Friday, February 19, 2010

Space:1999 Y1 Ep4: Ring Around The Moon

Barbara Bain looks good even inside of this spacesuit. Love those lips!

You know it! It's FAB FRIDAY Alphans with our ongoing look inside the world of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson!
*
Speaking of looks, Space:1999 was clearly the fortunate recipient of its own unique look and feel. The deeper I delve into the world of Space:1999 the more I appreciate it the science fiction series for the special one it is. It has been an enlightening experience revisiting this maligned Anderson universe. While it has not been wholly successful in delivering its stories or concepts thus far, it does one thing exceptionally well. It creates an atmosphere, a universe, a reality that is uniquely Space:1999 and there is nothing like it out there. It's disheartening to know just how poorly the series has fared in the hands of critics that should by all accounts be sensible enough to experience this Gerry Anderson world for what it is. This is a tale about space survival and no one has presented the science fiction possibilities with quite the same thoughtful intangibles and darkness for television as far as I see it. Quite frankly, I'm not sure a series like this could fly today. In my brief return to Space:1999 the evidence points to a sorely misunderstood sci-fi classic that shoots for epic with moments of the intimate.
*
Moonbase Alpha is struck by an alien attack. A maintenance man is possessed by an alien intelligence and begins to access Computer [again, with a capital 'C']. Computer is to Space:1999 what Robot was to space family Robinson in Lost In Space. Computer has an important role within Space:1999 like the computer played a part in Star Trek: The Original Series. Unlike the latter, which often presented answers, Space:1999's Computer is often as ignorant as its cast of Alphans sometimes to the point of useless. The Alphans often assess their level of uncertainty regarding a given a set of variable unknowns against their Computer. Computer gives Commander John Koenig and company reason to question their dependence on technical resolutions. David Kano, Computer's greatest advocate and defender, makes an attempt to stop the man, but he is lifted off his feet and thrown clear across the room. That can't be good, because Kano is clearly not a small man by any stretch. Paul Morrow takes a shot at the alien-influenced Alphan. The man's strength is unleashed and he appears virtually unstoppable. Koenig intervenes, but is choked until Dr. Helena Russell comes to his aid. The man is immovable and unfazed by Russell's intervention. The man feverishly types away on the red and white buttons of Computer. Suddenly Ted Clifford, the man's apparent name, mutters "Help Me" and falls to his knees. I believe Ted may be dead.

Moonbase Alpha as well as the Moon are enveloped in a yellow haze of light from a nearby alien planet. Before Ted's unfortunate departure he managed to assist the aliens. The unknown contact is now locked onto the Moon. The Alphans are prisoners within the yellow sphere and held hostage by the planet Triton. An alien's voice transmits over the base informing them of their situation. Get set for another strange adventure with Space: 1999, Season One, Episode 4, Ring Around The Moon.

