The Catacombs Catacombs Credits Guide
Johnny Byrne

Voyager's Return

That began its existence in an idea from a friend of mine called Joe Gannon who's a sort of young writer and also a film editor. He came up with a rough idea as a story which he submitted because he knew I was story editor. It was way off target in terms of what was possible for us to do. It was a very complicated thing. The basic idea was that a ship had come back. And it's quite impressive in a way because the Voyager probes were out there at that time. The ship would land on the moon and the creature would con them into providing systems of life support, and it was actually turning itself into a creature, rather like Frankenstein on a rack. Joe couldn't write the script at that time. There was a host of reasons why Joe couldn't be commissioned. But I asked him if I could do the story and he was quite willing, he got paid for the idea of just the Voyager coming back. I was struck by the idea of something that we carelessly sent out into a sort of altruism...could possibly have unfortunate consequences for the things it comes into contact with. Basing it on that I built in a story of Ernst Queller rather like a Nazi sort of Wernher von Braun. He had been responsible for a nasty accident because his concept was so wonderful but it was also very dangerous and it sacrificed a lot of people.

I wanted to give him a Germanic type of facade. I never saw him as a nasty, I didn't see him as a Nazi, I saw him like one of these haunted Germans who has done things during the war and felt ashamed of them later and tried to atone in some way, you know. But anyway, for dramatic purposes we simply had him surfacing on the moon base. Because this thing is coming back and it has it comes into's got this drive which will switch on which will annihilate them. They don't know how to stop it but then Queller reveals who he is and he helps to do it. And then the full consequences of what he has done...again, building on the existing situation...when we think the story is over, it's only really beginning because it is being trailed back to its home planet by people whose worlds have been absolutely destroyed and are intent on exacting a horrific revenge. So there was a kind of social message in that, a slight one, and one tried to make it as interesting and agreeable and as tense a situation as possible. It was more a nuts n' bolts story, that. What you would call pure sort of nuts n' bolts science fiction of Space: 1999-type story.

I think there's a message there, even today when we're littering space with all kinds of hideous junk, that we don't really give a thought to the consequences and the things we send out. Just as if anything else came from outside and landed here with the thought of contamination. It's a grisly thought. We should have the same regard for what might be out there That's not to say we shouldn't explore. We should be very responsible and treat space as much like our home backyard as we can. It's a curious thing, that. As we sort of become more aware of how precious the Earth is and how to look after it, the less we seem to care about space. Obviously, when we've sorted out our back garden and sorted out the Earth, then perhaps we'll sort out space. And by a time, let's hope, you know... that it hasn't gone too far.

There wasn't much collaboration with Bob Kellett on that. He just took it and shot it very, very quickly indeed, and I didn't see an awful lot of him. He liked to just do things on his own. It was fairly much Bob's interpretation of the script and within those limits he did a reasonable job.

I enjoyed it. In terms of it being a science-fiction story, it measured up to what I would call solid nuts and bolts science-fiction and I think the scientist was well played by Jeremy Kemp. I liked the story because it was simple, it was immediately comprehensible, it was relevant to people's lives because it was directly linked to what was actually happening in terms of our rather misty-eyed notions about mankind sending universal messages of love, hope and peace.

Well, we know where that kind of thing ends up don't we? It usually ends up with someone getting their arse kicked. It's self-deluding to actually believe that by sending things out into space you are actually helping to extend mankind's mission to civilise. We know what happened in Earthly terms when this kind of thing was tried: you had missionaries arriving in countries like Africa, and when they arrived they had the Book and the Africans had the the time they left, the missionaries had the land and the Africans had the Book and this is, I should imagine, the fate that will befall those aliens unfortunate enough to encounter us, if they are of a lower level of competence and technology. Their fate won't be a very nice one.

So it's about the assumptions that we bring to our understanding of what constitutes life and the arrogance that we have about our own form of existence and our own way of living. We see it played out on the small scale of the planet Earth...played out on a vast scale up in the stars, it's just too horrendous to contemplate. I think that all of those aliens who ever said, "Stay where you are and leave us alone," have got it right and probably will have for at least the next five million years!

VR is about hubris, guilt and ultimate redemption. Though personalised in Queller, his situation reflects a classical paradigm in religion, myth and epic.

Comments by Johnny Byrne, abridged from an interview with Tim Mallett and Glenn Pearce and a 1982 interview with Carsten Andresen.