Space: 1999: Missing Link   Rewatch 
October 23, 2016 9:42 AM - Season 1, Episode 7 - Subscribe

Injured in an Eagle crash, Koenig lies in medlab, unresponsive to Dr Russell's efforts to revive him. At the same time he finds himself on an alien world, subjected to illusions created by alien scientist Raan (Peter Cushing) as part of an anthropological experiment upon him - an experiment that treats him as a 'missing link' to the early history of Raan's race.

Apologies for the gap! I've been a bit busy, not to mention keeping up to date on Westworld and trying to catch up with Dark Matter.

Um. Where to start? This episode felt as if it might have seemed on paper like a good fit with the 'high concept science fiction' theme of Space: 1999's first season, but the execution fell far short of the goal. I was reminded as I watched it of Forbidden Planet, with Peter Cushing's Raan akin to Walter Pidgeon's Morbius and Joanna Dunham's Vana corresponding to Anne Francis' Altaira. (Mind you, that puts Martin Landau in Leslie Neilsen's shoes; I'm now imaging a version of Space: 1999 starring the later comedy-era Neilsen...) Of course, that's because both are inspired by The Tempest.

There are some interesting ideas here. Again, it's suggested how central Koenig is to holding Alpha together, with his near-death state leading to stress and then outright dissension among the command staff. (Surely there is a designated deputy commander role for just such eventualities, or is this another sign of how it is only Koenig's personal leadership that is keeping the Alphans confirming with their pre-Breakaway roles?) The scene with the illusory Bergman suggests that perhaps we're going to see Koenig explore his own anxieties about his command role, but it ends up being played more as 'this is how Koenig realises he's in an illusion' than any deep exploration of Koenig himself.

Some nice production touches too, such as the use of subtle soft focus for scenes on Raan's world, and the SFX work on the rescue from the crashed Eagle. Presumably the rationale for recovering the command module was that there was no way to get Koenig into a spacesuit, but as one of the episode guides points out, there's a huge howler - the command module hatch to the passenger pod is left open! The matte painting of Raan's world is very impressive, and was one of the few things I recall from seeing this episode when young.

Ultimately though the plot rather falls flat. Raan puts some illusions in Koenig's mind. Koenig responds violently and then refuses to play along. Vana feels sorry for him. Koenig falls for Vana. Vana falls for Koenig. Raan disapproves. And then... everything gets sorted out, with Raan basically apologising for having been a bit of a jerk who should really have run this idea past his ethics committee, whilst Koenig and Vana conclude that They Are Not Meant To Be. The episode builds towards a dramatic conclusion that never quite happens.

Peter Cushing would have been familiar to UK audiences from a long series of Hammer Horror films, as well as starring in the two feature film adaptations of Doctor Who. A couple of years later he achieved even greater fame as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars; other Space: 1999 guest actors would feature in it or its sequels, including Christopher Lee, David Prowse, Julian Glover and Michael Sheard.

Trivia: when Koenig explores the illusory medlab he finds a biomonitor with his own (flatlined) life signs, but it's labelled KEONIG. There was apparently a fan theory that this was meant to be another subtle indicator to viewers that Koenig was in an illusion but when eventually asked about it the director admitted it was a simple production mistake. And the artificial fog in the later scenes was so deep that Zienia Morton (Sandra Benes) claims to have jokingly suggested that she might as well be doubled by a black mop, as given her small stature she thought all that would be visible would be the top of her head.

Episode guides:


The Catacombs
posted by Major Clanger (5 comments total)
I'm only half way through the episode so far, right at the HELP ME VICTOR! scene, and it's all pretty great. Martin Landau is such a good choice for the role of Koenig, he's such a dry actor in any normal scene, but jumps from that into raw excess of emotion without any intermediate steps. A little bit like Shatner was sometimes teased for doing, but even more so and without any disarming edge of irony to keep it in normal dramatic parameters. He's just so sincere in his excess that it works to keep the abstract conceptual stuff from feeling as empty as it otherwise might. It doesn't read as "real" of course, it's just a nice modulation between high blown themes and style.

The directing remains surprisingly strong as well. It's much more adventurous than most series up until recent years. Not just the camera effect stuff, which can be ridiculously simplistic but effective in conveying what it needs to, but even the more normal set ups continue to make good use of depth of field techniques and off-centered blocking to keep the look of the show dynamic with minimal sets or effects, which allowed them, I'm sure, to put a little more into their use of miniatures in scenes with the Eagles.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:09 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the plot needed some work since the pacing of the events seemed more than a little off. Primarily due to Koenig's too sudden change of heart over staying with Vana, which makes the resolution more confusing than it needed to be. The implication that Raan brought Keonig to the planet for his daughter's benefit is interesting, as is some of the play with love and death, emotions versus intellect and how that fits with the whole destiny angle of the Alphans, but since they skipped some steps to get there, the ideas got lost, mixed in with too many other pieces.

Raan's farewell was interesting; "Until tomorrow." as was some of the discussion over scientific study and rights when matched to the actions on Alpha where they fought over whether to pull the plug on Koenig. Carter goes nuts again, but was right, in a way. Kano flips out, which was harder to justify, but interesting as another way to show the emotional volatility at the heart of the series. The use of Sandra was promising at first, but that too got a little too compressed to fully play out. Victor and Helena's roles were better, even though they didn't really try to spell out their motivations. Or I should say because the show still resists spelling out anyone's motivations very much. It maintains a strong sense of ambiguity to everything, fitting their encounters which also remain more mysterious than one would expect.

The Zennites being advanced humans, and Koenig's talk of needing to go back to his own time and place holds the ongoing suggestion that their journey isn't so much a purely spatial one for the specific group on Alpha as it is something more profound relating to humanity as a whole, which is admirably ambitious for the show, but where they think they can ultimately go with that is hard to fathom. (I mean were they to have continued in this vein in future seasons rather than, evidently, switching things around quite a bit for season two.) I wonder if the show would have ended up like Lost, in a way, if it did continue in this manner, where big questions are raised, but can never be satisfyingly answered, or if they had some more or less vague plan for how it was all going to come together in the end.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:49 PM on October 24, 2016

I have never read anything that suggest that Space: 1999 was ever meant to have a particular plot arc in the sense we now understand it. Season One certainly had a tone and overall theme, but as far as I'm aware there was no 'show runner' in the traditional sense. Yes, it was a Gerry Anderson production, but he was always more interested in making impressive TV than in telling a coherent long-running story. I suspect that the writers' guidance was 'here is the setting and the tone we want to achieve' rather than 'here is the overall story we are trying to tell.'

Yes, this episode is frustratingly vague as to whether the Zennites are meant to be distant descendants of humanity or just parallel evolution. A lot of Space: 1999 is like that; you think the writers might be trying to be very clever or subtle, but you suspect that in fact they just hadn't got a coherent plan to work to and were throwing in ideas simply because they seemed interesting or cool.
posted by Major Clanger at 4:12 AM on October 25, 2016

Yeah, I wasn't expecting a modern showrunner kinda deal, just thought they might have had some end in mind and were playing fill in the blanks to get there by just setting a tonal demand and some plot guidelines or something. As I mentioned before, the show sort of reminds me of The Prisoner, so I always assumed the shows always had some final plan in mind to address some of the questions they raised.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:30 AM on October 25, 2016

Although I should say I've never actually seen how the series does wrap up, so for all I know the end is what they planned all along.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:34 AM on October 25, 2016

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