Ted is carted away under a blue sheet. Ted is definitely dead. Sandra Benes asks Koenig why they have yet to be destroyed. He turns to her speechless. He turns and walks away from Benes' fairly unanswerable question. Koenig wants to know how Ted died. Dr. Russell says "that might not be possible." Koenig demands "make it possible." He wants to know what they are facing. Answers are in short supply on Space:1999. They are a rare commodity.
*
Computer has no data on Triton. Poor Computer. It is often behind the eight ball on matters of survival for those on Moonbase Alpha. Professor Victor Bergman suspects they are being analyzed from afar. That's a fair deduction by Bergman. I think it's especially fair given the planet above them appears to have a striking similarity to that of a giant, brainy eyeball. Yes, being watched is a possibility.
*
Dr. Russell reports her findings to John. Ted had an orange light pulsating at the base of his brain. [The orange light is a low budget special effect that is used extensively throughout the installment]. There was little brain tissue to examine. Most of the tissue apparently melted. Oh, lovely. The cerebrum was three times larger. His brain was high functioning at nearly 1,000 times its normal speed. Ted Clifford was essentially functioning like a computer. Between the moments of conversation we are treated to a series of red and blue lights, some funky sounds and some grainy stock footage of the characters' conversations indicating that, yes, they are indeed being watched.
*
Koenig orders Alan Carter to take a closer look at this alien entity via an Eagle. Carter is less than jazzed about the idea and calls Koenig's command decision the wrong move. I'm beginning to get the sense that either Carter has a touch of the rebel in him or an understandably natural motivation for self-preservation. I can relate to his honesty. Koenig reconfirms the command and Carter submits to the request. Eagle Three lifts off. Before long Carter is caught up in a tractor beam. Damn those tractor beams! They are a bitch! Carter and his partner are knocked unconscious and twirl out of control. The Eagle is on a crash course back to the moon. I must admit it was somewhat miraculous that Eagle Three crashed down as smooth as it did, based upon its uncontrollable spinning motion. It probably should have exploded on impact. Not to mention, the pilots were fairly still inside the cockpit for a ship raging out of control. It's all something of a miracle. Still, I was always a sucker for a good Eagle crash! I love crashing, launching and landing Eagles. Paul indicates there is no way to get to Carter. Koenig tells Paul they will walk to get to him if they have to do so. This is the Koenig we know and love. He looks out for his Alphans.
*
The team heads out to rescue Carter and his partner, for all intents and purposes, the Space:1999 equivalent to the red shirt from Star Trek. Now, The One To Be Pitied happens to be in the room for one of the most hilarious moments. The rescue team begins walking in slow motion to the crash site accompanied by the sounds of retro 70s Space:1999 music. It's like CHiPs meets the world of science fiction. Hysterical. Of course, The One To Pitied has to pipe in and call it science fiction porn. "What is this science fiction porn?" She is something. It is an amusing moment, but an exception to the rule.
*
The compositions of Barry Gray throughout the series are typically solid. They are often minimalist in style allowing loads of space between sounds and generating a classic mood that is unique to the series. His input regarding the legacy of Space:1999 cannot be overstated. There are many episodes where his contributions make for a creepy, frightening, unpredictable science fiction experience. There is often a striking perfection to the fusion of the orchestral and the electronic. The scores are often far more successful than not. The Space:1999 Year 1 soundtrack is a worthy addition to your science fiction music library. It belongs next to the soundtracks of John Williams' Lost In Space: 40th Anniversary Edition, Mark Snow's The X-Files, Joel Goldsmith's variations on Stargate to name a few. These should be on display with a light shining down upon them from the heavens.

