Space 1999: Black Sun/Earthbound

“Incredible stupidity!”– Dr Helena Russell, Black Sun.

The problem with tv shows of this era (Space 1999 aired in 1975) is that they lack any proper internal continuity. I guess someone will argue the point with me, but I think it wasn’t until Babylon 5 that tv shows would break this trend. With its planned five-year arc, B5 had a set storyline with characters developing as events unfolded. Other than a few stand-alone episodes (of which there were increasingly few as the series progressed), events followed a definite arc. This was followed by shows like Farscape, later incarnations of Star Trek,  and Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica. Contemporary shows like Fringe continue this style of storytelling.

There is both a blessing and curse to this however.  It allows for an engrossing, richly rewarding experience such as reading a long novel, but demands attention and regular viewing. Missing a few episodes can result in the storyline becoming confusing, and the complexity can be oft-putting to new viewers. Both Farscape and Fringe found that increasing their ratings proved very difficult; it often seems that the very thing that such series are praised for can limit their long-term success, and that once ratings reach a plateau around season two they never seem able to raise any higher despite increasing critical acclaim. New viewers to series four of Fringe would likely be immediately perplexed by the complex plot and give up, and as far as it’s fifth (and final)  series that is coming soon, well, only die-hard fans need bother. I’d recommend everyone else to buy the boxsets and catch up.

Back in the days of the 1960s Star Trek and the later Space 1999, you could dip in an out of the series and know ‘where you were’ as the shows tended to press a magic reset button at the end of each episode.  Nobody ever seems to really fall in love or develop a relationship, and characters never change or evolve. With Space 1999, I guess you can watch the episodes in any particular order. Case in point are the episodes Black Sun and Earthbound. Black Sun should really have been the series finale as it basically sums up the series themes and ends with the main characters reunited and  triumphantly considering Alpha their home on the other side of the universe. It strikes me as a rewarding and fitting conclusion to the series.  Earthbound, airing fifth or sixth, should have been the second episode as it pretty well immediately follows the pilot episode Breakaway, dispensing with that shows carry-over character Commissioner Simmons who is mysteriously absent in the episodes between.

Black Sun is a very enjoyable episode and is fairly definitive; hokey science, leaps of logic, great production values… even Martin Landau fairs well in this episode as Commander Koenig thankfully shuns any heroics (other than one isolated WTF moment of Koenig asking Alan to test the shield by blasting at Koening and Bergman with his Eagle’s laser cannon).  The plot involves the moon encountering the titular Black Sun (otherwise known as a  Black Hole) and inevitable destruction as it is pulled into the gravity well of this terrifying force of nature.

Bergman- “Well, what are we going to do about it?”

Koenig- “What can we do? We’ll all be dead in three days!”

Well, there’s Koenig back in his familiar post-traumatic apathetic mode. To be honest though the show is pretty good. I was bugged by the show’s typical leap of logic though, in which Bergman presents a clever force-field umbrella idea to shelter Moonbase Alpha from the crushing gravity of the Black Sun. Why it never occurs to anyone that its pretty pointless as the moon itself will be crushed to a pea beneath it is beyond me and bugged me throughout, but it turns out that Bergman never expected it to work anyway, it all being a clever ploy to maintain morale in the face of imminent doom (!).  Indeed, what really makes the episode work is that the plan never really succeeds anyway, the show slipping into a mystical and metaphysical/religious mode as it transpires the Alphans are saved by apparently Divine or Alien intervention, a theme that continues through the series it seems. The thing is, to me this all seemed to be the ideal series finale- Koening and Bergman questioning how they have survived all their many adventures when we are only watching one of their first (hello? its episode three?!). Likewise the logic of Earthbound is somewhat undone by following Black Sun, as Christopher Lee’s Eartbound Kaldorians are therefore a bit on a detour visiting the moon on the wrong side of the universe, whereas had the show aired immediately after Breakaway bumping into the Kaldorian ship would all make sense. Incidentally, the appearance of Christopher Lee is a wonderful piece of casting and a reminder of the calibre of talent available to tv in the 1970s- it even seems that Lee is in Saruman mode and I doubt I’l watch him in the LOTR films without thinking of his Space 1999 turn.

As for Earthbound, well Roy Dotrice’s wonderfully slimy Simmons is a joy, and his eventual end is really quite scary- it terrified me as a kid back in the day and is still quite disturbing watching it now.

Yes two very good episodes, albeit hampered by their transmission schedule. Its funny, considering the evident care and ambition of the series, that the running order of the series was handled with such apparent lack of care or attention. Guess that’s just how things were back then. Thank goodness for Babylon 5.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s