaring and incomprehensible universe that just throws one thing after another at the Alphans. The characters of BSG and Voyager were on a level with the threats they faced, even if often outmatched by them. The Alphans, by contrast, often seem dwarfed by them. In both this episode and 'Black Sun', there literally is nothing they can do at the climax of the crisis than sit tight and hope that their remarkable run of luck holds out. In some ways it is almost a Lovecraftian universe, and the show can be viewed as having more than a hint of cosmic horror about it. (Interestingly, two of the main SFX team for Space: 1999, Brian Johnson and Martin Bower, went on a few years later to work on that most Lovecraftian of sf films, Alien.)
posted by Major Clanger at 12:48 PM on October 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Alphans, by contrast, often seem dwarfed by them.

So true, and, yes, there is something of a Lovecraftian feel at times, though here they still do hold out some belief or hope in there being a plan of some sort working in their favor. The exchange where Koenig and Bergman talk about the odds of being shunted billions of miles across space just to end up on "Earth's" doorstep is really interesting since they use it as some evidence there must be some plan at work, which seems reasonable enough given their circumstance, but by the end of the episode we'd have to wonder what kind of plan that might be given how strangely things turned out. It does seem like pure benevolence at work certainly, but neither does it seem like pure maliciousness either.

The whole notion of there possibly being a guiding intelligence at work is pretty meta, but it also makes gives the logic of the show a different twist from that say of Voyager. The hint of there being some possible motivation changes the encounters from being purely random to potentially purposeful or at least fated. Kinda nifty really.

I haven't had a chance to see Blake's Seven yet. Is it worth seeing? I gather there are some serious fans of the show, but that seems true of a lot of sci-fi no matter how good it is.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:02 AM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I haven't had a chance to see Blake's Seven yet. Is it worth seeing?

Yes, with some important caveats. It was made by the BBC on a late-1970s BBC budget. If you're familiar with Tom Baker era Doctor Who, you'll know what I mean (and at times you can spot the recycling of sets and props between the two shows, not to mention cast members). Also, whilst Space: 1999 was shot on 35mm film, B7 was for the most part shot on 625-line PAL video so the visual quality of episodes isn't up to the same level.

But the show itself? It was created by Terry Nation, writer of some of the best Doctor Who (including being the creator of the Daleks) and former writer for comedian Tony Hancock, and he wrote the entire first season. It featured continuity and plot arcs long before they were fashionable in tv science fiction, and was notorious for not being afraid to kill major characters. Above all, Nation wrote it in large part as a riposte to Star Trek, where conflict on the Enterprise was limited to snarking between Spock and McCoy. The crew of the Liberator are a misfit bunch of convicts ranging from a sociopathic technical genius to a cowardly petty (if skilled) thief, under the self-appointed and not always fully-supported leadership of a well-meaning but obsessed revolutionary whose reach considerably exceeds his grasp. The genius (Kerr Avon) regards the revolutionary (Roj Blake) in terms varying from undisguised contempt to grudging acknowledgment of his ability to solicit support and the best dialogue is the two of them regularly having rows over whether, having obtained the use of a staggeringly powerful starship, they should use it to free the oppressed masses or just run off and set themselves up somewhere out of reach of the government that pursues them.

B7 was an admitted influence on J Michael Straczynski in the creation of Babylon 5. For that matter, we're just working our way through S1 of Dark Matter and whilst a lot of people seem to see references to Firefly to me it feels far closer to B7. Indeed, my one-line description of the pilot to UK sf fans of my era is "imagine Blake's Seven but if it opened with the crew waking up on the Liberator with amnesia."*

* And Zen replaced with Seven of Nine.
posted by Major Clanger at 2:47 AM on October 2, 2016

Makes sense I guess that people would see a Firefly comparison given your description of the show since Firefly too seems clearly to be a Star Trek response. I'll have to see if I can find Blake's Seven and give it a watch. I don't mind low budget stuff most of the time, though I do have my limits, if the writing is good enough to keep me involved. I was hooked on the Tom Baker Dr. Who shows as a kid, so I'm cool with the aesthetic.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:25 AM on October 2, 2016

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