You have to love the Space:1999 space suits. Orange suits with mustard-yellow helmets scream fashion. Honest, I love them.Dr. Bob Mathias reports that Carter is still alive, but his partner is dead based on the data sent back to Moonbase Alpha. I told you Carter's partner was the proverbial red shirt. Let's face it, red shirts are an important component to solid science fiction. Paul reports to Koenig, currently moonwalking to the crash site, that they are picking up a potential missile attack on scanners. Koenig insists that his group of five team members will press forward to the crash site. Suddenly, out of the dark, the Triton planet appears cast with its orange glow. "Take cover" hollers John through his space suit communications. Dr. Russell is caught within the planet's paralyzing grip of orange light. In a flash, in what amount to some fairly bad editing, Helena disappears. It is a bizarre little piece of editing. Again, these are minor complaints and rare.
*
Helena reappears in a golden robe on Triton. She is informed to be unafraid by a detached alien voice. The rest of the team is returned safely to Moonbase Alpha. John is informed by Bergman that Helena has been abducted by the aliens. It is becoming more and more evident that Moonbase Alpha is really a sitting duck to alien attacks. They are like little playtoys for alien amusement. This lack of protection or exposure to foreign or external influence would be remedied somewhat in Year Two when the Alphans go underground. It won't change the fact that the Alphans will contend with a number of alien factors each installment. The Alphans question why Russell was abducted and why Ted Clifford was killed? Why? Why? Why? There are always questions on Space:1999. While not entirely successful in execution at times, Space:1999 is a cerebral show and requires one to think about the possibilities. This is one of the many strengths of the series.
*
The raspy voice talks to Dr. Russell. They inform her that all has been, is and will be recorded by them. Dr. Russell is a kind of servant, but again why?
Carter snaps back to consciousness in the Medical Unit. Koenig attempts to get answers. Carter is a little confused by the events that have transpired. Carter asks for Donovan, his former partner. Koenig shakes his head and Carter understands he didn't make it.
*
Bergman reports to Koenig that the anti-gravity screen will create a force field that will allow them to pass through a kind of corridor to land on Triton. A rescue mission is clearly in the works to get Koenig's future lover Helena back to Moonbase Alpha.
*
Koenig boards the Eagle and thinks he is piloting with Parks until he turns and finds Carter is sitting beside him. They lift off to Triton. So far, there is a kind of ambiguous, indefinable quality about Space: 1999. The aliens, the freak encounters, the conflicts are all of a very intangible nature. They are hard to get your hands around and make sense of, which is precisely what the creators were going for I imagine. This series is utilized as a vehicle for a kind of classic, hardcore science fiction. The often indefinable enemies are also hard to hate since they are difficult to understand and identify. My point being the enemy is often vague or unclear often leaving the monsters inside of us as our greatest challenge. The external alien influence affects the human behavior in play and often in question on Space:1999. The conflicts in these four episodes have been limited and therefore the dramatic tension has also been limited thus far. There has yet to be a truly distinct, identifiable enemy to really bounce off, but I do recall some episodes from the series being particularly impressive. I have yet to reach those. The stark science fiction style of the series is impressive, but it has yet to be truly exciting. One things Star Trek: The Original Series did well was walk the fine line of ideas and action. Space: 1999 has yet to pull it off in this way, but I recall it having its fair share of strong entries in just two seasons. Still, this is a different kind of science fiction from the world of Star Trek and a bit like comparing apples and oranges. I admire its scope, its reach, its austere appeal to the mind. Its a heady mix of science fiction that won't necessarily hit the Eagle landing pad on every ocassion. It will be interesting to see where this series goes moving forward. The night is young.
*
Simple, effective, but not exactly one of the best moments in the Space:1999 visual effects oeuvre.
The Eagle approaches Triton with a full-on, anti-gravity shield active. The tractor beam attempts to connect with the Eagle, but is deflected as planned. Koenig and Bergman's genius works. "We're getting through."
*
The extraterrestrial force reverses the forcefield and the Eagle is heading faster and faster toward Triton. In one of the more exciting moments in this entry Carter and Koenig attempt to switch from manual to automatic to slow things down. Carter passes out, but Koenig manages to hold on and disengage before passing out.
*
Paul remotes into Eagle One and brings the ship back home. Back at Moonbase Alpha, Paul and Sandra note an orange light also arrives. It is Dr. Russell. She's checked out and she says she feels fine. Granted, she stood at the doorway like bizarro Helena when she first arrived. She's as right as rain or is she? She's not seeing things quite right [two pens instead of four as an example]. Mathias says a scan of her eyes indicates she is blind. Space:1999 bio scans and charts are classic. You will grow to love them.
*
Russell indicates to Koenig she has only spoken to a voice. Again, this is without a physical, tangible body. Space: 1999 enjoys tackling the philosophical and universal questions. It is definitely a show that works off the human condition and the Alphan's personal trials in the face of otherworldly challenges and adversity.
*
Without warning a flash of orange light appears upon Helena's face. It will hopefully be one of the least impressive visual effects, because it is an unimpressive effect. Russell activates like a mole agent for the aliens and goes into a zombie-like trance. Koenig throws paper at her, but it hits a kind of force field and ignites into flames upon impact around her. She disappears. Moonbase Alpha goes on red alert. Space:1999 has a very subtle, low key, unobtrusive red alert sound effect. I like it. It suits the space age feel of the show. It certainly isn't as potent as the red alert sound effect found on Star Trek: The Original Series.
*
Personnel across the base are instructed not to impede or approach Dr. Russell. Koenig is hot on her tail. She teleports around the base with instantaneous movement. All it takes is but a thought. I wonder if her brain is melting too. Russell begins pressing buttons like our late friend Ted Clifford did. You'll recall Ted is dead. This can't bode well for Russell. Bergman realizes Computer isn't the one transmitting data, but rather Helena who is responsible for feeding the enemy the information. Koenig looks on somewhat helplessly. Damn, what would you do in this situation? These aliens have powers you've never seen. You really are a pawn and have very little control over the outcome. Russell is certainly no red shirt and no one wants to see her die at the hands of a rash Koenig decision. The out-of-character Koenig is particularly notable in Space:1999, Year One, Episode 2, Matter Of Life And Death. Judging by the title, it wasn't a good time for rash.
*
Koenig and Bergman analyze their faceless adversary.




*
Victor Bergman is such an infinitely lovable character.
Mathias notes Russell's ball of light is stronger and more alive than dead, old Ted. Bergman realizes Russell is the alien's link to Moonbase Alpha. The reason for the martian success is they were able to implant it on Helena carefully and properly. Ted is dead because they did a remote into his body. That attempt failed resulting in Ted's unfortunate demise. So, through Helena, the aliens are connected to Moonbase Alpha Computer. Computer can be such an opportunistic hussy. Bergman wants to know what it is the alien force wants from them. Koenig believes they may not be aware that Triton no longer exists. Bergman indicates Triton is no longer and this alien intelligence may not be aware of this. Koenig feels he needs to convince the enemy that their mission is obsolete. Bergman, in his detached scientific wisdom, indicates they have selected Helena to help them and she is the alien's weakest link. Bergman and Koenig feel they must break the connection of this outer intelligence.
*
Koenig informs Helena of the situation and what's at stake. She realizes she is activated at random and that it is a highly unstable variable. The bottom line: this alien species simply doesn't realize their planet no longer exists. That's not too bright for smart aliens capable of remoting into humans [albeit unsuccessfully] right?
*
Dr. Russell is reactivated. Koenig and Carter make way for the alien sphere via Eagle. Koenig enters the sphere with the corridor to the alien intel open. Russell faints. Moonbase Alpha loses contact with Koenig and Carter. It is dark inside the sphere. The Eagle sets down. How would you know where to set down or if you could? Now Moonbase Alpha plans to transmit what they want to transmit to the alien intelligence. Armed with weapons, Koenig and company move into the darkness.
*
As Koenig motions through the darkness, it's like watching a bit of a science fiction non-event. It is a bit of a snooze, a true yawner. This is boring stuff to be honest and this is a great example of a good Space:1999 idea going terribly wrong in execution. Power is restored on Moonbase Alpha. Russell is reactivated, but has now been sabotaged by the good guys. Are you still with me?
*
I love Space:1999's technology and Computer systems. They still look terrific as science fiction goes.
In the sphere a yellow light takes Koenig's men. John can see Helena on the video screen punching away on those buttons. There's some terrific button-pushing on Space:1999. Koenig is greeted by the disembodied voice. Koenig makes it clear the humans are no threat. "Time is an illusion Commander Koenig." The alien indicates they are preparing a defense should the Earthlings make an attempt to make contact. Koenig scoffs at the idea as Earth is 2 million miles away. Koenig tells the aliens he can prove their planet no longer exists. A series of slides appear on the wall. They are informed that a sun [star] exploded in their system and Triton was destroyed right along with it. The alien voice begins to overload and explode. The men rush back to Eagle One to escape as things are exploding all over the place. Huh? This is simply not a good story.
*
Meanhwile, Dr. Russell appears fine. Why didn't her brain melt? Why didn't she suffer irreparable brain damage? I imagine because she is one of the stars of the show and it's in her contract that death is not an option.
*
At the end, Bergman waxes philosophically about Triton. Here is the final thought of the entry.


*
Sorry foks, sad to report this tale just doesn't cut the mustard. The story was just too damn obtuse for its own good. Truth be told, I was either very tired or this entry was putting me to sleep. By evening's end in the last twenty minutes of the episode I was teetering on the dark abyss of sleep. Now, typically the last twenty minutes of an episode should be wrapping things up, generating some excitement, suspense, answers to something and generally pulling out all the stops- not here. There was nothing to be found out there in the vastness of space this time out. No really tasty aliens to sink our teeth into, but then, that's not the point. If Space:1999 teaches us anything, sometimes the greatest monsters are within ourselves. It is the fight for survival and the choices we make that are at the forefront here whether influenced by aliens or forces beyond our comprehension or not. There was a good deal of mind [bleep]ing going on in this particular entry. I like it when it's done right, but don't yank my chain. This is one head trip I could have gone without. I hate to end it this way, as it doesn't exactly inspire folks who haven't seen the show to investigate it. Yet, this is not a proper representative of the series. Trust me, Space:1999 is better than this.

The Philosophy of Space:1999: Bergman: "Perhaps knowledge isn't the answer after all." Koenig: "Than what is?"
*
Ring Around The Moon: C-
Writer: Edward DiLorenzo
Director: Ray Austin
*

Director Footnote: Ray Austin [1932-present]. Austin directed nine episodes of Space:1999. This was his first. Austin was a former stunt man and stunt coordinator known for a physical style of direction he would bring to American television directing episodes of Airwolf [1984], Magnum P.I. [1980-1988] and a lost favorite of mine Tales Of The Gold Monkey [1982]. Austin declared in Starlog #70, "I think the show was better the first year. We had a great deal of production value in that show; no money was spared on sets. I was very surprised when we were cancelled. UFO never seemed real to me. It was theatrical as opposed to 1999, which seemed more realistic."
*

Moonbase Uniforms: Designed by Rudi Gernreich [1922-1985]. Austrian born. Gernreich migrated to the USA and became a fashion designer and gay activist. His designs were at times controversial. He is notable for his swimwear ideas including the modern thong. This may have been too much information. His unique Space:1999 uniforms still look amazing today. He designed the unisex uniforms worn by all personnel on Moonbase Alpha and was a fan of the unisex style. Color-coded uniforms on Space:1999 were as follows: Command [Charcoal], Main Mission/ Command Center [Flame Red], Technical [Rust], Service [Yellow], Reconnaissance [Yellow], Medical [White] and Security [Purple].

*
The following thoughts are in addition to my initial commentary as a result of the analysis by John Kenneth Muir extracted from Exploring Space:1999. His book has inspired further scrutiny following my own viewing of each Space:1999 installment. It's always interesting to read Muir's take on each episode after I've fully embraced and digested a given episode. It would appear we are very much on the same plane for this one. He officially dubs this entry "the weakest episode of Series One." Since I didn't care for it much either, that's great news. Some of the images as depicted in the shots presented above really look great, but nothing ever happens in this episode. It's a bit like watching the grass grow. He calls the script "extremely flat," and the story "needlessly repetitive."
*
He points to this episode, like the previous two, albeit more problematic, as being adorned with several plot holes. One such problem is Bergman's knowledge being greater than that of Computer. Bergman knows of Triton, while Computer does not. Great point. He pokes fun of the charts as "inaccurate" and "silly." I must admit, as I mentioned, they are funny, but I do like them. Muir points to the endless charts and maps as fairly anti-thetical to the premise of Space:1999's adventure into the unknown vastness of space. In other words, why do these people know so much? Ring Around The Moon is fairly contrary to that premise. If Year One, Episode 2, Matter Of Life And Death presented Koenig's character in a light contrary to his normal command decisions as presented throughout Year One, Ring Around The Moon is contrary to the Alphans' understanding of the universe as normally presented. Could the uneven start be the result of creators, writers and producers not having a firm handle on the characters and concepts early on? "The entire premise of Space:1999 is that man is unexpectedly plunged on a voyage of discovery into a realm beyond his understanding." This is the thing I love about Muir's book. He has a rock solid command over the Gerry Anderson series. He unabashedly points to its strengths and weaknesses and he backs nearly every statement with sound reasoning, fact or example. Some of the criticism may appear harsh, but it's always fair, backed up and comes by way of a writer who clearly has great respect for the material and loves what was accomplished on Space:1999.
*
Great buttons and button pushers on Space:1999.
He does point to some additional character development that was worked into the "tedious" proceedings. Perhaps, but the entry was so difficult to watch, as I mentioned earlier, I actually began dozing off at one point. That's not a good thing, especially because I needed to replay what I missed, in essence, watching it again. Good grief. The episode was so poorly scripted I was unable to get passed it. The character moments just weren't as successful for me as a result. They couldn't lift the episode as they did for me in Year One, Episode 3, Black Sun. Ring Around The Moon is a disappointing step back. Perhaps too much button pushing.

Muir points to a similarity in concept to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, an equally painful film often referred to as Star Trek: The Motionless Picture and that should tell you something. Remember, it's just one episode and they can't all be perfect. There isn't a series in the universe that's ever done it.

6 comments:

John Kenneth Muir said...

I'm continuing to enjoy tremendously your reviews (and your wonderful selection of images from the series). I did a presentation (with Johnny Byrne in the audience) at a Space:1999 convention in 1999 and I used some images from Ring Around the Moon to establish the series creds as visual art. I still feel it is a beautiful episode in terms of visuals...it's just that the narrative is so dreary, and repetitive.

Anyway, thank you for posting this. I am officially following your blog!!! Nice job.

Best wishes,
John Kenneth Muir

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks John. I'm pleased you are enjoying the entries as much as I enjoyed assembling them.

Space:1999 is sorely underrated and while this episode is not a proper indicator of its strengths this could easily be considered one of those entries where the creators were making every effort to get on the same page. I think the chemistry is wonderful from the cast, but Space:1999 definitely seemed to be trying to get its footing.

Thanks for the kind words. I'm a product of my upbringing and I love visuals. Certain images just really stand out to me and I try to capture them as I would want to see them if I was reading the entries.

I'm quite envious that you actually met Byrne and knew him well. He penned one of my all-time favorite science fiction episodes for Space:1999 and I'll be gushing about it before you know it.

Your point about the visuals can't be overstated. The visuals for this series are hands down some of the best I've ever seen and they remain as powerful today as when they were created. It is a strength of the series that feeds its often dark depictions of space. I love them.

I look forward to Year One and Year Two and plan on analyzing both here. I have fond memories of both. As a result I'm reading your terrific book very slowly so as not to influence my viewing.

However, I did pick up those Space:1999 books you pointed out over at Who North America and I have the whole lot now including The Forsaken. Thanks for the tip. I'll be able to enjoy some of those efforts including your original science fiction more regularly. Reading Brian Ball's Survival at the moment.

So thank you again, honored to have you along with some of of the folks here who have contributed regularly. Thanks for your support.

John Kenneth Muir said...

I can't speak for the late Johnny Byrne, of course, but I have the feeling he would be very happy and very proud to see that his work on Space:1999 is still inspiring new thoughts, new insights, and new reviews from intelligent, dedicated writers like yourself.

He once told me (when we were talking about "End of Eternity") that the only true immortality comes in the memories of others.

For instance, Balor would be remembered forever because he was so wicked, Johnny said.

Johnny Byrne's work (and Space:1999 itself) are also immortal as long as we remember it, talk about it, comment on it, and re-consider it.

And with that in mind, I'm really looking forward to your upcoming reviews...

with appreciation,
JKM

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Well thanks.

Your thoughts are eloquently put. Johnny Byrne was indeed a wise man.

It reminds me when people ask other people, 'how would you like to be remembered?' and the response is sometimes, 'i just hope i am remembered.'

Mr. Byrne said it far more peotically as one might expect.
His words ring true and I'm happy to say his thoughts and words are fondly remembered here.

chrispy said...

I, too, am enjoying reading your posts, and the comments included from John Kenneth Muir.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Chrispy,

Thank you kindly for saying. Your thoughts and input are welcomed. I think these Space:1999 entries really lend themselves to diverse reflections now more than ever.

So, I welcome your analysis. At the very least I'm glad you are enjoying them.

It's funny, but when I was writing these entries, I had no idea JK Muir was reading along.

I was reading his book and utilizing it for further reflection and lo and behold along comes a very thoughtful and kind Mr. Muir. :)

Thanks again
sff